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Turkey to Return Confiscated Property

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Turkey to Return Confiscated Property

Aug-30-2011 at 02:10 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

Turkey to Return Confiscated Property
by Suzan Fraser — Associated Press | AP – Sun, Aug 28, 2011.

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's government is returning hundreds of properties confiscated from the country's Christian and Jewish minorities over the past 75 years in a gesture to religious groups who complain of discrimination that is also likely to thwart possible court rulings against the country.

A government decree published Saturday returns assets that once belonged to Greek, Armenian or Jewish trusts and makes provisions for the government to pay compensation for any confiscated property that has since been sold on.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to announce the decision formally later Sunday when he hosts religious leaders and the heads of about 160 minority trusts, at a fast-breaking dinner for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, officials said.

The properties include former hospital, orphanage or school buildings and cemeteries. Their return is a key European Union demand and a series of court cases has also been filed against primarily Muslim Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights. Last year, the court ordered Turkey to return an orphanage to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

Some properties were seized when they fell into disuse over the years. Others were confiscated after 1974 when Turkey ruled that non-Muslim trusts could not own new property in addition to those that were already registered in their names in 1936. The 1974 decision came around the time of a Turkish invasion of Cyprus that followed a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece and relations with that country were at an all time low.

Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government seeking to promote religious freedoms has pledged to address the problems of the religious minorities. In the past few years, it amended laws to allow for the return of some of the properties, but restrictions remained and the issue on how to resolve properties that were sold on to third parties was left unsolved.

The decree overcomes those restrictions and helps scupper further court rulings.

"There was huge pressure from the European Court of Human Rights which has already ruled against Turkey," said Orhan Kemal Cengiz a human rights activist and lawyer who specializes in minority issues.

"It is nevertheless a very important development," he said. "With the return of properties and the compensations, the minority communities will be able to strengthen economically and their lives will be made easier."

The country's population of 74 million, mostly Muslim, includes an estimated 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews and fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians.

Religious minorities have often complained of discrimination in Turkey, which had a history of conflict with Greece and with Armenians who accuse Turkish authorities of trying to exterminate them early in the last century. Turkey says the mass killings at that time were the result of the chaos of war, rather than a systematic campaign of genocide. Few minority members have been able to hold top positions in politics, the military or the public service.

Turkey is also under intense pressure to reopen a seminary that trained generations of Greek Orthodox patriarchs. The Halki Theological School on Heybeliada Island, near Istanbul, was closed to new students in 1971 under a law that put religious and military training under state control. The school closed its doors in 1985, when the last five students graduated.

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1. Turkish Government to Return Seized Property...

Aug-30-2011 at 02:12 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

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Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities
by Sebnem Arsu — New York Times, August 28, 2011.

ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish government said it would return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from religious minorities by the state or other parties over the years since 1936, and would pay compensation for properties that were seized and later sold.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement on Sunday to representatives of more than 150 Christian and Jewish trusts gathered at a dinner he hosted in Istanbul to break the day’s Ramadan fast. The government decree to return the properties, bypassing nationalist opposition in Parliament, was issued late Saturday.

The European Union, which Turkey has applied to join, has pressed the country to ease or eliminate laws and policies that discriminate against non-Muslim religious groups, including restrictions on land ownership. Many of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were seized after 1936 when trusts were called to list their assets, and in 1974 a separate ruling banned the groups from purchasing any new real estate.

Disputes over the groups’ properties have tied up Turkish and European courts for decades, and the European Court for Human Rights has ordered Turkey to pay compensation in several cases related to religious minority rights in recent years.

“Like everyone else, we also do know about the injustices that different religious groups have been subjected to because of their differences,” Mr. Erdogan said at the dinner, according to the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency. “Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to his religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over.”

In contrast with its staunchly secular predecessors, the Islam-inspired government of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P., has been more sympathetic and attentive to Turkey’s non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians. It has enacted a number of measures since 2002 to bring Turkish law more into compliance with European Union standards on minority rights, so that Turkey’s application to join the union could advance.

The decree issued on Saturday removed legal impediments that had continued to block the return of the properties even after amendments were enacted in recent years to allow it.

