Assyrians May Be Recognized as a Minority in Turkey
According to the new Bill on Pious Foundations, which has been presented to the Ministerial Council for signature, for the first time the Lausanne Peace Treaty signed on 24 July 1923 is being violated. (1) In the bill prepared by the Directorate General of Pious Foundations, Assyrians (2) have been listed among minorities living in Turkey.
According to the Lausanne Treaty, in force for 79 years, [only] the Greeks, Armenians and Jews were recognised as minorities. (3)
In the reasons for the Bill, prepared under the leadership of Pious Foundations Director-General Nurettin Yardimci, it is stated that groups which have cohesive race, language and religious characteristics and want to live together among the majority are identified as congregations [cemaat] (4). “In our country there are four non-Muslim [communities] which fit to this description: The Greek, the Armenian, the Jewish and the Assyrian communities”. The law on minorities was specified in the Lausanne Treaty signed on 24 July 1923. According to the Lausanne Treaty, among the non-Muslim in Turkey only the Greeks, the Armenians and the Jews were defined as minorities. In the Turkish legal lexicon, the terms minorities and congregations are used synonymously. It is worthy of note that in the Bill only the Assyrians are viewed as “minority”. The new Pious Foundation Bill, which is awaiting government approval, completely changes the status of the pious foundations belonging to minorities.
If the Bill becomes law, the regulation, in operation since 1936, prohibiting minority foundations’ acquisition of property, will be abolished. From 1 January 2002, in conformity with the views of the ministries of Internal and Foreign Affairs, property that was confiscated by the Pious Foundations Directorate will be listed as property of the minority foundations.
Since 1936, minority pious foundations were not able to acquire property under any circumstances.
In Turkey there are 165 non-Muslim pious foundations: 77 Greek, 52 Armenian, 19 Jewish, 10 Assyrian, 1 Bulgarian, 2 Georgian, 3 Chaldean and one belonging to an artisan guild. The Greek community has 54 schools: 44 primary, nine middle and high schools and one theology school. (5) The Armenian community has 32 schools: 22 primary, 5 middle schools and 5 high schools. The Jewish community has five schools: four primary, one high school.
According to the “Directive on Foreign Schools” formulated in 1953, there is a prohibition on these schools on opening branches or even increasing the number of classes. If the new Law on Pious Foundation passes, these schools will be able to acquire property and set up branches.
There are 5,700 pious foundations administered by the Directorate General of Foundations, which were all remaining from the Ottoman period. Furthermore, there are 160 Community and Artisans' Foundations established by minorities.
(1) This is not correct. Turkey has violated the Lausanne Treaty almost from its inception.
(2) The newspaper uses the term Suryani, in Turkish. The designation ‘Assyrian’ is considered the most appropriate rendering of the term.
(3) This is not correct either. The text of the Treaty does not identify particular minorities. It has been the practice, however, to treat those three ethnic groups as recognised minorities.
(4) The term can also be translated as ‘community’.
(5) Most of these schools are not operating because of the lack of students and the Halki Theological Seminary was closed by the authorities in 1973.