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U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Urges Turkey to Return Christian Churches

Posted: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 07:31 PM CT

House Foreign Affairs Committee Passes Berman-Cicilline Amendment Calling on Turkey to Return Christian Churches

— Amendment based on the “Return of Churches” resolution introduced by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Ed Royce (R-CA)

Armenian, Greek and Assyrian American communities mobilized in support of landmark religious freedom measure urging Turkey to allow freedom of worship

WASHINGTON — With a vote of 43 to 1, the House Foreign Affairs Committee today overwhelmingly adopted the Berman-Cicilline Amendment, calling on Turkey pressing Turkey to return stolen Christian churches and to end its repression of its Christian minority, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“Today's overwhelming vote represents a powerful victory for religious freedom, and a step toward the rightful return of the thousands of Christian churches and holy sites stolen by Turkey through genocide,” said Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian.

“Ninety six years after the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians, the Turkish Government has destroyed or confiscated the vast majority of their holy sites and places of worship. The Foreign Affairs Committee today sent a powerful message to Turkey that it must come to terms with this brutal legacy, respect religious freedom of surviving Christian communities, and return the fruits of its crimes.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) was joined by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in offering the amendment to the State Department Authorization bill, based upon language from H.Res.306, the “Return of Churches” resolution spearheaded by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), both senior members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Armenian Americans across the U.S. made thousands of phone calls to their Representatives in support of the measure, following a week of action alerts issued by the Armenian National Committee of America.

Similar calls to action have been issued by Archbishops Moushegh Mardirossian and Oshagan Choloyan, Prelates of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Western and Eastern United States, respectively. His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, Fr. Oshagan Gulgulian, Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan, and Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan were in attendance at the Committee offering their support for the passage of this legislation.

The measure has also received broad-based support from the Greek and Assyrian American communities, with the American Hellenic Education and Progressive Association (AHEPA), the American Hellenic Institute, and the American Hellenic Council issuing statements calling their community to action. “This resolution stands in the proud American tradition of championing religious freedom around the world,” stated AHEPA Supreme President Nicholas A. Karacostas. “If adopted, this measure will further reinforce our nation’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and also build upon the passage by Congress of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and many other pieces of legislation promoting religious freedom abroad.”

The ANCA Webcast the proceedings live on its website – http://www.anca.org. ; Additional coverage of speeches offered by Committee members will be provided in the upcoming days.

Royce Supports Successful Amendment Urging Turkey to Protect Christian Heritage

Wednesday, July 20, 2011.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a markup for H.R. 2583, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, at which Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) spoke in favor of a successful amendment offered by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) that calls upon the government of Turkey to end religious discrimination, allow religious prayer and education, and return stolen church property. The amendment text was taken from H. Res. 306, legislation Royce introduced with Rep. Berman on June 15, 2011.

"Religious minorities are under grave threat in today's Turkey. Turkey is 99 percent Muslim. But rather than enjoying protection, very vulnerable religious minority groups including the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church are denied full legal status," said Royce.

Royce added, "This amendment calls on Turkey to allow all Turks to practice their faiths, return stolen church properties, and allow property owners to repair their churches. In Turkey, it is illegal for religious minority groups to study, practice, or teach one’s own faith. If religious needs cannot be met, religious minority groups will decline, as they have, and in some cases—cease to exist. Turkey has an international obligation to see that this doesn't happen."

The amendment was accepted by the Committee. The next stop for H.R. 2583 is consideration on the floor of the House of Representatives. Royce's H. Res. 306 --opposed by the Turkish government-- has 35 co-sponsors.

Royce noted, "Today we had a win. I'm going to push for a bigger win though, and that's passage of H. Res. 306, the Royce-Berman bill."

Rep. Ed Royce is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenia.

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