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Turkey Decrees Partial Return of Confiscated Christian, Jewish Property (Update)

Hachikian: Erdogan’s decree would return less than one percent of the churches and church properties confiscated during the Armenian Genocide and the decades that followed it.

ANKARA, Turkey—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 over complaints of discrimination, and in a move likely to thwart possible court rulings against the country, reported the Associated Press (AP).

The Akhtamar Church

A government decree published on Aug. 27 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.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the decision formally on Aug. 28 when he hosted religious leaders and the heads of about 160 minority trusts, at a fast-breaking dinner for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

The properties include former hospital, orphanage or school buildings and cemeteries. Their return is a key European Union demand. 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 a union with Greece, when 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. Over the past few years, it has amended laws to allow for the return of some of the properties, but restrictions remained and the issue of properties sold 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. 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.

Pressure from the U.S.

As the Armenian Weekly has reported in recent months, there were more than 2,000 Armenian churches operating in what is today Turkey before the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Most of the churches were destroyed and their properties confiscated. The aforementioned decree does not include these church properties. It is only limited to properties confiscated over the past 75 years. Moreover, not only about ten percent properties confiscated after 1936 are being returned. (Read Armenian Weekly editorial on this issue here.)

“Erdogan’s decree, clearly prompted by increased Congressional scrutiny of Turkey’s repression of its Christian minority and successive losses at the European Court of Human Rights, would return less than one percent of the churches and church properties confiscated during the Armenian Genocide and the decades that followed it,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “Ninety-six years after the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians, Greeks, and Syriacs, this decree is a smokescreen to evade the much broader consequences of those brutal acts. The ANCA will expand its outreach to Congress and the [Obama] Administration to ensure that the Turkish government comes to terms with its brutal past, respects the religious freedom of surviving Christian communities, and returns the fruits of its crime.”

Last month, with a vote of 43-1, the House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted an amendment to the State Department Authorization bill, spearheaded by Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), calling for the return of Christian churches confiscated by the Turkish government and an end to Turkey’s discrimination against its Christian communities. ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian welcomed that decision, stating, “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.” The passage of the resolution was also hailed by Greek and Syriac American organizations, including the American Hellenic Educational and Public Affairs Association (AHEPA), American Hellenic Institute (AHI), American Hellenic Council (AHC), and the Syriac Universal Alliance, among many others.

The amendment is similar to a resolution (H.Res.306), introduced in June by Representatives Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), which has over 35 co-sponsors.

Turkey’s treatment of its Christian minority has also emerged as an issue of contention in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of U.S. ambassador to Turkey nominee Francis Ricciardone. In response to questions submitted by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Ricciardone erroneously asserted that a majority of Christian churches functioning in 1915 continue to operate as churches today. A revised response recently submitted to the key Senate panel continued to misrepresent the number of functioning churches. In response, Armenian American church leaders issued powerfully worded spiritual messages. In an Aug. 15 statement, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern U.S., stressed that the ambassador’s initial assertion was “so blatantly false that it cannot remain unchallenged.” He went on to explain that “the facts are quite clear. From the massacres of Armenians in 1895-96 and the Armenian Genocide in 1915, to the decades following the establishment of the Turkish republic, Christian houses of worship were systematically destroyed or confiscated. My own church’s hierarchal see, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, was a victim of this process, and today is exiled in Lebanon. The archives of the Catholicosate contain hundreds of original deeds and other documentation of churches and church owned property that was confiscated.”

The Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern U.S., Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, stated that Ricciardone’s response had “deeply offended Armenian Americans,” explaining that “the loss of these many hundreds of churches, their neglect, and outright destruction, and the conversion of many of our sanctuaries into mosques, is a matter of intense pain to Armenians: an ongoing reminder of the loss of life and the destruction that we suffered as a result of the 1915 genocide.”

18 Comments on Turkey Decrees Partial Return of Confiscated Christian, Jewish Property (Update)

  1. ‘It is only limited to properties confiscated in the past 75 years.’
    Right you are ArmenianWeekly.

