Portantino Introduces Bill Urging Turkey to Restore Properties to Armenian Church

State Senator Anthony Portantino
State Senator Anthony Portantino

State Senator Anthony Portantino

SACRAMENTO—Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), Chair of the Senate Select Committee on California, Armenia and Artsakh Mutual Trade, Art and Cultural Exchange, introduced Senate Resolution 29 on Monday designating the month of April for commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. The Resolution also calls on the Republic of Turkey to return confiscated church properties to their rightful congregations.

April 2017 will mark the 102nd commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which began in 1915. More than 1.5 million Armenians were persecuted and massacred by the Ottoman Turks in the first genocide of the 20th century. California has long and proudly recognized the Armenian Genocide. This is the first legislative resolution to declare April as a month of Armenian Genocide commemoration and also call for the immediate restoration of church properties under Turkey’s control.

In addition to genocide denial, religious discrimination and intolerance remain serious issues in the current Republic of Turkey. Discriminatory laws are still used to justify the confiscation of church property and prevent free worship. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its 2011 report that the Turkish government continues to impose serious limitations on freedom of religion or belief, thereby threatening the continued vitality and survival of minority religious communities in Turkey.

The Armenian Church has taken important steps to restore ownership to its religious sites within Turkey. In 2015, a lawsuit was filed with Turkey’s highest court seeking the return of the church’s headquarters, a sacred site in the south-central city of Kozan, which was confiscated in 1915 by the Ottoman authorities.

“Although the Californian Legislature has recognized and commemorated the Armenian Genocide, our research shows that the issue of church property has yet to be included in a resolution that passed a house of the legislature. Religious discrimination anywhere is against common human values,” commented Portantino. “I join with many historians who believe that historical Armenian churches represent the cultural heritage of the Armenian nation and should be returned to their rightful owners to be cherished and used for appropriate religious purposes,” concluded Senator Portantino.

SR 29 was co-authored by all the members of the State Senate California, Armenian & Artsakh Select Committee, including Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, Scott Wilk, Tony Mendoza and Josh Newman.

Sen. Portantino represents nearly 930,000 people in the 25th Senate District, which includes Altadena, Atwater Village, Bradbury, Burbank, Claremont, Duarte, Glendale, Glendora, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, La Verne, Monrovia, Montrose, Pasadena, San Dimas, San Marino, Shadow Hills, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena, Sunland-Tujunga, and Upland.

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