In December 2002, the death of Papa Eftim III, the “Patriarch” of a non-existent entity and congregation, the “Turkish Orthodox”, had once again attracted some attention to this little known off-shoot of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey.
The “Turkish orthodox” or “the Independent Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate” is no more than a construct of Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and the spiritual leader of the movement, Papa Eftim. Its aim was to undermine the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople. Even in its heydays did not number more than 250 followers. In the last few years the term “Turkish Orthodox” gained currency in relation to the Gagauz Turks, who originally arrived from Romania. The Gagauz are Christian Orthodox in religion, though perhaps Turkish in identity. The two groups have no historical connection. While the Turkish Orthodox are an artificial construct, the Gagauz are an ethnic minority.
Perhaps by coincidence, some sources connect these two entities. Having regards to the methods of the deep state in Turkey and its myriad of intelligence organisations it would be perhaps beneficial to examine the Turkish Orthodox in some detail. The church founder is, Papa Efthimiou, or Pope Eftim. Eftim was his chosen church name, while his original name was Pavlos Karahisarithis. He later changed it to Zeki Erenerol, not being contend with a Greek name.
Papa Eftim was member of the Turkish-speaking Karamanli Greek community of Cappadoccia in Asia Minor. He was born in 1884 and was consecrated as deacon in 1912 and priest in 1915, by the Metropolitan of Kayseri Nicholas. Together with other clergymen he took part in the Greco-Turkish war in 1919-1922 on the side of Mustafa Kemal, under the name “the General Congregation of the Anatolian Turkish Orthodox” (Umum Anadolu Türk Ortodokslari Cemaatleri).
Later Kemal exempted him and his family from the population exchange between Greece and Turkey after the War, on the grounds of services offered to the nascent Turkish regime. Kemal himself has said: “Papa Eftim offered services to this country as much as a whole army”. Three of Papa Eftim’s four sisters, however, preferred to go to Greece with the population exchange in 1924.
Evidently, but for reasons that remain unclear, Papa Eftim felt very hostile to the Greek Patriarchate from very early in his involvement in the Greek Church. In 1921 he had stated thus: “I shall turn the lights off the Patriarch in Phanar, and I shall do this very fast. Long live the victorious Turkish Army!” With other clergymen he originally established an alternative Patriarchate in Kayseri, the ancient Caesaria in Capadocia, on 15 September 1922 under the name Independent Patriarchate of the Turkish Orthodox” (Μüstakil Türk Ortodoks Patrikhanesi).
According to Papa Eftim’s son Selçuk Erenerol, Kemal asked him to takeover the Patriarchate in Phanar. In other words, while Turkey was signing the Lausanne Treaty, from the very early years of the Republic it tried to undermine and assimilate the Greek minority with contrivances such as this. Papa Eftim declined this position for “there other clergymen more worthy than ”. Although on this occasion he showed humility, his modesty was no impediment when he later occupied the Greek Patriarchate.
Papa Eftim had won some followers in Galata, an area with large Greek population. In 1924 he confiscated the Church of Mary in that area. A number of dramatic incidents pave the way for the confiscation of that church. On 1 June 1923 his followers tried to abduct the Patriarch Meletios IV. On 2 October 1923 Papa Eftim besieged the Holy Synod and appointed his own Synod. When Eftim invaded the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate he proclaimed himself “the general representative of all the Orthodox communities (Bütün Ortodoks Ceemaatleri Vekil Umumisi). On 6 December 1923 when Gregory VII was elected as the new Patriarch, Papa Eftim besieged the Patriarchate for the second time. This time, however, the police had forced him out.
Gregory VII, after his election, declared his devotion to the Turkish state and on 25 December 1923 Mustafa Kemal thanked him via a telegraph. At some stage the Turkish authorities decided not to support Papa Eftim openly, when it became evident that the subterfuge did not succeed and the expected defections from the Greek community did not materialize. Also improving Greco-Turkish relations had altered the dictates of the policy on Greek minority affairs.
On 6 June 1924, in a conference in the Church of Virgin Mary, it was decided to transfer the headquarters of the “Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate” from Kayseri to Istanbul. In the same session it was also decided that the Church of Virgin Mary would become the Center of the “Patriarchate”. In 1926 with the acquiescence of the Turkish authorities he also confiscated “the Church of Christ ”, the second Greek Orthodox Church in Galata. 
Despite these successes even the fanatical Son Saat suggested in February 1926 that the Turkish government should not have any illusions about the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate of Papa Eftim because there was no such congregation as Turkish Orthodox.
After the death of Mustafa Kemal, Papa Eftim lost some of his prestige in the eyes of the Turkish state. Another opportunity emerged for him in 1960, following the military coup. One of the leaders of the coup, the ultra-nationalist – later the leader of the paramilitary grey wolves - Alpaslan Türkes was interested in the Turkish Patriarchate. Nonetheless, the new regime has exiled Türkes soon after the coup and the Turkish Orthodox Patriarch missed its chance to receive the support of the new government - at least not to the degree it wished. Regardless, Eftim continued to offer its services to the Turkish state. In 1953 he organized a demonstration march against the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras and he continued to make statements against the Greek Patriarchate. In 1956 he confiscated two more churches in Galata (Saint Nicholas and John Chrysostomos) with tacit approval of the authorities.
