Entries with tag faith matters .

Trapped Between War and Nationalism: the Precarious Situation of Millions on the Move

 

Imagine you’re sitting at home on a peaceful Wednesday evening, relaxing after a long day at your medical practice. Your children are working on their homework and your husband grades his university students’ papers. Suddenly you hear bombs in the distance, perhaps 2-3 miles away. You recognize that sound; it’s the extremist group you hoped would never arrive at your doorstep. Not only your government but the world’s “great powers” said they wouldn’t let this happen. You’ve heard stories from neighboring villages of how they enslave the women and children, kill the men, and force the boys to fight – all coerced by violence and drugs. Convert or die! Join or be enslaved! If you don’t flee, these are your only choices. Pandemonium ensues as you and your family stuff backpacks with the bare minimum to survive and set out to escape what would otherwise be hell on earth. You drive your car as far as you can safely go and continue your journey on foot. Fear, which has motivated you all the while, drives you to spare no expense, paying smugglers and foregoing your dignity. Along the long journey, you and your family are extorted, threatened, and generally maltreated. Finally, after many months and great risks, you reach Greece. You collapse on the ground as humanitarian aid workers flock to your side. A few days of rest later, you begin the arduous process of seeking asylum – something international law has declared a given in your circumstance. But soon you realize that while you cannot stay in your own country for fear of death and slavery, you are also not welcome anywhere else in the world. The global citizen fears you. Though a very general and mild account, this picture is the reality described to me by those on the move.

Having a clear picture in your mind’s eye of what it is like for refugees, hopefully a little data and current international policy happenings will be easily consumed. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that nearly 100 million people – or 1.4% of the world’s population – are currently caught up in aforesaid situation. Therefore in September 2016, “[t]he UN General Assembly [convened] a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach,” which resulted in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The Declaration “contains bold commitments both to address the issues we face now and to prepare the world for future challenges.” The main take away is that the UN General Assembly has agreed to create two global compacts – common principles and approaches to a particular issue that all participants commit to implement: 1) the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration and 2) the global compact on refugees. Both are to be adopted in 2018.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was involved in the negotiations for the New York Declaration and remains involved in the negotiations for the global compacts, advocating for the following:

Equal emphasis on bringing peace to the origin of mass migration by ending global conflicts, particularly manifest in the Middle East and Africa, as well as providing humanitarian aid to all those on the move indiscriminate of race, religion, or any other factors.

Asylum hearings in a timely manner and the granting of asylum to anyone fleeing from the persecution of war in accordance with Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sates, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

Immediate and urgent provisions for the care of unaccompanied minor migrants and refugees, including but not limited to special housing, integrated education, pediatric healthcare, and reunification services.

Reallocation of resources, financial and otherwise, to countries and civil society organizations on the front lines of the refugee crisis.

But what does it all mean? Will this really have an impact? As with all international policy, global compacts are soft law which means there’s no mechanism to keep Member States accountable. In other words, adherence to the agreed principles and approaches is voluntary and, therefore, the success of the global compacts remains in the hands of each individual nation. Subsequently, in democratic countries, the outcome remains with each and every one of us. It is our responsibility and right to push our national, regional, and local governments to implement and adhere to the agreed terms of the global compact. When engaging in this way, the following are some points to keep in mind:

Before taking a position on the matter, reach out and befriend immigrants in your local neighborhood that began their journeys as refugees. As the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras often said, “come let us look one another in the eyes,” before engaging in “business” matters. In other words, it is important to develop relationships with people before attempting to influence laws that will affect their lives.

Thoroughly research the issue via primary and accredited academic sources. Unfortunately, most news sources today are polarized, reporting opinionated facts rather than pure facts. Therefore, they aren’t reliable sources of information.

