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Ahmet Davutoğlu meets with Maronite Patriarch in historic visit

30 Mart, 2012 | 17:48

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai on Wednesday, Ankara’s first audience with a leader from the Lebanese Christian sect in the history of the Turkish state.

Rai, spiritual leader to Lebanon’s 930,000 strong Maronite community and an active player in Lebanon’s political scene, met with Davutoğlu over breakfast on Wednesday and is expected to visit Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan on Saturday.

Davutoğlu noted to the press on Wednesday that it was the first time a Maronite Christian leader has visited the Turkish republic and the most recent visit of a patriarch since 1876, when Maronite Christians lived within the Ottoman Empire. “We need to meet more frequently in the 21st century,” Davutoğlu told Rai.

According to diplomatic sources who spoke to the Anatolia news agency on Friday, Davutoğlu stressed the centuries-long history of religious tolerance in the days of the Ottoman state, and stressed his hope that Muslim and Christian groups can live side by side in the Middle East. In nations where the coming of the Arab Spring has brought increased sectarian tensions, the minister said Turkey is committed to protecting Christian groups and promoting rights for all minorities.

Davutoğlu pointed to Turkey’s improving record on non-Muslim minorities, and discussed recent laws which are designed to return illegally seized property to Turkey’s Christian and Jewish communities. Rai and Davutoğlu also spoke about the possibility of returning to the Maronite church property in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, once the site of a large Maronite community.

Rai met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB) head Mehmet Görmez earlier this week. He is slated to return to Lebanon on Sunday.


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