WASHINGTON (August 15, 2016) — The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (Order of AHEPA), the leading membership-based service association for the nation’s millions of American citizens of Greek heritage and Philhellenes, denounces in the strongest terms, the Turkish government’s decision to prohibit a religious service at the historic Panagia Soumela monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, in celebration of the Feast Day of the Virgin Mary, announced Supreme President Andrew C. Zachariades.
The religious service, which is officiated by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, had resumed five years ago and has been held every year since then on August 15. According to a press report, this year, the license to hold the religious ceremony had been revoked due to “renovations taking place inside the monastery” thereby cancelling the liturgy.
“After taking a step forward five years ago, Turkey now takes two steps back. This act is yet another example of how the Turkish government routinely restricts religious freedom or belief for all religious minorities and is exactly the reason why the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) continues to place Turkey in a ‘Tier 2’ category in its annual report,” Zachariades said. “The very fact that a license must be obtained from the Turkish government to hold a religious service is itself an outrage and an egregious restriction upon religious freedom.”
He added, “Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. America has a proud tradition of championing religious freedom around the world, and the Order of AHEPA was founded on the principle of fighting discrimination, including religious discrimination. Therefore, we call on the U.S. government to address the issue with Turkey and to adopt and implement all of the policy recommendations set-forth by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2016 report on Turkey.”