Call and write your representatives – at the national, state, and local levels – encouraging them to propose legislation in line with international laws and standards regarding migrants and refugees. This will be particularly important in the fall of 2018 once the global compacts are finalized and ratified.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the encouragement of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis, and Archbishop Ieronymos from their Joint Declaration at the Mòria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece: “Together we solemnly plead for an end to war and violence in the Middle East, a just and lasting peace and the honourable return of those forced to abandon their homes. We ask religious communities to increase their efforts to receive, assist and protect refugees of all faiths, and that religious and civil relief services work to coordinate their initiatives.”

 

#refugeecrisis #refugees #PopeFrancis #EcumenicalPatriarchBartholomew #UN4RefugeesMigrants #UN4refugees #UN4migrants

 

“Hagia Sophia: Turkey’s Ottoman Icon”

It is no small irony that across the globe the edifice and image most widely associated with Turkey, Istanbul, and even perhaps Islam, is a sixth-century Orthodox Christian church—the magisterial Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, or “Holy Wisdom.” Built by some 10,000 workers between 532 and 537, its patron, Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, inaugurated the construction of Hagia Sophia in the imperial capital of Constantinople with the proclamation that the Church of the Holy Wisdom would be a cathedral like “one that has never existed since Adam’s time, and one that will never exist again.”

Remarkably, Justinian’s boastful claims proved to be as correct as they were visionary. For virtually a millennium, Hagia Sophia was Christendom’s largest, most revered and awe-inspiring church. Hagia Sophia was the unrivalled ecclesial hearth of the Christian Church before the Western schism, the physical epicenter of the Orthodox Christian world, and the wondrous, breathtaking symbol of Byzantine grandeur and purpose. Indeed, for both contemporaries and historians, Hagia Sophia constituted the greatest achievement of late ancient and medieval architecture, an enduring masterpiece that embodied Byzantine civilization’s quintessential, sophisticated respect and quest for symphony and balance between the ethereal and the physical, majesty and beauty, place and boundlessness, science and mystery, creative genius and humility. Despite Hagia Sophia’s present diminished and abused condition, it is not difficult for even today’s visitor to appreciate the description found in a famous Russian ambassadorial report sent from Constantinople in 987 to Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, of what one encountered upon entering the great cathedral: “We did not know where we were, on heaven or on earth.”

When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, virtually all of the city’s surviving cathedrals and churches were—after being desecrated and thoroughly plundered—forcibly seized and turned over to the Turks’ religious establishment to be converted to mosques and used as Muslim properties. The conquering sultan, Mehmet II, personally oversaw the conversion of Hagia Sophia. Crosses were demolished and exchanged for crescents, altars and bells were destroyed, icons were burned or hacked to pieces, mosaics and frescoes depicting Christian imagery were plastered over, and most of the cathedral’s priests were killed or enslaved. In time, four colossal minarets were erected to surround Hagia Sophia, producing the iconic image that has come to be globally associated with Ottoman Constantinople and Turkish Istanbul.

Mehmet took great satisfaction in his belief that he had fulfilled Mohammed’s prophecy articulated in the Hadith: “Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will her leader be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!” Thereafter, Constantinople and Hagia Sophia represented for the Ottoman Turks much more than merely their empire’s capital and preeminent mosque, respectively. The conquest of Christianity’s greatest city and church was understood by Mehmet and his successors as divine proof of the leading role in the Muslim world to which the Ottoman Empire was entitled, a belief also manifested by the Turks’ subsequent relocation of the Islamic Caliphate to Constantinople.

Indeed, the purpose for the construction of the massive minarets that now tower over Hagia Sophia was to project to the world Islam’s triumph over Christendom’s greatest empire, city, and church. The capture of Hagia Sophia confirmed and symbolized in the Ottomans’ imagination their belief in the superiority of their state and faith over all other nations and all religions, a putative affirmation of their providential role and destiny in history. Hence, the Ottomans formally dedicated their greatest, most celebrated single piece of loot—Hagia Sophia—as Great Fatih Mosque, or “Great Conquest Mosque.”

