From Genocide Recognition To Reclaiming Church Properties

Harut Sassounian


The Armenian-American community took a major step last week to reverse the consequences of the Armenian Genocide and end the Turkish government’s long-standing policy of erasing all traces of Armenian civilization from present-day Turkey.

Going beyond mere acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide, some members of Congress have introduced a new resolution that urges “the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties.”

The sweeping House Resolution 306 calls on the Government of Turkey to:
“1. end all forms of religious discrimination;
2. allow the rightful church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to organize and administer prayer services, religious education, clerical training, appointments, and succession, religious community gatherings, social services, including ministry to the needs of the poor and infirm, and other religious activities;
3. return to their rightful owners all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts; and
4. allow the rightful Christian church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to preserve, reconstruct, and repair, as they see fit, all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties within Turkey.”

This bipartisan resolution, sponsored by Cong. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Cong. Howard Berman (D-CA), was immediately endorsed by 30 of their House colleagues, 10 of them Republicans. This is a good start, as Republicans constitute the majority in the House and their support is crucial for the successful passage of the resolution. Significantly, Cong. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a long-time opponent of the Armenian Genocide resolution, was one of the first supporters of the resolution regarding the return of church properties.

It is not surprising that this resolution has such broad support, as it is hard to imagine that any member of Congress, the State Department or the Obama administration would oppose returning a religious building back to its proper owners. By contemporary societal standards, no one would accept the conversion of a church into a mosque or vice versa. Turkey’s devout leaders, as good Muslims, would be the first to acknowledge and uphold the sanctity of houses of worship.

Beyond building a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress, practically all religious denominations in America, be they Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish or Muslim, would support such a resolution. All ethnic groups, such as Latinos, Greek-Americans, Irish-Americans, Jewish-American, Arab-Americans, Afro-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Assyrian-Americans would also lend their support to this resolution.

The Armenian National Committee of America noted that the resolution intends “to highlight, confront, and eventually reverse decades of official Turkish policy of destroying Christian church properties, desecrating holy sites, discriminating against Christian communities, and denying of the right of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Pontians, Arameans (Syriacs), and others to practice their faith in freedom.”

The right to religious freedom is not simply an internal Turkish issue. This right is protected by many international agreements, including the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne to which Turkey is a signatory. Turkey continues to violate Articles 41 and 42 of the Lausanne Treaty which obligate it to provide funding and facilities to non-Muslim minorities for educational, religious, and charitable purposes, and to protect their religious establishments. Regrettably, the House resolution makes no mention of these violations and Turkey’s obligations under the Lausanne Treaty.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issues an annual report documenting violations of religious rights around the world, has placed Turkey on its “Watch List,” for the third year in a row. The Commission has found 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 Turkish government also “continues to intervene in the internal governance and education of religious communities and to confiscate places of worship.”

In recent years, the House and Senate passed several resolutions calling on Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus, Lithuania, Romania, and Vietnam to protect houses of worship and return wrongfully confiscated properties belonging to religious minorities. In line with these resolutions, the House of Representatives should adopt Resolution 306, calling on the Turkish government to respect the right of worship for all Christian minorities and return to them their expropriated churches and other religious properties.

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  1. S. Yilmaz said:

    This is just a plot to snitch land from Turkish soil and will never gonna happen. If you Armenians want that land so bad, the only way you guys are going to get it is if you spill your blood to get it. How do you think Turkey set up it’s borders in 1923, it was from spilling the blood of the Turkish troops/armies. How do you think the USA captured Osama Bin Laden, yes, from spilling the blood of American troops and American soldiers died as martyrs. But Armenians fear death and martyrdom. All they do is talk, squeal and hate.

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  3. Fred said:

    Finaly something no one can argue with. Something no one can brush aside with political justling. Something money can not buy. Relegious freedom and Relegious rights to ones relegious heritage. Finaly people have realised they can not kid themselves any more. The clarity between good and bad is so clear that no one can bare to stand on the wrong side. Time has come for every one to search their soles and change their anti Armenian stance. This will free their consious and alow them to move on as people. We are trying so hard to share 12000 years of civilisation with all our naighbours. Do not fight this. Embrace civilisation and leave your barbaric past. It is 2011 for GOD’s sake.

  4. S. Yilmaz said:

    Fred, sorry to say this, but this isn’t about protecting “Christian Human Rights” but a plot to wipe off Turkey from the map and dividing Turkey. We are not Anti-Armenian, but you guys are racist against everything Turkish. You guys are telling us to move on, we have been doing this for so long, why do we have the 15th largest economy, a large military as well as a booming industry in manufacturing, banking, technology, automotive (companies like Tofas, Karsan and all other 23 Turkish Car Comps), electronics, textiles, shipbuilding, fishing, and other industries. While Armenia is landlocked, poor and isolated? Because instead of Armenian diasporans asking Armenia to normalize relations with Turks and Azeris, Armenian diasporans are bent up vilifying everything Turkish (so digustingly and hatefully to the point even Hitler would be disgusted), as well as plotting to divide Turkey and wipe it off the map by using worldwide lobbies as their pawns. You guys want to divide Turkey and demonize everything Turkish. And you claim you want to live peacefully with your neighbors? Yeah right, if you want to live peacefully with your neighbors and normalize relations, stop begging for land and stop begging for money. You have no right to ask for money from Turkey, because you want to extort money from Turkey. If the Turkish economy was built on “Armenian deaths” they why did Turkey start with 0 money and rised to 15th largest economy? Because we built it with our own money buddy. Embrace civilization? We are embracing civilization and we want to live with our neighbors peacefully, but you guys (Armenians) are just greedy and hateful and want to delete your neighbors off the map. We have a free concious, we know the “Genocide Recognition” movement is just about land and money and plots to wipe Turkey off the map, and we know this and you guys know this as well. Don’t deny this either. Leave our past? We live for the future, you guys are living in the past by always whining about how your grandmothers “OMG MY GRANDMOTHER DIED AND GOT STABBED.” So what! Get over it, we Turkish people have similar stories but we don’t consistently act like crybabies and fill our minds with hate like Dashnak fanatic racial supremacists like yourselves. The Turkish people have a right to debunk one sided lies (which in reality are plots to divide Turkey) and the Turkish people have a right to defend their borders from plots to divide their country and wipe Turkey off the map. What about Karabagh massacres and constant Dashnak threats saying to Azerbaijan “Oh we are gonna burn your oilfields” “oh you guys should be glad we didn’t invade Baku.” Or what about Bagramian battalion massacres of Georgians in Abkhazia in the hands of Armenian Bagramian Battalions. Give it up the hatred, racism, money and land demands, and stop crying and squealing like babies! You guys hate everything Turkish, even Taner Akcam and Orhan Pamuk!