    How convenient  ‘… those that were already registered in their names in 1936.’
    Whatever happened in the real world in 1915-1923 apparently didn’t happen on the Turkish calendar. Since all traces of Armenians were erased by 1936, why not start the calendar in 1936: solves a lot of problems for the Turks.

    Another desperate ploy by the Turks to  head-off massive pressure that they sense is building and  coming from the West:  now that they have abandoned Kemalism, are returning to their Islamist Ottoman roots, and the secular honeymoon with the West is drawing to a close.

     

  2. 1936 is taken as a departure point because it is when the wakfs (community institutions) had been asked to present a list of their properties. That list was used for confiscation starting 1974.

  3. You can’t have your cake and eat it too! Keep in mind that the more which is made of this, the more of a backlash it will provide when it comes time for settling the NK situation. Rest assured that Turkey, Azerbaijan and Moslems world-wide will NOT go gently into that good night! They will pay close attention to what PM Erdogan is doing AND what the reactions from Armenians and Greeks will be, and how they will reciprocate. My advice thus, is to stop grumbling for everything on the planet, and act like adults. Otherwise, you simply give impetus for what I mentioned earlier.

  4.    How correct you are Avery. Our reaction as a community must be swift and united to this ridiculous ploy to deceive the western world that Turkey has become “tolerant”. Erdogan does nothing without a duplicitous intent. The 1936 ruling will probably do little for the Armenian community, but he will attempt to gain maximum public relations value. Our response should be focused on specific properties that are not currently under control of Armenian institutions. Real change in Turkey is difficult given the fractious nature of the society and the balancing act that Erdogan maintain to slowly move the country to the Islamic right. Return Ani, return Akhtamar and several hundred properties stolen. Stop meddling in the institutions that have been maintained. Beware of the fox.

  5. avatar J. Shamshoian // August 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm // Reply

    What if you didn’t have proof of ownership?  Many did not have proof of ownership, but there was chaos at the time of the massacres and who knew that papers; were important to retain, for instance, insurance papers.  My grandmother handed the keys to her  husband’s (who was killed BEFORE  the deportations) to a Turk who was in the same business, and who agreed to take her youngest (Vahram ) and her eldest (my Mother, Parantzem) children  into his home.  

    My Grandmother, pregnant with her  fifth child, went on to be saved by Kurds on the March, because she had gold.  After the birth of her baby she came back to birthplace and rented an apartment, only to die of grief and desolation.  Her chldren all survived by going to Egypt, and my mother by going to Greece and her olddest sybling by going to France.  My mother sent for her sisters, who were trained in Egypt, so she encouraged them to get their own SS#s but till their dying days they accused my mother of profiting by having the insurance papers of their property in Turkey.

  6. OK Robert. I guess the mourning period is over. So is the truce. I will no longer remind you of your promise, since you withdrew it in another thread with requisite apologies.

    There was a Reset on that one particular item. I will honor it.

    However, your recent posts indicate no fundamental change in your attitude. Too bad.
    Tying anything between Armenia and Turkey to Artsakh (aka NK) is the unmistakable ‘tell’.  And your previous post “advising”  us not to get involved in what goes on between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Artsakh did no go unnoticed by me: I just let it go in that thread to see if it was a one-off vent by you.

    Your post above says it was not.  Therefore, my self-imposed restraints are off.
    Make sure you don’t slip, because I’ll be watching.
    Gonna be lots of fun. 

  7. avatar Darwin Jamgochian // August 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm // Reply

    Something all Armenians have aspired to. This was a collective effort by Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians. No telling what we can accomplish when we put our heads together. The journey may be long – but we will get there.

  8. avatar Random Armenian // August 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm // Reply

    Robert,
    “… time for settling the NK situation. Rest assured that Turkey, Azerbaijan and Moslems world-wide will NOT go gently into that good night!”
    The NK war was not a Muslim-Christian war! It was not a religious war.

