Documenting Human Rights: James Rockas ’08 Exposes Persecution Through Film

Virtually unknown to the rest of the world, the Greek Orthodox Church in modern-day Istanbul has been constantly under attack by the Turkish government for the past eighty-five years. James Rockas ’08 has recently shed light on this extremely controversial and volatile topic through a video of first-hand accounts from his trip to Turkey, titled “On the Precipice of Extinction.” There have been dark secrets revolving around the Turkish government’s participation in the confiscation of several thousand valuable Church properties and the infiltration and usurping of the selection of the Patriarch successor. It is widely believed that the Turkish government is taking such aggressive actions in an effort to define a solid national identity for its people by persecuting all minority groups associated with Turkey. Due to harsh, constricting governmental control, it has been nearly impossible for the people of the Church to speak out publicly against these atrocious acts. Thus, the accounts of these deliberately hostile acts towards the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Christian faith as a whole have only received minimal publicity, until a senior at Phillips Academy decided it was finally time to speak up. While doing some research into this matter with his father, Rockas discovered the “white paper” written by Yale Law School, which discussed the Greek Orthodox Church’s various claims against the government of Turkey. This prompted him to delve deeper into this religious and highly intimate issue, and it was then that he realized how incredibly necessary it was for him to give voice to these unsaid matters. Starting in the summer of 2006, Rockas began his film project with a digital camera, camcorder and wireless microphone. He flew to Istanbul with his parents and grandparents with his mind set on exposing the truth. Rockas said, “I decided that I needed to do something to help resolve this issue. I originally intended to write about the issue and try to get my work published as letters to the editor and other outlets, but I soon realized that a huge amount of literature already existed on the subject and that its impact, in terms of public awareness, had been minimal. It was at this point that I decided that a film on the main issues since film is, in my opinion, the most persuasive medium of communication in today’s world.” The film, “On the Precipice of Extinction,” is a forty-minute documentary that Rockas assembled using the digital photos and recordings from his two trips to Turkey over the past years. The film includes footage of private interviews with prominent figures including Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Dr. Anthony Limberakis of the Order of St. Andrew, a former member of the European Parliament and Camiel Eurlings, Rappateur on Turkey’s Accession to the European Union. In Rockas’ film, Eurlings said, “Regarding religious freedom, the European value is absolute freedom and absolute respect. Everybody in the European Union has the rights to believe in what he or she wants, whether you are a Christian, whether you are a Jew, whether you are a Muslim; even if you choose to be a non-believer, all people are equal for the law and should respect each other. I’m saying that is a very core value of the European Union…So if Turkey wants to enter, it is essential that that freedom and respect also shows up here.” Rockas said, “Many politicians, especially in the US, say that Turkey should be allowed to join the EU and reap the economic benefits, and that they will change once they are in the EU. I do not see this as realistic. Ronald Reagan once said, ‘To sit back hoping that someday, someway, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last–but eat you he will.’ Perhaps I am wrong, but the risk to one of the world’s oldest religious institutions is immediate and to play games with the future of that institution would be irresponsible. The violations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s basic human rights and religious freedom must end.” By special request from the Metroplitan Methodios of Boston, his documentary will be distributed to both churches and political groups to spread awareness and create support for religious freedom for the suffering people of the Church. Rockas stated, “The need for such a brave few should not be present. If Turkey is to become part of Europe and The West, then it must become a free and open society in which service to one’s religion would not require such sacrifices that they must endure. We lucky who are fortunate to have the rights which the Orthodox Minority in Turkey lack have a responsibility to do all that we can to aid the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its fight for religious freedom. We must realize, after all, that Martin Luther King Jr. was correct when he wrote in his Birmingham jail cell, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’” The publicity and awareness that Rockas’ film has raised has been absolutely astounding, and he said he hopes that more and more people will join him in his mission to liberate not only the Greek Orthodox community but Turkey as a nation. By embracing the diverse and multicultural nature of its community, Rockas believes that Turkey will be able to “truly become a free, democratic country and could further join the west in economic and social partnership.” Rockas’s video can be viewed at