Turkey Returns Properties to Non-Muslim Religious
31 Aug 2011 by Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Turkish prime
ministers announcement that the government will return
hundreds of properties confiscated from non-Muslim
religious groups or compensate the groups for properties
sold to third parties is a historic decision, said the
Vatican nuncio to Turkey.
Even though the Roman Catholics will not
benefit from this, it is an important step that is a credit to
Turkey, said Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, the nuncio.
It is a sign that is not just good, its an excellent
sign that the government wants to reconstruct the unity of
the country so there no longer are first-class and second-class citizens, the nuncio told Catholic News Service
Aug. 30 in a telephone interview from Ankara.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
announced Aug. 28 that his government would return
hundreds of pieces of property — including schools,
orphanages and hospitals — that were confiscated by the
government in 1936. The properties involved belonged to
officially recognized religious minorities: Jews, Greek
Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholics,
Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics and Chaldean
Although Pope Benedict XVI, human rights
supporters and the European Union have pressed Turkey
to recognize all religions, the Latin-rite Catholic
community and Protestant churches do not have official
legal standing in Turkey.
Archbishop Lucibello said the decision does not
include the Church of St. Paul at Tarsus, now a
government-run museum, which church officials have
asked to have back.
The government has made a commitment to
continue looking for a solution, and this decision gives us
good reasons to hope, the archbishop said. The case of
the Church of St. Paul, he said, is complicated by the fact
that it was built by the Armenians, then taken over by the
Greek Orthodox and restored by Latin-rite Catholics.
Otmar Oehring, an expert on religious freedom in
Turkey and director of the human rights office of Missio,
the German Catholic aid agency, described Erdogans
decision as a positive and courageous step.
There wasnt any need for Erdogan to do this
because talks with the European Union — which Turkey
has been trying to join — are at a standstill. This decision
wont restart the talks because the EU has other pressing
problems, Oehring told CNS in a telephone interview.
Oehring said several years ago that Erdogan
forced the government to return much of the confiscated
property it still owned. The latest decision would have the
government compensate religious communities for
properties the government has sold to third parties.
It will be costly for the Turkish state: Ive read
700 million euros or about $1 billion, he said.
Tags: Middle East Christians Vatican Christian-Muslim relations Turkey