Despite the Turks’ conviction that their mastery over the great, coveted prizes of Constantinople and Hagia Sophia signaled their inevitable conquest of the remainder of Christian Europe, the Ottoman state showed signs of weakness by the sixteenth century and by the seventeenth century began a long, miserable decline and recession that culminated in the complete dissolution of their empire in the early twentieth century. Led by the Turkish nationalist, Mustafa Kemal, the Republic of Turkey, which emerged in the early 1920s to succeed the Ottoman Empire and to abolish the Caliphate, was premised on secularism. Kemal’s modern Turkey was a rejection of the Islamic theocratic system that he and his modernizing nationalists held responsible for the collapse of the old Ottoman order.

Kemalist Turkey did not, however, decouple Islam from its nation-building project. The Kemalist state’s efforts to create a homogeneous Turkish society included assigning a prominent role to Islam as a defining cultural feature of Turkish national identity, or “Turkishness.” In short, official “secularism” involved the use of Islam by the state as an instrument to impose conformity to a uniform model of “Turkishness.”

In modern Turkey secularism has produced neither freedom for all faiths nor separation of church and state. Instead, Turkish secularism has meant state control of religion through the official policy carried out by the Diyanet (the State Directorate of Religious Affairs, the governmental institution responsible for regulating and directing Islam in Turkish society). Likewise, the Kemalists’ non-Western, non-democratic version of secularism has also meant that Turkey’s non-Islamic religions and communities, inasmuch as they are regarded as impediments to universal “Turkishness,” are to be viewed with suspicion, treated with hostility, and subjected to a policy of steady, systematic persecution, with the goal being their final elimination.

Symbols and symbolism were, of course, very important to the Kemalist nation-building project. It was, consequently, neither a surprise nor a move that produced any resistance when Mustafa Kemal, presiding over Turkey’s one-party “secular democracy,” closed Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship in 1931 and reopened the historic structure as a museum in 1935. Just as Sultan Mehmet in the fifteenth century appreciated the symbolism of converting Hagia Sophia, the grandest of Christian cathedrals, to a Muslim Ottoman mosque for the furtherance of his imperial ambitions, President Kemal in the 1930s understood the symbolic value of transforming Hagia Sophia from a mosque—the quintessential iconographic symbol of the Ottoman Islamic past—to a Turkish museum for the advancement of his modern secular nation-building project at home and for the promotion of his country’s image abroad.

The second part, and conclusion of this essay, which explores the recent political and religious uses of Hagia Sophia by the current post-Kemalist, Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is forthcoming under the title “Hagia Sophia: Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman Icon.”

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

MDGs, SDGs, and HLPF: What does it all mean?

“Planets are spherical and spin at high speeds in elliptical shaped orbits.” Believe it or not, there was a point in history when, despite the empirical scientific evidence, some people denied this fact. Today, scientific evidence is clear that human consumption and pollution patterns are utterly unsustainable and destroying the planet. While some remain in selective denial, particularly those who find sustainable production less than profitable, the vast majority of the world – nearly all 195 United Nations Member States in fact – are taking the scientific data seriously and making a valiant effort to protect people and planet.

The connection between the environment and development really finds its foundation at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Some years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established to eradicate poverty through development with an ambitious goal of “by 2015.” While successful in many ways, the MDGs fell short in ensuring sustainability and human rights protections. Therefore, at the UN Rio+20 conference in 2012, Member States committed to coming up with a new plan that would take a more inclusive and holistic approach to poverty eradication, development, and environment, with an extended goal of “by 2030.”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was fashioned in two stages from 2012-2015 – in a process known as the post-2015 negotiations – and was officially adopted in September 2015. The seventeen goals, accompanied by a strong political declaration and commitments to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Addis Ababa Action Agenda, sets out, in the most ambitious way thus far, to tackle the tension between development, environment, and sustainability in order to eradicate poverty while safeguarding creation.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has been involved in the process from the very beginning, supporting the notion of poverty eradication and creation care through sustainable consumption and production. Most recently, the Archdiocese successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRTWS) in the political declaration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The inclusion of HRTWS language rather than simply “access to” this common good means water should remain a public good, controlled by the people as opposed to private corporations or businesses. Furthermore, the Archdiocese continues to be involved in the implementation and review phase through the High-Level Panel on Water and the High-Level Political Forum.

