ETCHMIADZIN (Cumhurriyet daily)–His Holiness Karekin I–the Catholicos of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin said–"Turkey is preparing to host millions of Christians on the occasion of the bimillenial anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ in the year 2000. The Western countries must explain that unless Turkey respects the right of freedom of faith of the Christians in the country–then she should not expect understanding and closeness from countries who believe in human rights."
The Patriarch added–"I will be disappointed if I see any high level dignitaries from the UNESCO or similar international organizations participate in the 700th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire. Because such a behavior would mean approving all sorts of injustice and destruction that were realized during the Ottoman era."
Responding to a question on Eastern Orthodox churches and their relations with Turkey–the Catholicos said–"…I know one thing: that is Turkey must recognize that all Christian churches have a right to freedom. It is in this context that I could not accept that the theological seminary on the Heybeli Island remain closed. The Turkish authorities must recognize that all churches must have this right [to education]."
Karekin I said that as Armenian–Greek and Syrian Christian tourists visit churches in Turkey they will have the impression that Greek–Armenian and Syrian Orthodox cultures are remnants of the past. "We expect from the Turkish government to prove–with tangible evidence–that the Christian faith is not a cultural inheritance from the past but a living faith [in Turkey]," explained His Holiness Karekin I.
The Catholicos again emphasized that the inclusion of the Ottoman Empire’s 700th anniversary within UNESCO’s annual plans would be a mistake.
In this connection Uzbekistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister A. Azizkhojaev said at the UNESCO General Assembly in Paris–"Someone is trying to use UNESCO for their own purposed."
According to him–"certain countries are proposing to celebrate jubilees of allegedly ancient empires… under UNESCO auspices." The Uzbek leader believes that "this may not only aggravate the relations between countries and nations–but also trigger territorial claims and undermine the reputation of UNESCO.
"We must not allow for such tendencies," Azizkhojaev concluded.
Armenian foreign ministry spokesperson Arsen Gasparian said at a Friday briefing–that the ministry appreciated the efforts of the Armenian Diaspora in this connection and expressed gratitude to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation for spearheading a major international campaign to protest the UNESCO consideration of the Ottoman anniversary.