Show in historic Istanbul seminary stirs hope

Tue Sep 7, 2010 11:01am EDT
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By Alexandra Hudson and Omer Berberoglu

ISTANBUL (Reuters Life!) - An Istanbul seminary closed in 1971 is hosting its first public event in 40 years, raising hopes it may shortly be reopened by Turkey and once again educate priests for the Greek Orthodox community.

The European Union and the United States have pressed EU membership hopeful Turkey to reopen the historic school, which occupies a beautiful and commanding site at the top of the island of Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek.

"Tracing Istanbul," an exhibition of works by Greek artists inspired by the city, has filled the school's evocative, abandoned classrooms with paintings and brought life back to the corridors.

"This exhibition sends an invitation -- come and see the classrooms which need students and the blackboards which need teachers," said Anastasia Manou, one of the Greek organizers of the show, which is due to move to Athens in a month.

The paintings show scenes of Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, the most important church of the Byzantine Empire.

In one classroom hangs a relief of a man who 40 years ago was set to attend the seminary only to see it close.

A Turkish court ordered the school shut in 1971 under a law curbing non-state religious education that also applied to Muslims. The EU has said Halki's closure undermines freedom of religion and Turkey must expand non-Muslim minorities' rights.

"The opening of the school is something we are working on in a very determined manner," Turkey's EU chief negotiator Egemen Bagis told Reuters.   Continued...