Armenian citizens of several Middle Eastern countries may have a unique opportunity to reclaim their properties in Turkey without hiring a lawyer or going to court.
A Turkish newspaper reported last week that the government of Turkey has been negotiating with Syria, Iraq and Egypt over conflicting land claims of those citizens who lost their properties after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took up this long-standing issue during their recent meeting in Turkey, but failed to come to a mutually acceptable solution, according to an article by Ercan Yavuz in the August 23, 2008 issue of Today’s Zaman.
Turkey claims that its citizens own a total of 750,000 acres of land in Syria, Iraq and Egypt. Turkish officials also claim that the Syrian government confiscated lands belonging to citizens of Turkey. In a reciprocal move, in 1966, Ankara confiscated the properties of Syrian citizens living in Turkey. After lengthy negotiations, Turkey and Syria signed a protocol in 1972 and created a joint commission to document the disputed properties. "Turkish citizens hold 2,411 title deeds in Syria, of which 2,108 are slated for evaluation by the commission," Today’s Zaman reported.
The commission reportedly confirmed that Turkish citizens own 2,534 real estate plots in Syria, involving 250,000 acres of land, 1,576 houses and 3,533,844 Syrian liras. Some of these deeds were rejected by the Syrian government, while the status of more than 700 others could not be resolved. Syria also rejected 276 out of 987 submitted files; and 711 cases have not yet been decided upon, according to Mr. Yavuz’s article. Syria reportedly confirmed that Turkish citizens own about 250,000 acres of land in Syria, while claiming that its citizens own an equal amount of land in Turkey. Turkey, on the other hand, claimed that its citizens own twice as much land in Syria.
Turkey has had a similar dispute with Iraq and Egypt. Iraq adopted a law in 1961 restricting Turkish citizens to buying no more than one house and one workplace. Iraq then ordered the sale or confiscation of properties belonging to Turkish citizens, according to Today’s Zaman. In 1985, Turkey and Iraq agreed to allow property owners in their respective countries five years to file a claim. The due date was subsequently extended twice. Turkey sent 87 files of land claims to Iraq, 53 of which were reportedly accepted by Iraq. In all, Turkey claimed that its citizens own in Iraq about 160,000 acres of land, 150 buildings, 11 charitable foundations, more than 2 million Iraqi dinars and 8,000 pounds sterling. On the other hand, Iraq claims its citizens own 48 buildings and 11 plots of land in Turkey. The American invasion of Iraq interrupted the settlement of these claims.
Turkey also signed an agreement with Egypt in 1982 to solve their property disputes. According to Today’s Zaman, 1,590 files have been submitted by Turkish citizens who claim property ownership in Egypt. The Egyptian government has reportedly accepted 256 of these files. In addition, Turkey claims that the Egyptian government, agreeing that 31 charitable foundations in Egypt belong to citizens of Turkey, paid more than $95,000 to 72 Turkish citizens.
Leading Armenian organizations in Syria, Iraq and Egypt should contact their respective government officials and verify the information published by Today’s Zaman. If the Turkish report is accurate, these organizations should urge Armenian citizens of their countries, including those living overseas, to submit to them copies of their property deeds or other documentary evidence of ownership. The organizations would then pursue the inclusion of Armenian claims in the negotiations being held by their respective governmen’s with Turkey, demanding either the return of Armenian-owned lands or fair compensation for the lost properties.
The key advantage of this approach is that Armenia’s do not need to hire lawyers and go to court, as the officials of the three Arab countries, on behalf of their citizens, are negotiating directly with their Turkish counterparts to settle such reciprocal claims.
This is a unique opportunity that Armenia’s need to take advantage of immediately. Once the outstanding property ownership disputes are settled, Armenian citizens of Syria, Iraq and Egypt may never again have the opportunity to reclaim their properties located in Turkey.