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WikiLeaks: 2006-11-24: 06ISTANBUL2104: Foundations, Transformations and EU Accession: USCIRF Finds Facts in Turkey

by WikiLeaks. 06ISTANBUL2104: November 24, 2006.

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2012 at 07:03 PM UT


Viewing cable 06ISTANBUL2104, FOUNDATIONS, TRANSFORMATIONS AND EU ACCESSION:

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06ISTANBUL2104 2006-11-24 12:10 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Istanbul
VZCZCXRO7749
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #2104/01 3281210
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241210Z NOV 06
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6375
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA PRIORITY 2274
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 002104 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM TU
SUBJECT: FOUNDATIONS, TRANSFORMATIONS AND EU ACCESSION: 
USCIRF FINDS FACTS IN TURKEY 
 
REF: A. ANKARA 6394 
 
     B. ISTANBUL 2091 
 
ISTANBUL 00002104  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
Sensitive but Unclassified.  Please protect accordingly. 
 
This message was coordinated with Embassy Ankara. 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: The United States Commission on 
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) completed its 
nine-day fact finding mission in Turkey with a generally 
positive view of religious freedom here.  Delegation members 
clearly recognized the significant challenges facing 
religious minority communities in Turkey, but also gained a 
keener understanding of the complex broader issues affecting 
this issue, including the almost religious adherence to 
"laicism" as a pillar of the modern Turkish state and the 
impact of the EU accession process on the evolution of 
democratic institutions and practices here.  End summary. 
 
2. (SBU) USCIRF members visited Istanbul and Ankara November 
11 - 19 on a fact finding mission to assess the state of 
religious freedom in Turkey (ref A).  The delegation arrived 
with a variety of opinions and disparate levels of knowledge 
of Turkey in general and the historical relation between 
state and religion in particular.  Over the course of their 
visit, commissioners met with over 50 leaders of religious 
minority communities, political parties, NGOs, business 
organizations and Government in addition to subject matter 
experts in the academic and press communities in both Ankara 
and Istanbul. 
 
3. (SBU) Though commissioners shared a common mission, their 
line of questioning reflected the independent nature of 
USCIRF and served also to address individual concerns about 
religious freedom in Turkey.  Some probed concerns that AKP 
leadership might lead eventually to Sharia law and the demise 
of the secular state.  Others focused more specifically on 
problems facing the individual religious minority 
communities, as well as challenges facing the majority Muslim 
community. 
 
--------------------------------- 
Religious Minorities Free, But... 
--------------------------------- 
 
4. (SBU) In general, representatives from the religious 
minority communities claimed that, while able to freely 
practice their religions, certain GOT policies had the effect 
of restricting their ability to establish, operate and 
maintain institutions necessary for the effective function, 
if not survival, of their communities.  Respected Istanbul 
intellectual and publisher of the Armenian weekly Agos, Hrant 
Dink, captured these feelings when he equated GOT respect for 
religious freedom to "telling a bird with broken wings that 
he is free to fly."  This is a particularly important issue 
for the small (3,000 - 4,000) Greek Orthodox community, but 
is also important for the somewhat larger Jewish 
(approximately 24,000) and Armenian (over 30,000) communities. 
 
5. (SBU) Although the GOT's Foundations Directorate 
(Vakiflar) and the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) 
told the Commission that the new law on Foundations brought 
important advances that would help bridge the gap between the 
majority Muslim population and the minority communities, most 
contacts from minority communities said they found the law 
seriously inadequate because it does not include a mechanism 
for returning properties associated with foundations 
previously taken over by the GOT (ref B).  Several 
Commissioners were concerned by the Ecumenical Patriarch's 
reaction to GOT lack of progress on expropriated properties 
noting that he seemed extremely disheartened.  They urged 
greater USG pressure on the GOT to re-open Halki and 
strengthen the Foundations Law. An attorney for the Armenian 
Patriarchate also lamented the law's application of the 
principle of reciprocity to non-Muslim Turkish citizens, who 
she argued were being used to advance the cause of Muslim 
minorities in other countries. 
 
---------------------- 
Referendum on Kemalism 
---------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) An overarching theme was the relationship between 
religion and state and more specifically, the impact of Truth 
and Development Party (AKP) leadership on Turkish secularism. 
 Many contacts suggested Turkey was in a period of transition 
and that the rise of the Islam-oriented AKP represented the 
maturing of Turkish democracy.  Others questioned AKP motives 
 
ISTANBUL 00002104  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
and believed reforms intended to relax government 
restrictions on religious expression in public--wearing 
headscarves in universities, for example--represented a 
slippery slope towards the imposition of Sha'ria law.  The 
latter, however, were in the minority and one commissioner 
who was initially concerned about the prospect of Sha'ria law 
in Turkey was surprised to find himself positively concluding 
that it was "generally a good thing for a country when its 
citizens were religious."  A few interlocutors implied that 
they were more comfortable with the earlier, repressive, 
secularist status quo than with the current trend toward 
greater expression of Muslim -- not necessarily extremist -- 
religiosity, a sentiment that did not resonate with the 
Commission members. 
 
7. (SBU) The Turkish EU accession process was also discussed, 
with most concluding that it was a positive force for 
expanding religious freedom.  Murat Belge, a Turkish 
intellectual and the head of Bilgi University's comparative 
literature department, called it a referendum on Kemalism 
(Ataturk's secular legacy) and opined that anti-EU sentiments 
reflected a fear of democracy.  He surmised that the average 
Muslim did not have respect for the minority religions, 
stating, "It's difficult to have respect for minorities when 
the majority doesn't enjoy the respect of the Government." 
 
------------------------------------------ 
Chaldean Iraqi Refugees: Asylum-yes or no? 
------------------------------------------ 
 
8. (SBU) Some delegation members took a particular interest 
in Turkey's Christian Chaldean community, specifically the 
3800 Iraqi refugees who have sought refuge here. USCIRF 
members asked Chaldean representatives to provide examples of 
the community having been singled out for attacks in Iraq to 
use as evidence in support of its argument that Chaldeans be 
granted humanitarian refugee status (see USCIRF 09 November 
press release at: 
www.uscirf.gov/mediaroom/press/2006/november/ 20061109 
IraqRefugees.html).  Some delegation members openly 
criticized what they said was both Department and UNHCR 
policy, i.e. that the community's situation is no worse than 
that of others in Iraq and therefore should not be entitled 
to special humanitarian refugee status. 
 
9. (SBU) Comment   The USCIRF delegation was exposed to a 
tremenous amount of information and a diverse array ofopinions regarding the status of religious freedomin Turkey 
over the course of its visit.  The complexity of this country 
was evident to all as deleation members agreed with the head 
of Turkish thnk tank TESEV Can Paker's assessment that, 
"Turky is like boiling water--it can be liquid and gas at 
the same time."  A Jewish community representative 
exemplified this dynamic by lamenting the secular 
establishment's historical responsibility in denying the 
minorities juridical personality while at the same time 
declaring this establishment as critical to protecting Turkey 
from encroaching Islamism.  Some contacts expressed concerns 
about the possibility of the delegation writing a negative 
report on Turkey.  It appears that their fears will be 
allayed as most delegation members told us that despite some 
obvious problems, they generally have a more positive view of 
the religious freedom situation here than anticipated.  End 
comment. 
JONES

 



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