Turkey Pledges to Return Some Confiscated Christian Properties

Return of Churches campaign

WASHINGTON—Fearing mounting losses at the European Court of Human Rights and recent adoption of Congressional legislation calling attention to its repression of Christian communities, the Turkish Government issued a decree this weekend which would return Christian and Jewish religious properties confiscated after 1936, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

“Erdogan’s decree, clearly prompted by increased Congressional scrutiny of Turkey’s repression of its Christian minority and successive losses at the European Court of Human Rights, would return less than one percent of the churches and church properties confiscated during the Armenian Genocide and the decades that followed it,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “Ninety six years after the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians, Greeks, and Syriacs, this decree is a smokescreen to evade the much broader consequences of those brutal acts. The ANCA will expand its outreach to Congress and the Administration to ensure that the Turkish Government comes to terms with its brutal past,  respects the religious freedom of surviving Christian communities and returns the fruits of its crime.”

The Associated Press reported that “the properties include former hospital, orphanage or school buildings and cemeteries. Their return is a key European Union demand and a series of court cases has also been filed against primarily Muslim Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights. Last year, the court ordered Turkey to return an orphanage to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.”  According to Armenian Church experts, of the over 2,000 churches serving the Armenian community prior to 1915, less than 40 are functioning as churches today.

Erdogan’s decree comes just weeks after a 43-1 House Foreign Affairs Committee vote on an amendment to the State Department Authorization bill, spearheaded by Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), calling for the return of Christian Churches confiscated by the Turkish government and an end to Turkey’s discrimination against its Christian communities.  The amendment is similar to a resolution (H.Res.306), introduced in June by Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), which has more than 35 cosponsors.  To learn more about the House Foreign Affairs Committee amendment and H.Res.306, visit http://www.anca.org/return .

In March, Congressional Hellenic Caucus co-chairs Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced legislation (H.Res.180), reiterating a longstanding call by House members for Turkey to respect the rights and religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Turkey’s treatment of its Christian minority has also emerged as an issue of contention in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee consideration of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey nominee Francis Ricciardone. In response to questions submitted by Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Amb. Ricciardone erroneously asserted that a majority of Christian churches functioning in 1915 continue to operate as churches today. A revised response recently submitted to the key Senate panel continued to misrepresent the number of functioning churches.

Archbishops Oshagan Choloyan and Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelates of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America Eastern and Western United States, respectively, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Eastern United States each issued powerfully worded spiritual messages in response to the Ambassador’s statement. In an August 15 statement, Archbishop Choloyan stressed that the Ambassador’s assertion was “so blatantly false that it cannot remain unchallenged.” Setting the record straight, he noted that: “The facts are quite clear. From the massacres of Armenians in 1895-96 and the Armenian Genocide in 1915, to the decades following the establishment of the Turkish republic, Christian houses of worship were systematically destroyed or confiscated. My own church’s hierarchal see, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, was a victim of this process, and today is exiled in Lebanon. The archives of the Catholicosate contain hundreds of original deeds and other documentation of churches and church owned property that was confiscated.”

Archbishop Mardirossian concurred, stating, “The presence of an Ambassador in Ankara who is unaware of or uninterested in the truth and the consequences of the Ottoman and Republican Turkish government’s genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, Syriacs, Greeks and other Christians materially undermines U.S. interests, compromises American values, and weakens international efforts to defend religious freedom for peoples of all faiths. Sadly, but unmistakably, with this hateful and hurtful statement, Ambassador Ricciardone has demonstrated that he is not the right candidate to effectively and responsibly represent the United States in Turkey.”

On August 19, Archbishop Barsamian noted that Amb. Ricciardone’s response had “deeply offended Armenian-Americans”, explaining that “the loss of these many hundreds of churches, their neglect and outright destruction, and the conversion of many of our sanctuaries into mosques, is a matter of intense pain to Armenians: an ongoing reminder of the loss of life and the destruction that we suffered as a result of the 1915 Genocide… In all charity, perhaps the Ambassador is simply unaware of certain facts. But mastery of the history of a country, its dark as well as bright chapters, is essential to serving the United States effectively and diplomatically in this important and complex region.”

ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian slammed Amb. Ricciardone’s revised response last week, stating, “It took Ambassador Ricciardone, with the help of his many State Department colleagues, over a week to submit in writing a patently false misrepresentation about the destruction of Christian churches in Turkey, and another 10 days and a full wave of Senate and citizen pressure for him to finally take half a step back from the most offensive and obviously incorrect aspects of his response.  “He just keeps digging himself into a deeper hole as an apologist for Ankara. His use of false figures and euphemisms to try to twist his way out of his misrepresentation – while somehow still trying to stick to Turkey’s genocide denial narrative – clearly confirms that Ambassador Ricciardone is not the right representative of U.S. values and interests in Turkey.”