I realize this post is content heavy. But if you’re still with me, it’s finally time for a simple, practical way you can do your part to make the world a more sustainable, equitable place.  First, focus on your own consumption patterns and understand that “humanity's power over nature must be exercised with moderation, justice and compassion.” In order to properly understand your own consumption pattern, consider how what you consume – electronics, fuel, food, water, clothing, etc. – affects other people, even those living across the globe. Furthermore, I encourage you to exercise your duty to be a responsible citizen. Pressure your local, regional, and national governments to pass legislation in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. When, in order to love our neighbors as ourselves, each of us lives a selfless and moderate life, the outcome will be a sustainable planet free of poverty.

 

#HLPF2017 #HLPF #GlobalGoals #2030Agenda #SDGs #MDGs #Rio+20 #LoveYourNeighbor #HRTWS #ParisAgreement

 

[1] More to come on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in a future blog post.

[2] Olivier Clément, Conversations with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), p. 107.

[3] Mark 12:31

Recapping the Season-Ending Briefing: Our Recent Work at the UN

On June 22, the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Archdiocese participated in the UN’s Department of Public Information season-ending briefing, where members of the NGO Relations Section gathered to discuss the season’s achievements and activities, and suggested areas for improvement. This Section is charged with facilitating dialogue and partnerships with members of civil society, of which the Archdiocese is part of.

 

There are approximately 1,500 NGOs affiliated with DPI and they are doing crucial work at the UN to achieve the various targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This past season, UN DPI/NGO held seventeen briefings covering a variety of issues. They were held for specific events like the Commission on the Status of Women, and on commemorative days like the International Day of Families and Focus on Faith: Faith Based-Organizations and Refugee Assistance, among many others. At these briefings, information was disseminated and important issues were discussed in order to achieve effectual change.

                                                        
In all, there were 1,791 activities reported by NGOs in the most recent season. These included events (25%), conferences (18%), and campaigns (10%), among others and reached approximately 700 million people. These activities covered a wide range of topics, with a majority focusing on SDG 3 (health and well-being), SDG 4 (education), and SDG 16 (peace).

 

The Archdiocese, for example, through its representation at the UN, has recently organized events covering land and water as a source to eradicate poverty, empowering refugee women and children through education, and HIV/AIDS and women’s property rights. A complete list of the events associated with our office can be found here: http://un.goarch.org/en/events.

 

The briefing also focused on areas where improvements can be made. SDG 14, which focuses on sustainable uses for the oceans and general conservation of water, only accounted for 6% of all NGO activities last year. While this number is low, there is cause to believe that the number will increase. Earlier this month, the UN organized an Oceans Conference, coinciding with World Oceans Day, that sought to identify problems and solutions in implementing SDG 14. The Ecumenical Office had an active presence at this conference, preparing an intervention to be read on the floor during the Plenary Meeting. A copy of the statement can be found here: Statement to the June 2017 Oceans Conference. Because of this conference, there is heightened awareness to the issue and we can expect the 6% number to rise for next season’s wrap up briefing.

 

The meeting concluded with an emphasis on the important role NGOs have in the UN system. They are advocates, facilitators, and educators, working to ensure that we are creating a better world. Keep an eye out on this blog, as well as un.goarch.org, to see the issues we focus on and the kind of work we are doing.

 

 

Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org)

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.

Reaching Across Borders to Stop Human Trafficking

On June 23, 2017, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO) assembled at the United Nations for a multi-stakeholder hearing on the review of the global plan of action to combat trafficking in persons. In order to understand the significance of this amalgamation of words, it is important to understand two basic UN documents: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol) and the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Global Plan of Action).

