Mutafyan in Ankara for Talks on Minority Laws

ISTANBUL (Armenpress)–Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan–the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey–flew to Ankara Wednesday morning for another round of meetings with government officials–concerning the amendmen’s to be made to the law on non-Muslim minority foundations–reported the Church Bulletin Lraper of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul.

Last week–the Patriarch met with Bulent Ecevit–Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey–who is scheduled to meet President George W. Bush on Wednesday.

In Ankara–Mesrob II hopes to meet the chief representative of political parties who are represented in the National Grand Assembly of Turkey.

The main subject brought up during the visits of the Patriarch is the amendment proposed by the State Ministry for Foundations–which seeks to revise the Foundations Law No. 227. The proposed law directly concerns the Turkish Armenian community and other non-Muslim communities in Turkey.

Lawyers–representing around 55 Armenian community foundations in Turkey–submitted a legal analysis of the petition prepared by the State Ministry for Foundations to the Patriarch. The Armenian Orthodox community is the largest non-Muslim community in Turkey–and–since 1936–it has been denied the right to own new community properties. The non-Muslim citizens of Turkey have almost equal opportunity before the Turkish laws in terms of personal citizens’ rights–however there are pending legal issues that must be solved in the sphere of communal rights.

The Patriarch told the Prime Minister last week: "As the Government updates the law (on foundations)–there is only one thing that the non-Muslim religious minorities wish. The non-Muslim foundations that have survived the Ottoman Empire should be allowed to have the legal right to receive–own and manage new properties–so they may be able to realize their humanitarian–social–religious–educational–health and cultural endeavors." The Patriarch added that if this much could be achieved–then the discrimination between the Muslim and non-Muslim foundations in the Republic of Turkey would be relegated to history books.

"Just as any Turkish citizen–regardless of religion–has the right to own property–the foundations established by any group of Turkish citizens which are legal personalities should enjoy the same prerogative," explains the Patriarch–and underlines–"Again regardless of their religion and without any artificial conditions." Patriarch Mesrob voices his hope that the amended law would achieve nothing less than equality.

Last week Mutafyan met with Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit. The main subject of the cordial meeting was the amendment proposed by the State Ministry for Foundations–which seeks to revise the Foundations Law No. 227. The proposed law directly concerns the Turkish Armenian community and other non-Muslim communities in Turkey.

Patriarch Mesrob first thanked the Prime Minister and his Government for their attempts to update the law for the betterment of the situation of non-Muslim foundations (vakifs). He then submitted to the Prime Minister a legal analysis prepared by the lawyers of the Armenian community and an official letter of petition signed by him. The petition includes proposals for amendmen’s that would be welcomed by the Armenian foundations in Turkey.

The Patriarch said: "As the Government updates the law–there is only one thing that the non-Muslim religious minorities wish. The non-Muslim foundations that have survived the Ottoman Empire should be allowed to have the legal right to receive–own and manage new immovable properties–in order for them to realize their humanitarian–social–religious–educational–health and cultural endeavors." The Patriarch added that if this much can be achieved–then the discrimination between the Muslim and non-Muslim foundations in the Republic of Turkey would be relegated to history books.

"Just as any Turkish citizen–regardless of religion–has the right to own property–the foundations established by any group of Turkish citizens which are legal personalities should enjoy the same prerogative," explained the Patriarch–and underlined–"Again regardless of their religion and without any artificial conditions." Patriarch Mesrob voiced his hope that the amended law would not achieve anything less than this equality.

Prime Minister Ecevit thanked the Armenian Patriarch and his delegation for the visit. He said the amendment at issue is still under discussion and–at this point–it was good that the religious minorities offered their views–which would surely be taken into consideration.

The Patriarch and the Prime Minister also discussed and re-evaluated the status of a list of administrative and legal problems faced by the minorities that were submitted to the Government by previous Patriarchal delegations.

Patriarch Mesrob expressed his community’s appreciation for the problems–which were resolved so far–but reiterated that there are still pending issues. He asked the Prime Minister and his Government to continue to show willingness and sensitivity to overcome these matters. Minister Ecevit promised that they would do their utmost to assist the community within existing possibilities.

He asked the Patriarch to continue to convey to the Government any issues that the community would like to see resolved.

Prime Minister Ecevit expressed his best wishes to the Armenian Patriarch and his community on the occasion of the New Year and Christmas–which Armenia’s celebrate for eight days between 5th and 13th January. The Patriarch wished the Prime Minister success on his upcoming trip to the United States–and said he would pray for his safe return to the country.

Also present at the meeting were Ahmet Shaghar–the prime minister’s undersecretary–Reverend Father Drtad Uzunyan–a patriarchal aide–Dikran Zenginyan–administrative assistant to the patriarch–Attorney Luiz Bakar–patriarchate’s press spokesperson–and Karabet Soekeli–representative of the Armenian Community in Ankara.

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