BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Turkey’s Cabinet is in the process of finalizing a law adopted by Parliament last May which bans citizens of six countries — Armenia, Cuba, Nigeria, North Korea, Syria and Yemen — from buying real estate in Turkey, according to Sabah newspaper. No reason was given for blacklisting these countries.
The law demonstrates the persistent hostility of Turkish officials, contradicting their sugarcoated announcements about wanting to normalize relations with Armenia. After reviewing the restriction placed on its citizens, the Armenian Parliament should consider adopting retaliatory measures against citizens of Turkey interested in purchasing Armenian properties.
The proposed Turkish law is doubly provocative since it places a ban on citizens of Armenia, while expanding from 53 to 129 the list of countries authorized to invest in Turkey, and allows citizens of another 52 countries to invest with some limitations. The new law even permits nationals whose governments ban Turkish investments to purchase property in Turkey. Relaxing restrictions on foreign investments in the Turkish real estate market would bring an additional $300 billion of revenue over the next 10 years, Sabah wrote.
Here are the restrictions that the new law places on certain countries: Citizens of China, Denmark, East Timor, Fiji and Israel may only purchase a single residence in Turkey. Jordanians, on the other hand, may purchase two houses and one place of business. Russians and Ukrainians may buy real estate anywhere in Turkey, except on the Black Sea coast, while Georgians cannot buy real estate in the coastal and border regions. Greek citizens are not permitted to purchase property near the Aegean Sea and the border areas, except for those who are of Turkish origin. Citizens of Afghanistan, Egypt, Latvia, Morocco and some other African countries are not allowed to buy agricultural land, vineyards or orchards. Albanians can purchase a residence or a business, but not land.
Citizens of another 16 countries, including Iran, Palestine and India, need permission from the Ministry of Interior before acquiring real estate in Turkey. Iraqis, on the other hand, need a permit issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. A foreign individual or firm cannot purchase more than 10% of the land in a particular district or a total of 30 hectares in all of Turkey. The law also bans foreigners from purchasing or leasing real estate in military and security zones.
Among the 129 countries allowed to purchase property in Turkey without conditions or restrictions are: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan.
What steps Armenia should take in retaliation for this new Turkish law? Article 31 of the constitution of the Republic of Armenia states: “foreign citizens and stateless persons shall not enjoy the right to land ownership except for cases prescribed by the law.”
According to a report submitted by the Armenian government to the World Trade Organization (WTO): “foreigners are allowed to use land through lease contracts with an Armenian counterpart. Furthermore, foreigners have the right to own real estate properties built on Armenian land, and to exploit renewable and non-renewable natural resources on the basis of concession contracts granted by the Government.” Armenia’s report to the WTO also stated that “the legislation grants the Government the power to limit and prohibit foreign investment for national security concerns.”
It would be important to know the number of foreign individuals and companies that lease land or own buildings and businesses in Armenia, their names, citizenship, locations, sizes, and market value. How many of these leases are held by Turkish citizens? Raising these questions is relevant because in the past Armenian officials have stated that there is no need to restrict foreigners who are interested in investing in Armenian real estate.
While it is understandable that Armenia would encourage foreign investments, it is not known if certain sensitive border areas are exempt from leasing to foreigners such as Azeris and Turks for national security reasons. There are also lands that contain strategic reserves of certain precious metals and minerals. They too should not be leased to foreigners who are citizens of hostile nations.
In retaliation for the new Turkish law banning citizens of Armenia from purchasing real estate in Turkey, Armenia should immediately pass a law banning Turkish citizens from all purchases or leases of real estate. No exceptions should be made!
Armenians should not be too worried that they cannot buy land in Turkey. Hopefully, they will get their lands back someday without paying for it!