Atop the highest hill on Büyükada (“Big Island” in Turkish), the largest of the picturesque “Princes Islands” in the Marmara Sea off the coast of Istanbul, stands a sprawling, abandoned structure rumored to be the largest wooden building in Europe.
Once an orphanage owned by the Greek Patriarchate, the building has been empty since 1964 because of worries about its structural integrity. But soon the space will house a international civil society foundation devoted to environmental work and research, according to recent remarks by Bartholomew.
A Patriarchal decision
In 1997, Turkey’s General Directorate of Foundations took the deed to the orphanage from the Patriarchate. In 2005, the Patriarchate was stripped of any claim to the property.
But after a European Court of Human Rights ruling in June 2010 required the Turkish government to return the deed to the historical building to the Patriarchate, a board of directors for the structure was formed, and plans for its restoration began. When those are complete, in approximately two years, the environmental foundation will open.
Bartholomew, who has been dubbed “the green patriarch” for his special interest in environmental preservation, is on the board of directors for the building.
Although it may host interfaith symposia on environmental issues, the eventual foundation will function independently of the Patriarchate, and will not have a religious affiliation.
Raising the profile of environmentalism in Turkey
Global in scope, the environmental foundation will hopefully bring more international attention to ongoing environmental research and activism in Turkey.
Environmental scientists and activists here need all the support they can get. Consider the case of Onur Hamzaoğlu, who may be facing jailtime for going public with results of a study in which he found heavy metals in mothers’ milk and babies’ feces. Or the embattled citizens of Sinop Province, who have been protesting new government-backed coal-fired power plants in their region for several years now.
The foundation will also join a proud tradition of faith-inspired environmental initiatives around the Middle East. From green mosques and synagogues to inter-faith coalitions against international environmental problems such as climate change, religion and the environment are deeply intertwined on a multitude of issues.
Read more about inter-faith environmental efforts:
Image via patriarchate