From Reuters’s valuable FaithWorld blog, a story about Turkey’s announcement Sunday that it will restore or pay compensation for real property it seized from minority religious groups in 1936. In that year, Turkey required minority religious foundations to register their properties; the government seized several of these properties, including schools and hospitals, claiming that they were not being used. Since 1974, a government decree has prevented minority foundations from registering new real property.
The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the seizure of these properties as illegal, and the European Union has been pressuring Turkey to return them. Prior attempts to return the properties ran into nationalist opposition. This time, though, it appears that the AKP – a Muslim political party that, perhaps ironically, has been somewhat more receptive to the claims of non-Muslims – will follow through.
Non-Muslim minorities in Turkey, principally Christians (Armenians, Greeks, and Syriacs) and Jews, number around 100,000. The number of Christians has declined greatly over the last century as a result of genocide and forced population transfers. Their problems continue; Christians are often denied access to historic churches, for example, which fall more and more into ruin. Still, assuming Sunday’s restoration decree is implemented, it is a step in the right direction. – MLM