Mutafyan Appeals to Court for Religious Tolerance

ISTANBUL–According to an announcement made by the speaker of the Patriarchate–Louise Bagar– Patriarch Arch. Mesrob Mutafyan made issued a pointed statement regarding a 1936 law and a decision of the Turkish government–which rejects appeals from non-Muslim communities who want to acquire new property.

The Patriarch called the Court of Appeals’ decision unfair and unreasonable. The decision denies minorities the ability to acquire new property. Today–when concerns about religious and ethnic tolerance are of utmost concert throughout the world–religious discrimination is a step back and lacks common sense–said the Patriarch in his statement.

During the era of the Turkish Republic–Armenian institutions were free to acquire as much new property as needed. They had lands dating back to the Ottoman Empire–as well as new and old properties acquired since 1923.

In 1936–the Turkish government sent a letter to all Armenian institutions requiring them to present a list of their properties to the government. The lists were prepared–and they included the newly acquired properties that had already been certified by the government–thus legalizing the property ownership.

In the following years–Armenian institutions acquired more property–largely due to donations from community members. Those properties were also certified and legalized.

However–the situation changed when the Turks occupied Cyprus and the conflicts with Greek authorities began. During a court case hearing regarding minority property–the Turkish Court of Appeals made a contradictory decision–according to which minority institutions were not authorized to get new properties from 1936–and thus–the ones not included in 1936 Law and acquired thereafter–must be returned to the previous owners or the government.

This was an illegal decision since the 1936 Law allowed acquisitions of new properties–unfortunately the Armenian institutions lost many valuable properties throughout the years–and all appeals sent to Ankara–were fruitless. This was obviously a political issue and not a legislative issue.

Before presenting the statement–Bagar presented the Patriarch’s standpoint regarding the 1936 law and the decision of Court of Appeals. The following is the Patriarch’s statement:

"It is difficult to understand the decision made by the Court of Appeals. As a matter of fact–the Muslims even think that the decision is ludicrous. The situation is extremely irregular since according to the decision of Court of Appeals from 1974–it not only rejects the acquisition of any new property but also requires the return of the properties that were allocated in the 1936 Law. This kind of action does not correspond to the Constitution and its principles of equality–regarding religion–nationality and language. It is also inconsistent with various international agreemen’s Turkey signed in the past. In Germany the Muslims were able to build close to 300 mosques and non-Christians were granted properties for their unions and organizations–and they even received some government assistance–while Turkey continues to treat its own citizens poorly because they are Jewish or Christian.

In Turkey the non-Islamic communities were established during the Ottoman Empire and they serve the communities’ religious–educational and humanitarian needs. These communities serve the host country as well–and although they were supposed to receive assistance from the government–the communities have survived by donations or by the profits of non-Islamic businesses. The non-Islamic communities are beneficial not only in religious issues but also in benevolent issues–because they provide important educational service for the community. Nevertheless–these communities do not have a legal right to acquire new lands and the ones they possess will soon lose their value. The non-Islamic communities do not have the right to have an income–show any commercial activity or cover their expenses with commercial activities. Is it the government’s intent to shut down these communities? Does Turkey consider the property of non-Islamic communities foreign? Does each citizen not have the right to use his/her property the way he or she wants? The mentioned decision regarding the non-Islamic communities bereaves non-Islamic population the right to use their properties they way they choose–since they do not have the right of donating it to a community. Who can imagine such discrimination at the beginning of 21st century?

Nowadays–when everybody is concerned about the possible dangers around the world regarding the amalgamation of different civilizations and religions–religious discrimination in any first world country lacks common sense. It is apparent that this decision is against Constitution and Human Rights and hence I believe that the Legislative–Executive and Judicial branches of governmen’s will rectify this with new bill. We live in a period which requires social peace–a feature that best suits Turkey considering its long-lasting experiences with democracy and stability.

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