Only President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can solve the problem between Greece and Turkey regarding the Halki seminary on Heybeliada, a Greek official said Thursday in the wake of the president's suggestion of reopening the seminary.
"If a decision on the reopening of Heybeliada's Halki seminary is made, it can only be made by President Erdoğan," Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Georgios Katrougalos told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Established in 1844, the seminary was closed in 1971 under a law that placed religious and military training under state control.
The historic seminary, which was located on one of Istanbul's Princes' Islands, was visited Wednesday by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a first by a Greek leader in decades. He also took part in a religious ceremony headed by Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew.
Erdoğan suggested in Tsipras' two-day visit earlier this week that the seminary could be reopened if Athens improved conditions for the Muslim community in Western Thrace, an area with a large Turkish Muslim population.
"President Erdoğan and Greek leader Tsipras had a chance to discuss all the issues between the two countries during their meeting. The leaders agreed to develop relations under mutual respect and to start negotiations in order to achieve concrete results," Katrougalos added.
The building was used as a church for more than 10 centuries between the ninth and the 19th century. However, in 1844 it was converted into a religious school that raised reverends with a curriculum mainly based on theology. It was the first academic school after the University of Athens' Theology Department within the Orthodox community.
In 1971, the seminary was closed under a law that placed religious and military training under state control following a military coup in Turkey. Today, according to Turkish law, the school has to be affiliated with a Turkish University or a theology department.
However, the patriarch rejects such an option and demands that it be converted into a private school under the country's Ministry of Education. Although currently unable to provide education, the school building is being used for various activities from, including conferences, exhibitions, concerts and touristic events.