The UN TIP Protocol – adopted 12 December 2000 and effective from 25 December 2003 – not only establishes an agreed definition for “trafficking in human persons” but also presents a framework for UN Member States to fulfill their obligations to introduce and strengthen national anti-trafficking legislation. The UN TIP Protocol is a major step forward in the fight against human trafficking since it is the first time UN Member States agreed that trafficking in persons was a serious international issue that needed urgent and coordinated attention.

The Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons – adopted in July 2010 and reviewed in 2013 – builds on the UN TIP Protocol, presenting an action plan for UN Member States to work together to “prevent, protect, and prosecute” when combating human trafficking. It also established the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons to support victims through financial, legal, and humanitarian aid. The Global Plan of Action progresses commitment beyond a framework to implementation. Every few years, as determined by the UN General Assembly, UN Member States review the Global Plan of Action to assess what has been accomplished and what remains undone.

Having conducted one review in 2013, the UN is now preparing a second to be completed in September 2017. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), as a leading member of the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons (CSTIP), is on the front lines influencing the review process. The GOA and CSTIP advocate for the strengthening of the following points, calling for their specific mention in the declaration of the review:

Adopt an action oriented outcome document committing to the full implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, specifically adhering to the requirements of Targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2.

Adhere to the recommendations of the United Nations Global Plan of Action, specifically the universal ratification of the UN TIP Protocol.

Actualize by December 2018 a robust review mechanism for the UN TIP Protocol, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Allocate significant resources at the national and international levels towards prevention strategies and exit services to reverse what “constitutes a serious threat to human dignity, human rights, and development.

Address demand. Without demand there is no trafficking of persons. Addressing this root cause is essential. Demand for high profits, cheap goods and labor, and commercialized sex is the driving force behind human trafficking.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin of Canterbury proclaim “all forms of human enslavement as the most heinous of sins, inasmuch as it violates the free will and the integrity of every human being created in the image of God." They “urge our faithful and communities – the members of the Orthodox Church and the Church of England – as well as all people of good will to become educated, raise awareness, and take action with regard to these tragedies of modern slavery, and to commit themselves to working and praying actively towards the eradication of this scourge against humanity.” We are, therefore, called to transcend complacency. In other words, we are to go beyond simply understanding human trafficking as “bad” or a “shame” and take action to minister to others and change ourselves – even when unprofitable and inconvenient. Therefore, the following is a short list of exhortations for us all. Please:

Pray for the approximately 21 million currently enslaved victims of human trafficking as well as those working to combat human trafficking at all levels.

Learn more about human trafficking and its root causes and share that information as widely as possible.

Discern our own participation and make appropriate lifestyle changes (this includes profiting from investments in companies with forced labor in their supply chains, supporting the commercial sex industry including pornography, focusing on profit and/or cheap goods over people, etc.).

In conclusion, governments and NGOs will continue to create policies and develop programs to end human trafficking and assist victims. These measures have and will continue to help. However, the $32 billion “industry” will only be fully eradicated when all of us surrender complacency to action. We must transform selfishness to selflessness and progress from sympathy to love.

 

#humantrafficking #EndIt #StopTheDemand #EndTrafficking #CSR #ForcedLabor #SexualExploitation

 

Nicholas Anton
Posts: 4
Stars: 0
Date: 7/25/17
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 24
Stars: 10
Date: 7/24/17
Sam Williams
Posts: 61
Stars: 0
Date: 7/19/17
Anthony Constantine Balouris
Posts: 9
Stars: 0
Date: 6/28/17
Steven Christoforou
Posts: 23
Stars: 0
Date: 6/3/17
Maria Pappas
Posts: 25
Stars: 0
Date: 5/12/17
Andrew Romanov
Posts: 8
Stars: 0
Date: 4/27/17
Rev. Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 21
Stars: 1
Date: 2/23/17
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 73
Stars: 8
Date: 2/7/17
Andrew Calivas
Posts: 2
Stars: 0
Date: 2/1/17