The First Meeting of Civilizations in Antioch (Hatay) ends today (30 September 2005) after deliberations that lasted five days. As the spiritual leader of the largest non-Muslim community in Turkey, His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, was one of the religious dignitaries who was invited to speak at the Antioch meeting.
The full text of Patriarch Mesrob’s speech follows:
“Honourable Religious and Government Representatives, and
“Antioch, where we are meeting, was founded toward the end of the 4th century BCE by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s commanders, and it is one of the great cities of the ancient world. This sacred city has been witness to countless historical events and many individuals who have directed the course of history. The appellation “Christian” was used for the first time here. The message to humanity of the Holy Gospel began to propagate outward from Antioch, from this soil on which we are standing.
“That message in essence contained the basic truth shared by the three monotheistic traditions. People must learn to live in harmony with The Creator, with each other, and with nature. This norm for living, which is expressed in the Ten Commandments, is urged emphatically today on all people by the three monotheistic religions.
“Once, when Jesus Christ was asked which was the greatest of the commandments, He answered, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all of your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) Of course both Jews and Muslims will agree to this. Because the language of love, peace, and fellowship is one language for everyone. In spite of this our world today is unfortunately filled with misunderstanding, war, international campaigns of hate, and tears. However, anyone you talk to mentions love and peace. The reason for this contradiction is simple. People say what they believe but sadly avoid any serious application of what those beliefs entail.
“We basically know that at the root of every evil, of every tear, is the thought of “me first.” From the simplest individual to the wealthiest society, this attitude dominates the globe. The struggle to possess more, to consume more, to save oneself… The full belly cares little for the hungry one, and the one who feels secure says, “May the snake that leaves me alone live for a thousand years.” But this attitude backfires and strikes everyone. Humanity is on the road to the unknown in a vehicle with failing brakes. In spite of all the suffering, the broken-down values, and the over-consumption, the leaders of nations make the wrong road seem more attractive instead of choosing the path that leads away from error. Thus the young die from drugs; all values are trampled underfoot for money and to own even more. Injustice brings profit to the perpetrators. And what is discouraging about this vicious situation is that the religions, which are guides to the true path, from time to time are used for this distortion… The globalizing world is so pregnant with problems that people of belief must not have the right still to divide the world and humanity in the name of religion and denomination… Every true belief must show direction like a compass shows North and South: one end toward God, the other toward humankind.
“We religious leaders are also endeavoring to come together and convey the message that religious tolerance is possible and required, especially by our religions. The religions can easily be co-opted to instigate political, economic and ethnic conflict. The responsibility to prevent this lies most of all on the shoulders of us, the religious leaders. If religion continues to be used as a customary tool in the traumas of today’s world, if religion remains in the clutches of negativity, then it would not be wrong to say that there is no hope for the future. The antidote for the poison that is the cause of the increasing negativity in our world is our faith. It is the basic teaching of our faith that there is no discrimination between people based on color, or status, or anything else. It is the basic teaching of our faith that people should come together, understand each other, and be tolerant of each other. They should love each other primarily for the sake of their Creator.
“I see it helpful to underline the point once again: no religious text whatsoever, no text of wisdom whatsoever, no monotheistic or even polytheistic religion whatsoever, directs its believers toward war, violence, opposition, bullying, or terror — absolutely not! Materialism, intolerance, the use of force to seize the natural resources of the planet, rebellions that oppress people, an absence of the culture and spirit of dialogue — these are the reasons since the beginning of human history for wars, conflicts, and the spilling of blood.
“The shrinking world, with its ongoing cultural mosaic of people from various religions, languages, races, and nationalities, necessitates living side-by-side and face-to-face. But we see in Antioch the practical model of a centuries-old cultural, religious, linguistic, and creedal mosaic. In other words, for centuries Antioch has been applying a model for a world and for a people that feel the need for violence. This mature experience offers a light to the globalization of today. It is not easy for differing peoples to live in a heterogeneous society. But if you have to — and we do have to — then you will begin to see that others are not going in such a wrong direction, that they share common beliefs and human values with you, and, if they are sincere in their beliefs, that they are honest and trustworthy people, and then you will begin to accept them. This atmosphere of trust and respect forms of itself. Its natural result is peace and tolerance. Antioch is full of wonderful examples of this, both in the past and today.