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22 Comments

  1. Manoog said:

    Turkey is not sincere in this “decree”.

    It is posturing, and the return of property probably will never happen, or will take decades, and how are the remaining Armenians supposed to take care of this property without sufficient people and money?

    The only things that really matter are the Genocide and the loss of our Homeland, which is now part of eastern Turkey.

    • Elchin said:

      You are suffering from megalomania…Armenians belong to those lands but those lands never belinged to Armenians.You never had an independent state on those land except some principalities under the rule of various empires..Turks have been ruling those lands since 1071 thus you dont have right to claim those lands.

    • ATB said:

      I think you are wrong about Turkey not being sincere…Whether this decree came about due to outside pressure,(which Turkey has already immunized itself against), or internal politics of the country, there is no wrong time and wrong reason for doing the right thing. The meaning of “decree” is to be able to circumvent the long and arduous process by bureaucracy and achieve results quickly…So you are again wrong about how long it may take or that will never happen. It would be extremely helpful if we curtail ourselves from knee jerk and negative reaction to Turkey every time they do something, anything,.. and think before we speak out…This was a long due move by Turkey and I am glad it is happening, finally…and why some Armenian friends can not accept it for what it is worth and be glad for it, I don’t understand…I know that will not resolve all the outstanding issues but it is a major step forward…Demanding a land from Turkey is extremely inflammatory and plays in the hands of ultra nationalists in Turkey, making any progress toward reconciliation impossible…and I can assure you, it will never happen whether present day Turkey recognizes Armenian Genocide or not…Instead, individual Armenians should seek all the legal means in the International Courts to recover the properties belong to them or some sort of compensations for it as in some current cases. Additionally we need courageous, wise and strong political leaders on both side to be able to face with each other and work out the problems on behalf of both peoples and keep people to people communication lines open and uncluttered with hatred…I heard the same desire being expressed by many Armenians when I visited Yerevan a few years back…I think people are ready to be led toward a meaningful solution.

      • John K. said:

        I don’t expect nothing from turks (lower case intentional). My ancestors properties were confiscated, and my family massacred by likes of you, in Dort Yol. So i have no expectations but only contempt for you. Turk will always remain a barbarian and inhumane, regardless of wearing a fez or a fedora…

  2. zareh said:

    It is a win for the Armenians and a win-win for the Turks.
    I hope the Armenian Compatriotic Societies in the Diaspora will immediately take possession of these properties and start on the planning and reconstruction of the hundreds of the churches which are in dire physical condition.
    We say thank you to the United States Foreign Relations committee for its strong message sent last month to the Turkish authorities.
    As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Genocide I hope Turkey eventually once and for all recognizes the Genocide and stats compensating the heirs of the victims by returning the historic six provinces of Western Armenia.

    • Elchin said:

      Eventually Armenian should appoligize to the world because of their lies about this fabricated genocide industry…You are well aware that the events occured in 1915 cannot be described as a genocide..Turks opened their historical archives and ready to go to international court with Armenia…Armenians should appoligize Turks for Khojaly Massacre (fact unlike your bogus genocide), for Asala assaults and for lieing to the world.

  3. Edward Demiraiakian said:

    After 1936? Thatsbecause between 1915 and 1936 the Turkish government sold themselves the best and choisest properties. After 1936 nothing much was left of value. NO. From 1895 to present. Genocide should not be profititable.

  4. Michael Hart said:

    Way too charitable to assume this guy is just ignorant.
    Bad guy – not a good representative for the US.

  5. immortal Souls of western Armenia risen said:

    well they didn’t pick him to be on our side or the truth…what did you honestly expect ? they have to get someone who will do and say what they have planed, and will cover them all the way … right ? what did you think they would get someone, who will stand up to them or for the truth, be decent and honest and have dignity ? we are talking about an ambassador to Turkey… why would a real great person want that job ?

  6. immortal Souls of western Armenia risen said:

    Ken Hachikian, is right on the money as usual !! this decree is a smokescreen to evade the much broader consequences of Genocide…. we all know this …. and not just because it only covers after 1936 !!! this is nothing there is nothing …. it’s an insulting token ….. that should be thrown back at their face….. European courts of human rights … American congress …….failed again … and again … what else ? It’s all one you know what… after the other…..and am tired of slurs like” American Values”.. aren’t you? like, where is that ? no one ever wittiness-es that in our case for the past 50 years …

  7. Stepan said:

    This is the Turkish version of unilaterally “settling” out of court. A cheap attempt to put an end to the mounting litigation and resulting negative publicity. We have all said it before… the longer the denial goes on the cumulative impact increases. Of course, by 1936 , thn cover up was in full force of stolen Armenia property. in other the theft took place long before 1936 and the track were covered by then institutionally.
    Will this “decree” cover Akhtamar or Ani? Another attempt to preempt the mounting pressure from the diaspora by luring the naive and politically motivated “world” . We must carry on… they are on the defensive.

