Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has now linked possible legal improvements for the patriarchate, to Greece taking similar steps for the Turkish minority on Greek soil.
In an interview published this week in "Kriter," a magazine specializing in Turkish-European relations, Erdogan said his government continued to work for the reopening of a Greek Orthodox seminary near Istanbul that Turkey closed in 1971.
Without the school on the island of Halki, the Orthodox clergy in Istanbul are in danger of dying out. Although there are only a few thousand Greeks left in the city that was once the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, the patriarchate -- which dates back to the fourth century -- has remained the spiritual center of the Orthodox Church worldwide.
In the "Kriter" interview, Erdogan said the seminary could only be reopened if the government in Athens introduced changes benefiting the ethnic Turkish community in northeastern Greece -- a region called Thrace which borders the northwestern part of Turkey.
Patriarch Bartholomew told Turkish media that it was wrong to establish a link between the two issues. "Why do we have to pay the price for mistakes or deficits over there?" he asked. "We are Turkish citizens and we want our rights as citizens. We pay taxes, we do our military service, we vote in elections."