In 1962 when Papa Eftim fell ill and was unable to fulfill his ‘duties’ his son Turgut (George) Ernerol, was ordained as Turkish Orthodox Patriarch taking the name Papa Eftim II. Papa Eftim, the father, died in 1968. The Greek Orthodox Church refused to bury him in the Greek Orthodox cemetery of Sisli. The funeral proceeded only with the intervention of the authorities and it was attended by senators, deputies and other dignitaries. In different periods the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate issued statements against the Phanar fulfilling a role fashioned by him and the authorities. His statements were designed to create a climate of suspicions against the Greek Patriarchate. In 1972 Eftim II stated “the Patriarchate of the Phanar should be removed from Turkey as soon as possible. In Turkey there is a community of orthodox with Turkish citizenship . What is the purpose of the Rums . If they abandon their Greekness we have nothing to say .” How could it be possible for someone to abandon their ethnicity so easily just to please the Turkish Orthodox Patriarch? Perhaps because his father became or felt Turkish Papa Eftim II thought all Greeks were supposed to do the same. Eftim II hoped of course in this process his church would recruit more followers.
In 1991 when Eftim II died, there was no priest to conduct the funeral. His brother Selçuk Erenerol, ascended to the ‘patriarchal throne’ taking the name Papa Eftim III. Selçuk Erenerol continued with the tradition of statements of hatred against Greeks in general, and against the Greek Patriarchate in particular: “Bartolemew ... will open the School of Theology, he will remove the requirement of Turkish citizenship . It will become like the Vatican. At that point they will say ‘Constantinople is ours’ and will ask for properties. The fact that they call Istanbul Constantinople shows that they are preparing for these days to come.” Thus said the ‘Patriarch’ Selçuk Erenerol and on the basis of this fantastic scenario he refused the right of the Greeks to be compensated for the loss of their properties. The Turkish state continued to use this group against the few Greeks who remained in Istanbul. As for the name of Constantinople, it should be born in mind that Turks also use Turkish names to designate places within the borders of Greece; for example Gümülcine (Komotini) and Sakiz (Chios) to name but two.
In 2000, the daughter of the last Patriarch, Sevgi Erenerol, who bears the pretentious title “Media and Public Relations Officer of the Independent Patriarchate”, accused the Greek Patriarchate acting as “State within the State”. The reason for this accusation was the award ceremony of the cross of Saint Andrew given by the Patriarch Bartholomew to the German President Johannes Rau. Sevgi Erenerol aired her discontent that foreign politicians visit the Greek Patriarchate but not the Turkish. It seems the Turkish Patriarchate kept a close eye on the Greek Patriarchate and monitored its activities as though there are no Turkish agencies that specialize on activities of this nature.
Sevgi Erenerol has also criticized the booklet “Faith and Culture Tourism” published by the Ministry of Culture. It contained maps and books, which refer to Anatolia as a Christian homeland: “Anatolia does not belong to the Christians but to the Muslims”. There are many other institutions in Turkey that can defend the rights of Islam, perhaps better than the Turkish Orthodox Church. It seems that the last remaining members of this church are only nominally Christian, to the point of only being interested in defending the rights of Islam. There does not seem to be any reason for the existence of the Church, if it is not their intention to defend their purported religious heritage and rights.
The extreme nationalistic tendencies of the only active remaining member of the Church, the grand daughter of Papa Eftim, is evident. For example, Sevgi Erenerol, in an intended speech to the 6th Turkic State and Communities Council (Kurultay), stated “he real children of the Turan, welcome to the land of the Greek Wolves”, raising the spectre of Pan Turkism and Pan Turanianism. It is not clear why her speech did not proceed but the nationalist journal Yeni Hayat found it fitting to publish it. The speech concluded thus: “Let God protect and elevate the Turk.”
Papa Eftim himself never concealed his ties with the nationalist movement and the ultra nationalist Türkes, especially when the latter was briefly member of the National Unity Council (Milli Birlik Kurulu) after the coup in 1960. His son and the last “Pope” readily acknowledged these ties. The Turkish Archives however, reveal that Papa Eftim’s nationalism did not preclude him from requesting from Ankara that his son be exempted from military service in 1946. Incidentally the Republican Archives also disclose that Papa Eftim sent a telegram to Mussolini congratulating him for demonstrating friendship to Turkey.
Today the number of the followers of the Turkish Orthodox is close to zero, if one excludes the Erenerol family who governs the Patriarchate as their fiefdom. Jale Özgentürk estimated the number of members as one only. The churches do not function for want of priests and faithful. The last few years however the interest on this long forgotten Patriarchate has been rejuvenated due to a number of publications in Turkish and the tendency to fuse the Turkish Orthodox with the Gagauz.
