Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Turkey to return seized property to religious minorities

The Turkish government has agreed to return hundreds of confiscated properties to the country's non-Muslim minorities. The European Union has joined Christian and Jewish communities in praising Turkey's historic step.

The Turkish government has pledged to return hundreds of properties confiscated from religious minorities over the last 75 years, a decision lauded by the European Union and Turkey's Christian and Jewish communities.

Former owners of any property or land sold on to a third party are also to be refunded the market value by the state treasury.

The decree was announced ahead of a fast-breaking dinner for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in Istanbul on Sunday. In attendance was Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as representatives of the Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities.

The decision to return the properties, which include churches, community centers, hospitals, schools, houses and cemeteries, was welcomed by members of Turkey's Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Jewish communities.

"This is a restoration, a reparation of an injustice," said Bartholomew I, the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, during the holy dinner.

"This is a extremely great and positive step and certainly an event which the whole world will appreciate," added Pantelis Vingas Lakis, president of Turkey's largest Greek lobby group.

Appeasing the EU

The European Union has also welcomed the move, seen as a step forward in Turkey's candidacy bid for EU membership.

Erdogan could face criticism from Turkish nationalists
A spokeswoman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle described the return of the property as a positive step, "leading the way for the implementation of religious freedom." Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a European Parliament deputy of Germany's Free Democratic Party, called it a "historic step."

The Turkish state began seizing properties from religious minorities in 1936, when all non-Muslim foundations in Turkey were forced to register their properties.

In the following decades the Turkish government took many of the buildings and land and sold some of it off. The finances of Christian and Jewish communities were deeply affected and the number of non-Muslim Turks dwindled as many opted to leave the country.

Making amends

On Sunday, Erdogan pledged his remorse for the widespread confiscation and vowed that the new regulation would address Turkey's past mistakes.

"We thus solve a problem that has damaged our reputation in the international arena for decades," he said.

The dispute over the return of Turkey's expropriated property has occupied the European Court of Human Rights for years, and the court has repeatedly ruled against the government in Ankara.

Erdogan may have earned the recognition and respect of the Christian and Jewish communities with the decision, but it's likely he will receive a very different reaction from Turkish nationalists. The response from the country's traditionally strong nationalist opposition party is also still unknown.
Source: Deutsche Welle

The Armenians outside of Turkey take a much more sceptical view of this.
The Turkish Prime Minister has recently signed a decree to return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from religious minorities, Christian and Jewish religious properties by the state or other parties over the years since 1936, and would pay compensation for properties that were seized and later sold. Is this real progress or a demonstration of Turkey’s traditional policy?

From the point of view of the Armenian community of Istanbul the return of the part of the confiscated property should be assessed as a positive step, expert of Turkish studies Anush Hovhannisyan told a press conference today. However, according to her, the step is such a small one and needs to be spoken about.

“It’s a very trifle step, since the loss of Armenians was immense, taking into consideration that the process of confiscation of Armenians’ property was continuous, especially during the genocide and the years that followed,” she said.

Therefore, the expert is assured that this step of Turkey fits into its traditional policy and contains certain danger. According to political scientist Levon Shirinyan, practice shows that no law has ever been fully implemented in Turkey. Both are confident that Turkey has made the step out of its own calculations.

According to Anush Hovhannisyan, this is first of all a PR action. Besides, Turkey thus wants to solve a practical issue: the European Court of Human Rights is flooded with numerous cases against Turkey, and the latter is losing in most cases.

Ankara pursues the purpose to diverge the attention from the Armenian Cause, to separate Turkish Armenians from the rest of Diaspora and prevent the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as the Congress is expected to start discussions soon.

There is another issue Turkey is trying to solve. “Every fall the Council of Europe discusses the issue of religious minorities in Turkey, and every time it criticizes Turkey. This is an attempt to mitigate the criticism,” Levon Shirinyan said.
Source

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