  8. Stepan said:

    This is the Turkish version of unilaterally “settling” out of court. A cheap attempt to put an end to the mounting litigation and resulting negative publicity. We have all said it before… the longer the denial goes on the cumulative impact increases. Of course, by 1936 , the cover up was in full force of stolen Armenian property. in other the theft took place long before 1936 and the track were covered by then institutionally.
    Will this “decree” cover Akhtamar or Ani? Another attempt to preempt the mounting pressure from the diaspora by luring the naive and politically motivated “world” . We must carry on… they are on the defensive.

  9. Krikor said:

    Is Aremnia going to get Akhtamar and Ani etc, etc or this is anoyher Turkish sand thrown in the eyes of European Community

  10. Bubba said:

    Okay, let’s now disscuss the return of Moslem property in Armenia!!! This includes the lands of NK, as well as the destroyed mosques in Armenia (the last one being bulldozed just three years ago!). Also, whomever this Manureshag dude is, he best learn how to write proper English! Turkey is a nation, so you don’t say “A Turkey…”!! It’s one thing if he’s just ignorant, but quite another if he’s a moron!

  11. Lassen said:

    “Erdogan’s decree, clearly prompted by increased Congressional scrutiny of Turkey’s repression of its Christian minority and successive losses at the European Court of Human Rights, would return less than one percent of the churches and church properties confiscated during the Armenian Genocide and the decades that followed it,”

    Come on Congress,ditch the bought out ambassador and do your job!
    1% of stolen property on top of the persecution and genocide committed against these people is shameful.Review the history,all claims and demand justice for the victims.
    Stop embarrassing U.S. citizens and show the victims of this horrible genocide some respect.

  12. facts said:

    This is a well long term planed policy of Turkey for the next 50 or 100 years. All Turkish ‎force s are engaged in this plot against Armenian people! ARMENIA IS MERLY AN ‎OBSERVER- unfortunately!! ‎

    Turkey likes to create a fake impression in Turkey and in West Armenia that Armenian ‎heritage does existent and its well protected only the people who had created all this simple ‎were force to “ migrate” or being simple “assimilated” with locals like the Urartian ‎kingdom! as if nothing happened!!!!! – This all being done to mislead the world ‎community! ‎

    Since this is well planed and implicated sate policy in Turkey for the next 100 year! Armenia ‎has to react ‎

    ‎1-‎ Instead of spending again and again money to build church sin Diaspora or spend ‎money to make “Antilias! in Lebanon more beautiful , create a big place in the heart ‎of Yerevan with the map of “Wilsonian Armenia; ” with 6 arcs symbolizing ‎our West Armenia and … decorated this symbolic place with Armenian flag , ‎beside this 10 august should be an official holiday in Armenia . “day of justice” – The ‎Treaty of Sèvres (10 August 1920 … educate the tourists ! ‎
    ‎2-‎ ‎ An finally Armenia should at least formal demand a revision of Treaty of Lausanne ‎‎, We do owe our next generation not only an healthy civilized Armenia but we have ‎to demand officially and formal a revision of treaty of Lausanne too! ‎

  13. facts said:

    ‎ Turkey is smart… Imagine- Turks in “historic Armenian! Like to learn Armenian “Kochari ‎dance too” like they have learned form Armenian how to work with stances and so one! ‎
    ‎… Armenian official are busy sending young Armenian grills to teach the occupiers of so ‎called self declared ” ‎ancient inhabitants ” of historic Armenia – “ the Mongol Turks” – the ‎tradition Armenian ‎Kochari dance!‎

  14. Vasken said:

    This sounds like the Claytons Drink “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink” – Only Obama the sucker believs this…

  15. manooshag said:

    In the first paragraph of this article… it reads: “The Turkish government issued a decree this weekend which would return Christian and Jewish properties CONFISCATED AFTER 1936…” (Turk’s stipulation)!!
    Obviously, Turks ongoing policy of denying their OWN issues with other nations without first of all
    DEMANDING TURK’S OWN DEMANDS… Seems Turks think they are due and owing BY OTHER NATIONS FOR BEING WITH LOSERS OF WWI…. DOES NOT FIGHT WARS – SINCE ARE GENOCIDES/EASIER.

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