“There have been changes made to existent legislation at least five times since the government of the A.K. Party, but they have not been very satisfactory in practice,” said a Greek government official who asked not to be identified because of his diplomatic position. “We hope this time the changes would make a real difference in implementation.”

Less than 1 percent of Turkey’s 74 million people belong to religious minorities; there are about 120,000 Christians of different denominations, including Greek Orthodox, and about 25,000 Jews.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 29, 2011, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities.

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2. Turkey to return confiscated Jewish property

Aug-30-2011 at 02:18 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Reuters

Turkey to return confiscated Jewish property
August 29, 2011.

The Turkish government announced it will return property confiscated from Jews and Christians over the past seven decades.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday told the leaders of 150 Jewish and Christian foundations of the government order during a Ramadan break-fast dinner, according to reports. The trusts will be compensated for property that has been sold. The order, opposed by nationalist groups in the Turkish Parliament, is being seen as part of an attempt to endear Turkey to the European Union, which Turkey wants to join.

Most of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were taken over by the Turkish government after the 1936 Law on Foundations, which required the trusts to list their assets, according to The New York Times.

“Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to his religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over,” Erdogan reportedly told the leaders according to the Anatolian News Agency.

There are about 23,000 Jews in Turkey, which has a population of about 70 million.

The foundations have 12 months to apply to the government to regain their property, according to Today’s Zaman, a Turkish daily.

“Holocaust survivors welcome Turkey’s announcement on the properties of religious minorities and now call on the Turkish authorities to return hundreds of millions of dollars of stolen property—particularly gold—hidden by the Nazis there during World War II,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement.

Steinberg cited a report issued by the U.S. State Department in 1997 that found that more than 14 tons of gold looted by the Nazis from Europe was acquired by Turkey, now worth more than $1 billion.

“It is time for Turkey to come clean. If it wishes to enter the family of European nations, it should take the moral position adopted by the other European states and return to the victims—Jew and non-Jew—the properties stolen by the criminal Nazi regime,” Steinberg said.


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3. Turkey Failing on Minority Property Rights

Aug-30-2011 at 02:31 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

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Turkey failing on minority property rights
by Ayla Jean Yackley. Reuters | Sun Mar 15, 2009. Editing by Alison Williams

ISTANBUL — Turkey's EU-inspired reforms of laws limiting property rights have created new obstacles for ethnic minorities and threaten to stymie progress towards membership of the bloc, a report said.

Non-Muslim Turks still face "anti-democratic and unlawful practices" that violate the European Convention on Human Rights, despite legislation in September that sought to ease restrictions on their property ownership, the report by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or Tesev, said.

The European Union has said Turkey must expand rights for minorities if it is to advance its membership bid. The European Commission welcomed the new law in its annual progress report on Turkey, but said the government had failed to implement it fully and had not resolved outstanding property disputes.

"The rights of minorities are of utmost importance in the EU process," Dilek Kurban, one of two authors of the Tesev report, said at a news conference on Saturday.

"If Turkey is unable to resolve the issue of property rights, EU membership is impossible."

Since the 1930s, Turkey has seized thousands of properties belonging to Greek, Armenian and Jewish foundations. The foundations are mainly tasked with overseeing assets belonging to the minorities.

Turkey has also curbed their ability to buy and sell assets, receive financial assistance from overseas and generate revenue from property.

The law passed in September lifted such restrictions and includes terms for the return of some of the confiscated property. But it offers no "fair solution" to ensure the return of assets and now requires non-Muslim charities to seek state permission to acquire new property, Istanbul-based Tesev said.

Turkey's population of 71 million is 99 percent Muslim. About 80,000 Armenians, Jews and Greeks remain in Turkey, the descendents of Ottoman Empire subjects.

Under the new law, the state has re-registered properties it has seized under different names to prevent their return and bars non-Muslims from establishing new foundations, a right afforded Muslim charities, the report said.

Turkey has lost five cases at the European Court of Human Rights in the past two years that were brought by ethnic Greek and Armenian foundations. The Strasbourg-based court ordered the Turkish government to return the properties or pay about 3.8 million euros in reparations.

Turkey's main opposition parties have appealed to Turkey's top court to strike down the new law on foundations.

"The government is making efforts to meet EU criteria, but unless all parties and institutions are part of the process, little progress can be achieved," said Kezban Hatemi, the second author of the report.

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