  9. Resurrect an Armenian church (to the world) – BUT ALLOW ARMENIAN RITES PERFORMED O N L Y ONE DAY EACH YEAR!  What, if any, dealings of Turks with Armenians have been honest and above board… Turks are of the muslim Ottoman mentality – still… Turk leaderships are not to be trusted… See how the Turks are unable to commit themselves – with the other nations of the world… Seems many nations have had to contend with the inappropriate ideas of the Turkeys… Why should, of all peoples of our world, we Armenians believe what comes from these Turk leaderships… Agreements/changed… recently Protocols and the abuse of the our churches which were resurrected to become THEIR Turkish museums. (But to the world it is as if Armenians were gaining their own churches!!  HOW MANY TIMES SHALL WE HAVE TRUST IN ANYTHING, IN ANY WAYS, WHICH IS “OFFERED” FROM THE TURKISH LEADERSHIPS… and then, “DENIED”!!  

  10. University of St Thomas Law School published a new study by Dadrian (Groong 8/25)
    Last paragraph…
    “Massive transfer of wealth from victim to perpetrator Genocide emerges here doubly functional. The physical element of victim population ends up yielding the emergence of a new source of wealth, and with it new cadres of wealthy classes in perpetrator camp.  In the section of Expropriation and Confiscation of Goods and Assets, Dadrian documents and analyzes with ample source material the specifics of this lethal operation of transfer of wealth from victim to the perpetrator. Mentions Artistotle’s dicturm that: “When separated from law and justice, man is the worst of all animals.”

  11. It’s obvious that poor Robert is clutching straws and trying to confuse the readers by involving NK/Moslem etc. For all Armenians and other minorities, the larger picture is that the ‘wheel’ has begun to turn, put your weight behind it.

  12. Glass will always be empty not even half full for some.  Facts rarely matter on thses issues as I had stated repeatedly.  This was a true dark stain on the Republic, and I hope other steps follow.  Let us also hope (maybe in vain) that others take some leesons too.

  13. Ahhhhh Robert.. i was wondering when you will come back to your real senses…and whallaaaaa…..you did.. guess it is hard to break old habbits… I would like to take everyone to the memory lane and share the journey of your posts…to show the progression of how many avatars you used and the change in your style of writings…

    Hopefully the AW will post the avatars and colors as well… as I want to show everyone how creative but dumb you are…..

    Robert
    August 20, 2011 | Permalink | Reply

    Avery,
    It’d sure be nice if you knew what you were talking about! Armenia lives for handouts!! Must I remind you of Armenia’s economic standing (only Madagascar is worse)? Without my tax dollars going to one of the most corrupt and religiously oppressive nations on the planet, and also without the Russian military there to protect you (LMAO), Armenia would be the typical professional beggars that they’ve been for the past century! So cry me a river and read a book for once (not the typical ARF dashnak Armenian propaganda)! 

    Robert
    August 22, 2011 | Permalink | Reply
    I very recently just lost my brother to heart disease. I’ve come to a point in my life that hate and this constant “one up-manship” is wrong. I still believe that we need to debate if we are to settle our differences and be able to come to terms and reconcile, but ever since my personal family loss, my feelings and outlook towards life have truly changed. It doesn’t matter whether you nor anyone else believes me. Life is too damn short to continue this nonesense. I guess what I’m trying to say to you, and to the rest of you on this site, is that I’m sorry for any smartass remarks I may have made, as well as any personal insults I may have said in the past. It was wrong and not a mature approach to deal with a complex issue. Sometimes, one’s feelings just well up from deep inside and come forth before one has a total grasp of those feelings, and translated into words that may be hurtful, ugly and/or misconstrued. I think that we’re all guilty of this to varying extents. If you all can forgive me for my past and recent transgressions, I certainly, and already have, forgiven all of you for your negative contributions as well. I believe that we all can be friends. I extend my hand to you all in burying the hatchet and taking those first important steps to becoming friends once more. I don’t mean to ramble (it’s not always easy to find the words one feels), but there it is. I’d be more than happy to come back to give positive inputs if so invited. If not, then I’ll understand and bother you no more (no grudges held either). Sometimes we all have to take chances in life!    