“If we want this to be permanent, if we want it to spread over the country and the world, we must save ourselves from the mistakes of yesterday and today. The greatest error is the claim that every human being is one, the same, and homogeneous. Outside of divine revelation, there is no one single truth in any area, in any subject. Just as in the last century there were those who strove for a “purified race,” so some in our times — like Prof. Samuel Huntington, ensconced in their plush armchairs — who try to promote views such as pure culture, genuine civilization, and thus religious and cultural blocks, and the clash of civilizations, and they try to impose these ideas on government officials and mass media. But my dear friends, we all know that since the beginning of human history, cultures and civilizations have been continuously intermixing. The stones of Antioch are silent witnesses to this. They speak to us of humanity’s common heritage resulting from eight thousand years of cultural accumulation and continuity, the product of dozens of civilizations, nations and languages.
“One of the crucial conditions of peace is that everyone gains his or her rights. The fair distribution of education and of natural resources is a primary key for dialogue, reconciliation, and peace between peoples and nations. Yet today we see that 20 percent of the world’s people consume 80 percent of the world’s resources, and that there is a 900-fold gap between the richest and poorest. In such a world order it is not difficult to find those who would go to war or be suicide bombers. And at the base of the mentality of conflict always lies the demand for superiority, prerogatives, and special privileges and rights. If, as in the Middle Ages, you claim that you alone possess Absolute Truth and God, and if you compel the whole world to accept this, then the result is crusades and conquests in the style of holy wars. If you claim that your country and your race is chosen, that your language is perfect, that your culture is superior to all, then this is nothing other than collective narcissism. The only thing that these things create is a similar narcissism in others. To count the “other” as nothing, to see that “other” among you as enemy and alien, will simply boomerang. We observe this clearly today throughout the world in many instances. Continuing with such ideas on a globe growing smaller by the day could open the way for incalculably tremendous war and destruction. If it continues like this, tomorrow we will long for today.
“Sometimes in my travels abroad, when I listen to the ideas and misapprehensions put about concerning Turkey, the culture of its people, their behavior, their customs, and their goals, I am frightened by the ignorance and lack of information about the realities. I am especially horrified when the creators of such baseless assertions are academicians and politicians.
“On the other hand, as the leader of a Christian minority in a country where the overwhelming majority of citizens are Muslims, I must spend an important part of my time struggling to straighten out misconceptions that are spread concerning my religion, my aims, and my people in general. To tell the truth, it sometimes wears me down. To be different from the majority is unfortunately not always perceived as enriching.
“Pluralistic democracy, which understands diversity as a richness and which can reconcile differences on the basis of equality, law, and human rights, is one of the great achievements of humanity. I believe wholeheartedly that many of the issues in our country will be resolved by grasping this achievement of civilization.
“It is necessary to support minority communities who struggle for their existence in the face of monumental problems in a changing world, and to find solutions for them. This needs to become possible. To concretize abstract concepts such as “tolerance,” “living together,” and “pluralism,” to turn words into action, is one of the clearest ways to do so. Otherwise we will witness ever decreasing numbers of multi-colored “Antiochs” as they become monotone and faded. And even more sadly, we will witness the destruction and loss of the last hope of humanity, its antidote, the example to world of a place like Hatay, with its celebrated traditions. And on that day there will be no chance for us to change things. At least those of us here today know that yes, a chance is now in our hands! I believe, I want to believe, that we can use together the chance God has given us for the well-being of ourselves and all humankind.
“As someone who in the last 25 years has visited Hatay at least once per year, and as an ordinary citizen who loves Hatay and its citizens, I would like, before I finish, and with the permission of our esteemed Governor, to convey three requests for Hatay from our government’s honorable administrators. I earnestly desire 1) that the project to open an airport for Hatay be completed; 2) and that the Arsuz-Cevlik shore road be asphalted and opened; and 3) that the environment be more effectively protected by completing the planning studies of the rural settlement departments. If these projects can be realized, then there will be much greater possibilities for local and international tourism in the region, and it will become much easier to preserve historical, cultural, and natural riches and pass them on to the coming generation.
“I respectfully thank you for your attention.
Armenian Patriarch of Turkey”