Thursday, February 07, 2008

Turkish parliament crafts law to return property confiscated from religious minorities

2008-02-07, Austria
© AP

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkey's parliament is considering a law that would allow properties confiscated by the state to be returned to Christian and Jewish minority foundations.

The reform appears designed to meet conditions set by the European Union for Turkey's membership in the bloc, but critics say the measure would not go far enough. Parliament is expected to vote as soon as next week on returning property to religious minorities, and the ruling party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the majority required to approve the law.

Parliament first approved it in November 2006. But the president at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was a secularist who was often at odds with Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government, and he vetoed it. The country's population of 70 million, mostly Muslim, includes 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews, and fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians.

The law would allow foundations to recover confiscated properties, but it was not clear if they would be allowed to reclaim property that has been sold or whether they would be compensated for the loss of such properties. President Abdullah Gul, a close associate of Erdogan, is expected to approve the measure.

The Istanbul-based Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, an independent research center known as TESEV, predicted that Turkey would face more criticism from Europe if the law «does not ensure the return or indemnification of the seized assets of non-Muslim foundations.

Religious minorities have often complained of discrimination in Turkey, which has a history of conflict with Greece, which is predominantly Christian, and with Armenians, another mostly Christian group. Many Armenians accuse Turkish authorities of trying to exterminate them early in the last century, but Turkey says mass killings at that time were the result of the chaos of war, rather than a systematic campaign of genocide.

The law allows foundations to reclaim properties, including churches, school buildings and orphanages, that are registered under the names of saints. The law does not address some types of confiscated properties, such as cemeteries or minority school properties.

The proposed bill said authorities shall consider «the international principle of reciprocity» in implementing it, in an apparent reference to Turkish demands that similar measures are implemented in Greece to expand rights of the ethnic Turkish minority there.

Luiz Bakar, the spokeswoman for the Armenian Patriarchate, an Orthodox Christian group based in Istanbul, expressed concern over uncertainities about how the law would be implemented.

«We are ethnic Armenians, but we are Turkish citizens, we are not foreigners. So, applying the principle of reciprocity to us would amount to discrimination,» Bakar said.

«The inclusion of this provision in the draft law shows that the state is still not regarding non-Muslim citizens as equal citizens,» the TESEV report said.
Turkey seized some properties owned by minority foundations in 1974 around the time of a Turkish invasion of the island of Cyprus that followed a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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