    Robert
    August 22, 2011 | Permalink | Reply

    To the editorial board:
    I’ve said/written some cruel and neagative things about you. For this I sincerely apologize. I have no real excuse other than the frustration of having my comments censored or deleted, and thus being unable to defend myself at crucial periods. Regardless though, those reasons are no excuse for some of the horrible things that I had written to you. It was wrong of me and I’m sorry.

    Robert
    August 23, 2011 | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for your kind words. I know that they were sincere. May we all strive to settle and overcome our differences and once again become the brothers and sisters God intended for us to be.

    Robert
    August 27, 2011 | Permalink | Reply

    HovsepM,
    You’re wrong in your assumption about me. I’ve already written that I wish to provide positive input for all parties, so that an amicable solution can be reached and agreed to by all. I have a lot of very recent personal pain to deal with, which has given me a new insight. Although I have not given up on my beliefs of historical facts (as backed up by my grandfamilies documentations and verbal accounts of that era), I also believe that all sides suffered………… This is why a historical commission is so important (comprised of both Armenian, Turkish and neutral scholars), to review all archives and hopefully get to the truth of what truly occurred. I don’t believe that only Turks should be portrayed as being evil (when you know as well as I do that crimes were committed by all), and thus be solely expected to provide an apology (what about an apology from the Armenian side for their actions/roles?). the Turks and Armenians living outside (e.g. Europe and America) don’t have a full grasp of what they feel in Turkey and Armenia. This is a major factor that constantly creates problems. They say that they’re happy and “wish that those living outside would stop causing trouble”. This goes for both sides! I for one feel that they’re correct. We who live here in the US need not stick our noses into their lives over there. Let them settle their issues! Perhaps then the NK situation and any other problem can thus be settled, with new freindship treaties between Turkey, Armenia and Azebaijan signed, creating cooperation in many areas (economical, scientific, cultural, etc.), with mutual advancement and peace in the region.          

    AND YOUR LAST POST , WHICH MATCHES TO YOUR AVATAR ABOVE….ahhhhh.. guess the mourning period is over Robert…

    Robert
    August 28, 2011 | Permalink | Reply

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too! Keep in mind that the more which is made of this, the more of a backlash it will provide when it comes time for settling the NK situation. Rest assured that Turkey, Azerbaijan and Moslems world-wide will NOT go gently into that good night! They will pay close attention to what PM Erdogan is doing AND what the reactions from Armenians and Greeks will be, and how they will reciprocate. My advice thus, is to stop grumbling for everything on the planet, and act like adults. Otherwise, you simply give impetus for what I mentioned earlier.

    and do you remember what i said to you? let me remind you just in case you forgot to read it or simply overlooked it…

     I was a bit skeptical myself to read about such a revelation in Robert The Turk…. i knew it was abit too good to be true but i gave him the benefit of the doubt.. however, if he is pulling our leg with this story, he better not come back on these pages or else he will be called out so many times with such force on these pages, that he will regret playing with people like that…  

    Guess you could not help yourself.. well it was your choice.. so be prepared…

    Gayane

     

  14. TO ALL: JUST IN CASE the avatars do not come through in my last comment, I want to ensure that each avatar used by Robert the Turk except the last two comments have different style and different colors.. 
    Black and white
    Pink and white
    Red and white
    Purple and white
    Strawberry red and white

