PanARMENIAN.Net - On August 28 Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree on the return of Christian and Jewish religious property confiscated after the 1930s. The properties involved include hospitals, orphanage and school buildings, burial grounds.
The Government also intends to pay compensation for the property sold away. The property subject to return includes the former hospital, orphanage, school buildings, cemeteries, shops, ground area, as well as all assets of the Fund “Surb Harutiun” (Holly Resurrection).
Erdogan’s decision, most likely, is dictated by the conduct of Iran, where the Armenian community enjoys the right of religious minority and has representatives in parliament. So, there is nothing extraordinary in this decision. Presumably, in this way Turkey decided to sugar its refusal of ratification of the Protocols. An important role was played here also by the European Court of Human Rights, where lots of complaints from the rightful inheritors of the lands and buildings had piled up. At the same time, the Court implicitly admitted that property of the Christians was seized illegally. Ankara made an accurate calculation: it is much cheaper and easier to return the properties than to pay the claims, in view of inflation. It costs billions of dollars at current prices. Even a country with an advanced economy cannot withstand it, let alone Turkey, whose economic boom may soon give way to depression.
Christian property was confiscated in Turkey, of course, illegally: in 1936, the remaining Armenians, residing mostly in Istanbul, were ordered to submit the list of their property, which was immediately transferred to the possession of the State. In 1974 the property of the Greek Orthodox Church was seized. In fact, thousands of buildings, schools, summer camps were transferred to the possession of the State, which directly put them on sale.
Erdogan’s decision was announced a few weeks after the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the amendment on the “Return of Christian Churches” with a vote of 43 to 1 (H.Res.306). In March of the current year a similar resolution was adopted under the pressure of the Greek lobby (H.Res.180).
In 2008 the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) introduced a bill “On estates”, which received force of law and provided an opportunity to national minorities to regain ownership over their properties seized in 1936 and 1975. According to the decision, the property owned by 162 minority foundations was to be returned in the period of 12 months. The State is to pay the community foundations a sum equivalent to the property sold to third parties. Only in Istanbul 30 structures owned by the fund of Armenian churches are to be returned. In fact, Ankara, with a delay of 80 years, is performing regulations of the Lausanne Peace Treaty under which national minorities should be repaid the property they were deprived of in the years of the World War I.