Turkish Government Attacks Religious Freedom Measure
WASHINGTON—The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, under the leadership of Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), is set to consider H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, on Wednesday, June 18th at 10 am Eastern Time. Capitol Hill sources report that the Turkish Government is actively seeking to block adoption of this bipartisan religious freedom measure.
Introduced this March of this year by Chairman Royce along with the panel’s Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), H.R. 4347 would require that the U.S. Department of State formally report to Congress on an annual basis about the status of Turkey’s return of stolen Christian churches and properties in Turkey and occupied Cyprus. H.R. 4347 builds on a measure (H.Res.306), spearheaded by Chairman Royce and then House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA), which was overwhelmingly adopted by the House of Representatives on December 13, 2011. That resolution set the groundwork for H.R.4347 by calling upon the government of Turkey to honor its international obligations to return confiscated Christian church properties and to fully respect the rights of Christians to practice their faiths.
“We want to thank Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for advancing this religious freedom legislation and look forward to the Committee’s consideration of a principled and practical American stand in support of the rights of Christians in present-day Turkey and occupied Cyprus to practice their faith in their own houses of worship,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “We are pleased to join with all believers in religious freedom – including of course our Cypriot, Greek, Pontian and Syriac brothers and sisters – in supporting this measure, and encourage all our friends to urge their legislators to support its timely passage by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the full House of Representatives.”
Prior to consideration of H.R. 4347, the Committee will be holding a hearing on “Protecting Christian Heritage in Turkey,” which will include testimony from Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; and Mr. Khatchig Mouradian, Coordinator of Armenian Genocide Program at the Rutgers University Center for Genocide and Human Rights.
Both the hearing and consideration of H.R. 4347 will be webcast LIVE on the House Foreign Affairs Committee website.
In a statement he issued upon the introduction of this religious freedom measure, Chairman Royce outlined the need for passage of H.R.4347: “This legislation holds Turkey accountable for its international obligations to protect and promote human rights, and it calls attention to Turkish leaders’ broken promises to return church properties to their rightful owners. Over decades, Christian church properties, particularly those belonging to the Armenian, Syriac, and Greek Orthodox communities have been either violently overtaken or illegally confiscated by Turkish authorities under various excuses. These churches under Turkish control have been looted, converted to mosques, storehouses, casinos, vandalized and often irreparably damaged,” stated Chairman Royce. “Vulnerable religious minorities deserve more than just piecemeal returns of their stolen religious properties. It is important that the United States continue to encourage Turkish leaders to uphold their commitments and return all remaining properties without further delay. This bill will make promoting religious freedom and tolerance in Turkey a U.S. diplomatic priority.”
Ranking Democrat Engel concurred, noting, “The Republic of Turkey, and indeed all nations, have a responsibility to protect, restore, and return religious properties which have been unlawfully seized from their communities and rightful owners by state authorities. Armenian, Syriac, and Greek Orthodox communities in Turkey have for many years been seeking the return of their confiscated properties. The claims of these communities must be respected and addressed in a comprehensive and timely manner. This legislation calls on the Republic of Turkey to meet its international obligations, and urges the United States to prioritize the return of unlawfully seized religious properties in order to begin to resolve the legitimate claims of these communities.”
H.R.4347 specifically requires the Secretary of State to “submit to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate a report on the status and return of stolen, confiscated, or otherwise unreturned Christian churches, places of worship, and other properties in or from the Republic of Turkey and in the areas of northern Cyprus occupied by the Turkish military that shall contain the following:
(1) A comprehensive listing of all the Christian churches, places of worship, and other properties, such as monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts, in or from Turkey and in the territories of the Republic of Cyprus under military occupation by Turkey that are claimed as stolen, confiscated, or otherwise wrongfully removed from the ownership of their rightful Christian church owners.
(2) Description of all engagement over the previous year on this issue by officials of the Department of State with representatives of the Republic of Turkey regarding the return to their rightful owners of all Christian churches, places of worship, and other properties, such as monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts, both those located within Turkey’s borders and those under control of Turkish military forces in the occupied northern areas of Cyprus.”
The resolution goes on to urge that a summary of the report be included in the annual U.S. State Department Human Rights Report and International Religious Freedom Report.
An ANCA Call Alert in support of H.R.4347 is available here.