It is important to look at the attempted connection between the Gagauz and the Turkish Orthodox. There have been some efforts in the past to unite them. Hamdullah Suphi Tanriöver, ambassador of Turkey in Romania in the 1930s, tried to bring Turkic speaking Christians from Romania for resettlement in the Marmara region. Because of the ensuing war he was not able to carry out his plans in full, but in 1935 he had managed to bring 70 Gagauz young men and women to Turkey. The young people faced many problems because of their religion and they were forced to convert to Islam. It is interesting to note that Eftim complained to Hamdullah Suphi Tanriöver and queried: “Where are my 70 devotees?” His movement was so unsuccessful that he could not even retain 70 Turkic Christian immigrants in his Church.
Mustafa Ekincikli in his recent book about the Gagauz uses the title Turkish Orthodox pertaining to the Gagauz. Furthermore, the official homepage of Istanbul’s tourist guide “istanbulguide”, in a section on Christian Orthodox churches under the title “Orthodox en Turquie” (Orthodox in Turkey) states, in French, “to the orthodox of the Patriarchate of Istanbul who live under Turkish jurisdiction, we can add other orthodox people from Patriarchates that are not recognized”. The same page state that in total there are 1,200,000 Turkish Orthodox in Bulgaria, Moldavia, Romania and Western Thrace . Is it a mistake or yet another ploy?
In the same internet page the hyperlink Patriarchat de l’Eglise Orthodoxe Turquie (Patriarchate of the Turkish Orthodox Church) redirects to a page dedicated to the Gagauz Christian Turks which contain a picture of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate Church “Virgin Mary of Kaphatiani” in Galata.
It is possible that the evidence pointed out in this paper amounts to coincidences. However, now that the number of the Greeks in Turkey is rapidly falling to less than 1000 there could be another attempt to rename the Gagauz as Turkish Orthodox and later request that more Greek churches are transferred to the Turkish Orthodox for the purported spiritual needs of their flock. The conclusion is more than a mere conjecture in light of the history of the Turkish Orthodox Church and habit of the Turkish state to use the church whenever convenient. Notably, the last “patriarch” Selçuk Erenerol admitted his ties to the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).
In the 8th Turkic States and Communities Congress, the plenary statement called upon the Gagauz, Cavus and other Orthodox Christian Turks to unite around the Turkish Orthodox Church to enable the Church to become “ecumenical”. The efforts of Selçuk Erenerol to become a bridge between the Gagauz and Turkey has been acknowledged by the ultra-nationalist.
The death of Selçuk Erenerol, Papa Eftim III, without an obvious successor may finally bring to an end this thorny chapter in Greco-Turkish relations and a continuing problem for the Greek minority and the legitimate Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul. It would be wise, however, not to underestimate the capabilities and the capacity for intrigue of the many Turkish intelligence agencies and government authorities to construct ways to exploit further this entity. I call it an entity because it is doubtful that it ever was a religious movement per se. Perhaps in its origins some Greek clerics who joined forces with Papa Eftim may have thought of it as an Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, Papa Eftim had conceived the “Church” as an instrument to his ambitions. Papa Eftim had rudimentary knowledge of theology and as Jacob points out they have “no religious books of their own: the only texts of their own are translations and revisions of the Orthodox Liturgy in Turkish”. Papa Eftim II was a doctor of medicine and Papa Eftim III was in commerce.
On 29 September 1997, a press release issued by the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate stated that the Patriarchate “have nothing to do with politics”. This was in the same press release in which the current Greek Orthodox patriarch was vilified in total vacuum of any religious reference but in classic exercise of politics by the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate spokesperson Sevgi Erenerol.
Erenerol, Papa Eftim III, had reportedly resigned from his post a few months before his death noting that “he national struggle we waged for 80 years has come to an end. This decision will make the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Greece happy. Now you can enter the European Union”. Turkey never accepted Erenerol’s resignation. In a secular state the government should not be the recipient of the letter of resignation of a cleric. However, this resignation was symbolic of the symbiotic relations between the state and the entity. Up to the very end the Turkish Patriarchate looked at the Turkish government for guidance. His resignation certainly did not signal just yet the end of this dark chapter in the history of Turkish State policies on the Greek minority. His death on the other hand may finally put an end to this creation of Papa Eftim and Mustafa Kemal. Yet, this end is by no means certain. There may be element in Turkish authorities, which may still search for ways of exploiting the concept of Turkish Orthodox (by enlisting the help of the Gagauz) to further the objective of eliminating the influence of the Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the dwindling Greek community in Istanbul. At his funeral, attempted by ultra nationalist, his daughter vowed to continue on his path.
The funeral of Papa Eftim III was conducted by a Bulgarian Orthodox priest, Konstantin Kostof, as the so-called church has no clergy. It is noteworthy that the Turkish press reported that Papa Eftim III was buried in the Turkish Orthodox Cemetery in Sisli. However, there is no such cemetery either in Sisli or in deed elsewhere in Istanbul. The cemetery is the Greek Orthodox Cemetery in Sisli, where both Papa Eftim and Papa Eftim II, as well as other Turkish Orthodox’ clergy were buried following refusal by the Greek community and only after intervention by the authorities.
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