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Lraper: Non-Muslim Foundations Issue Hotly Debated

ISTANBUL, 21 January 2002 (“Lraper” Church Bulletin)–
The Ankara-based Flash TV programme broadcasts on three consecutive days
(19, 20 and 21 January 2002) attacked the amendment proposed by the State
Ministry for Foundations, which seeks to revise the Foundations Law No. 227.

The invited speakers on the programme, solely made of commentators with
ultra-nationalists political views, repeatedly criticised the proposed law
directly and made derogatory remarks about the religious heads of the
Armenian and Greek communities.

The amendment at issue concerns the legal rights of the Turkish Armenian
community and other non-Muslim communities in Turkey to own immovable

Flash TV had invited only speakers who are against the amendment. The
speakers took turns making sensational claims and insulting remarks against
the Armenian and Greek Patriarchs in Turkey. The two Patriarchs were
outrageously accused of “working against the interests of the Turkish

The guest commentators unjustly alleged that the Armenian and the Greek
Patriarchs are trying to strengthen their communities materially at a time
when Turkey is going through an economic crisis. They claimed that these
minorities and their foundations in Turkey are a threat to state security.
Hence, they concluded, the State Ministry must withdraw the amendments to
the Foundations law.

Two former state ministers, Enis Oksuz of the Nationalist Movement Party
(MHP) and Mr. Agah Oktay Guner of the True Path Party (DYP) were among the
many speakers on the programmes. They both publicly disagreed with the
proposal and urged the Council of Ministers to shelve the amendment.

The Flash TV broadcasts were the first serious signs of anti-minority
sentiments expressed by public figures on nationally aired television
programmes since December 2001 when it was made public that amendments
to the Foundations Law were expected. They twisted the facts with
far-fetched claims and uninformed statements concerning the non-Muslim
minorities in Turkey.

Most preposterous was the claim that if Armenians were allowed to purchase
land, then they would go ahead and buy large plots of land, as with the
example of Jews who bought farms in Palestine in the late 19th century,
which paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel.

Flash TV did not provide any objective explanation about the real essence of
the issue at hand, with is a legal, constitutional question.

The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey provides legal guarantees to its
citizens for the right to own properties.

However, over the years, successive governments have introduced “exceptions”
to the Constitution through “special laws” and “legal directives” that
pertain only to non-Muslim communities and their foundations.

Patriarch Mesrob has repeatedly petitioned to the authorities of the country
to provide equal rights to the citizens of Turkey regardless of their
religious descent or affiliation, and provide the same constitutional
guarantees to community foundations that are enjoyed by all Moslem
foundations (vakifs) in the country.

“Just as any Turkish citizen, regardless of religion, has the right to own
property, the foundations established by any group of Turkish citizens which
are legal personalities should enjoy the same prerogative,” explained
Patriarch Mesrob.

The Flash TV programmes were aired just as the Turkish Government is showing
interest in resolving the issue and attempting to bring the law in line with
the Constitution.

Less than ten days ago, His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of
Istanbul and All Turkey, met His Excellency Mr Bulent Ecevit, Prime Minister
of the Republic of Turkey in Ankara on 11 January. The cordial and
constructive meeting took place a few days before Mr. Ecevit’s visit to the
United States.

The Prime Minister promised that the Government would do its utmost to
assist the Armenian community within existing possibilities. He asked the
Patriarch to continue to convey to the Government any issues that the
community would like to see resolved.

Lawyers, representing around fifty-five Armenian community foundations in
Turkey, had submitted to the Patriarch a legal analysis of the petition
prepared by the State Ministry for Foundations. The analysis was presented
to the Prime Minister along with Patriarch’s formal petition.

The Armenian Orthodox community is the largest non-Muslim community in
Turkey. Since 1936, just as in the case of other non-Muslim minorities, the
Armenian community has been denied the right to own new community

Non-Muslim citizens of Turkey have almost equal opportunity before the
Turkish laws in terms of individual citizens’ rights, however there are
pending legal issues that must be solved in the sphere of communal rights.
The 1936 ban of registration of new property by minority foundations – which
administer churches, schools and health facilities – is one of the most
problematic legal issues.

“There is only one thing that the non-Muslim religious minorities wish”,
Patriarch Mesrob told the Prime Minister in Ankara. “The non-Muslim
foundations that have survived the Ottoman Empire should be allowed to
have the legal right to receive, own and manage new immovable properties,
in order for them to realize their humanitarian, social, religious,
educational, health and cultural endeavours.”

The Patriarch underlined that “if this much could be achieved, then the
discrimination between the Muslim and non-Muslim foundations in the Republic
of Turkey would be relegated to history books”.

Patriarch Mesrob visited Ankara again on 16 January for another round of
meetings with government officials and political party leaders. He met Mr.
Mesut Yilmaz (Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the Motherland Party), Mr.
Husamettin Ozkan (Deputy Prime Minister), Mr. Nejat Arseven (State Minister
in charge of Public Trusts and Foundations), Mr Rustu Kazim Yucelen
(Interior Minister), Ambassador Volkan Vural General Secretary for EU
Relations), opposition leader Mr. Recai Kutan (Head of Saadet Party), Mrs.
Tansu Ciller (Head of True Path Party) and a group of Members of the
Parliament. The Patriarch also met with Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Head of
the Justice and Development Party) in Istanbul on 10 January.

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