    Gayane 

  15. avatar GHEVONT samoorian // August 28, 2011 at 9:15 pm // Reply

    WE MUST BE EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS. THIS COULD BE CONSTRUED AS THE FINAL PAYOFF.  AND THIS COULD BE USED BY TURKEY AND HER ALLIES {USA} AS “GOOD FAITH”.  NONSENSE!  I GUARANTEE THAT THE PARAMETERS OF THIS DO-CALLED DECREE WILL YIELD LESS THAN 5% OF WHAT WAS CONFISCATED, STOLEN, VANDALIZED, ETC….MUCH LESS THE CEMETERIES AND DEAD BODIES.  WHEN I WAS IN THE U.S. ARMY IN 1956 IN GERMANY, I APPLIED FOR A VISA TO VISIT TURKEY…AND HARPUT…TO SEE MY FATHER’S AND GRAND-FATHER’S WHATEVER.  
    I WAITED A FEW MONTHS AND GOT NO REPLY.  I CALLED THE TURKISH EMBASSY IN FRANKFURT AND THEY INFORMED ME THAT IF I WENT TO TURKEY, I WOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR 40 YEARS OF BACK TAXES ON MY GRANDFATHER’S ESTATES….AND HE
    WENT ON TO LIST HIS PLANTATIONS AND PROPERTIES.  OBVIOUSLY THESE WERE EXTRACTED FROM RECORDS AND ARCHIVES.  ARE THESE ANY LONGER IN EXISTENCE? AND IF THEY ARE…CAN I LAY CLAIM TO THOSE PROPERTIES AND PLANTATIONS?  I DOUBT IT. 

  16. First time, 9am this a.m. watched Ch 9.NJ – Pat Robertson TV show.  A segment was of the islamists/muslims in our universities  - wildly – spreading their beliefs, now being recognized by the FBI as their avid intrusions into our American lifestyle – seeking to overpower our American beliefs… now endangered by these ‘students’… unabashedly, addressing our USA to be replaced by their own beliefs… islam/muslim… AS IF THEIR RELIGIONS SHALL GOVERN OUR AMERICAN CITIZENS… AS IF THESE ‘STUDENTS’ SHALL DETERMINE WHAT IS TO BECOME  OF OUR AMERICAN STUDENTS/AMERICAN LIFESTYLE…  ISLAMISTS/MUSLIMS HAVE FLOODED OUR UNIVERSITIES…THEY HAVE FLOODED OUR NATION…
    FIRST, OF ALL, THEY SHALL HAVE LED AND TAUGHT THEIR OWN PEOPLES/NATIONS RISE OUT OF THE MORASS OF THEIR OBVIOUS INHUMANITY TO HUMANS… VIA THEIR OWN OTTOMAN MENTALITY – BROUGHT TO OVERWHELM CIVILIZED NATIONS VIA THEIR HORDES FROM THE ASIAN MOUNTAINS… TODAY, OVERWHELMING, CIVILIZED NATIONS FOR THEIR GOALS- STILL.

  17. thanks for your post, Ghevont. It explains why Armenians are followed when they go to Turkey. The Turks are looking for back taxes!! This is so funny, that I can’t stop laughing! During the death marches, the victims had to give Kurds a list of what property they owned, and how their men had earned their living. They beat old women senseless demanding to know where they had buried their goods.

  18. avatar ragnar naess // September 1, 2011 at 4:09 am // Reply

    gayane
    you write:
    AND YOUR LAST POST , WHICH MATCHES TO YOUR AVATAR ABOVE….ahhhhh.. guess the mourning period is over Robert…
    honestly, Gayane, what kind of style is this? You also start with the words: Ahhhhh Robert.. i was wondering when you will come back to your real senses…and whallaaaaa…..you did.. guess it is hard to break old habbits… I would like to take everyone to the memory lane and share the journey of your posts…to show the progression of how many avatars you used and the change in your style of writings…
    - Gayane, this not only is crude and cruel against a man who shares his pain having lost his brother to a heart disease in these pages. It is also – as I have said several times on these pages – an absolutely hopeless way to approach people you disagree with and whom you want to influence.
    Gayane: I disagree with Robert - whom you call “Robert the Turk”, but I feel your response to him here is like you are in some kind of frenzy. And it is undeserved for a man who has shared a personal loss on these pages. I dont believe in that style of debate

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