Historic decision: Erdogan returns seized property to religious minorities

» 08/29/2011 09:41
TURKEY

by NAT da Polis
A decree published last night for the return of thousands of properties seized in ’36, just hours before an Iftar of the Prime Minister with representatives of religious minorities. The beneficiaries are Greek-orthodox Christians, Armenians, Jews. Roman Catholics do not fall within the recognized minorities. The Prime Minister’s hopes: end to era of discrimination.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – In a sudden twist, the Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan has decided to return thousands of properties, confiscated by the government after 1936, to non-Muslim religious foundations.

This is Erdogan’s second surprise reserved for the old establishment of the Turkish Republic after the recent decapitation of the heads of the armed forces and the return of the primacy of politics over the military.

The publication of the draft-law on the restitution of property took place yesterday, just hours earlier than the traditional Iftar [the dinner-party that celebrates the end of the Ramadan fast] which the representative of the non-Muslim religious foundations, Lakis Vingas, held last night with the Prime Minister guest of honour.

The publication of the draft-law is a real “coup de theater”: it will return all property to religious foundations that the Turkish administration with various subterfuges has seized in the past, after the census of 1936. Non-Muslim religious foundations means those recognized by various international treaties signed by Turkish Republic after 1923.

The decree has been published within a few days of Bartholomew I’s request for the return of unjustly usurped properties to minorities. In his campaign to see the return of certain properties of the Greek-orthodox communities, Bartholomew I had approached various European forums.

The decree provides:

1) the restitution of property as they were surveyed and registered in 1936 and subsequently confiscated from the religious foundations by the various administrations of the Republic of Turkey;

2) the return of the management of cemeteries belonging to non-Muslim foundations, which have been improperly sold to various towns and municipalities;

3) the restitution of undefined deeded property (such as monasteries and parishes), which were never recognized as legal entities by the Turkish Republic.

4) In the event that these properties have been sold or disposed of in various ways by the Turkish state parties, the Minister of Finance of the Republic of Turkey will establish with the owners a just compensation.

Interested parties are invited to submit the relevant documentation to the Directorate General of Foundations within 12 months.

It should be noted that the last law of the Turkish parliament voted on February 20, 2008, challenged and never accepted by opposition did not provide any of these regulations. What remains to be determined is the fate of mazbut properties (the so-called “occupied” properties) in which management, administration and property passed to the Turkish state.

According to an initial calculation, the decree provides for the restitution of 1000 properties to the Greek-orthodox Christians, 100 to the Armenians, numerous properties to the Chaldean Catholics and also to the Jews.

Nothing is expected for the Roman Catholics as they do not fall under the Treaty of Lausanne. But according to observers, the passage of the decree gives hope.

The decree has provoked positive reactions from all minority representatives. The director of the non-Muslim foundations described it as “a step of great importance and great historical content”, the lawyer for minorities, Dr. Kezmpan, described it as a great revolution, after the liberation from the military dominance” . Another lawyer, Dr Hatem said that finally “the wrong done to the Church is restored.”

In recent years the EU has always asked Turkey to take steps to remove discriminatory laws against religious minorities. And in some cases the European Court for Human Rights has condemned the Turkish state to return property or compensate the former owners.

At the Iftar yesterday, Erdogan said: “Like everyone else, we also do know about the injustices that different religious groups have been subjected to because of their differences…Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to his religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over”.

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