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Athens, 10 January 2022

Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) and World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association (WHIA) joint initiatives on respect for religious freedoms

The IAO Secretary General, Dr Maximos Harakopoulos met with the WHIA President, Rhode Island Senator Leonidas Raptakis, and the WHIA Bureau, who are officially visiting Greece for a series of contacts with state, political and religious actors.

On behalf of the IAO, further to the Secretary General, Dr Maximos Harakopoulos, the Hellenic Parliament deputies Athanasios Davakis and Stavros Keletsis and the IAO advisor Dr Costas Mygdalis participated in the meeting. On behalf of the WHIA, in addition to senator Raptakis, senators Stefan Pappas (Wyoming), James Orensol (Nevada) and Maria Tzanakis Collet (Pennsylvania), Swedish MP Vasiliki Tsouplaki, Albanian MP Vangelis Doules and Jordanian senator Audech Kapuas participated in the meeting.

Welcoming the WHIA members, Mr Harakopoulos said: "I hope that this meeting will inaugurate a closer and more constructive cooperation of the two inter-parliamentary institutions that we represent. Since we share common goals, we can jointly coordinate actions to achieve them." The IAO Head also pointed out that "Orthodoxy is a key element of our national identity and this is even more evident in the Greek Diaspora, where the bonds of the Greek communities with local churches - under the guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate metropolises - are particularly close. After all - he stated - the Greeks of the Diaspora are at the forefront in defending our Ecumenical Patriarchate’s religious freedoms . Turkey, unfortunately, denies the Patriarchate’s ecumenical character, also illegally seizing properties of the Greek Orthodox minority - which it has systematically persecuted and led to a dramatic shrinkage thereof -, while by its arbitrary decision in 1971 to close down the Halki Theological School, it has deprived Orthodoxy of the ability to train clergymen and officials to serve metropolises around the world. Moreover, intentionally misusing religion, it has proceeded to converting the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into an Islamic mosque, as it did with the Monastery of Chora, the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Nicaea and Edirne. That is why we are taking action to raise international public awareness, such as the multilingual publication of the volume on Hagia Sophia. I believe that we can launch joint actions in this direction, ".

Mr. Harakopoulos added that "We attach particular importance to the preservation of Christian presence in the Middle East, where Christians are in danger of extinction. Recently, in fact, the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos called attention to the danger arising from Jewish zealots-extremists attempting to plunder Christian properties in the Old City. This is also an issue on which we can undertake joint initiatives. Furthermore, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, which marked the end of the Christian presence in Asia Minor with the Genocide of the Christian communities of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians, to highlight its impact on the olden Patriarchates."

WHIA President Leonidas Raptakis and the members of the delegation agreed that the IAO and the WHIA share common goals and should work closely together, also undertaking joint initiatives to pursue and promote them.

They referred, among other things, to the US Resolution condemning Turkish violations of religious freedoms and to the proposal for adoption of a resolution by the US state legislatures, - where Hellenes of the diaspora are elected-, on the occasion of the 30-year anniversary since the enthronement of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

In addition, special reference was made to the need to support initiatives - such as learning Greek in schools of the West Bank in the Middle East -and to the need for cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism to promote religious tourism.

The two sides agreed on the establishment of a joint Working Committee to coordinate IAO and WHIA joint initiatives and actions in a spirit of fruitful cooperation and joint ventures.

Dr Maximos Harakopoulos presented Senator Raptakis and the WHIA members with the volume on Hagia Sophia.



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