Minorities appeal for return of 35 properties
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
A recent ruling by an Istanbul court imposed an interim injunction over Sansaryan Han in Istanbul, which was formerly owned by the Armenian Patriarchate.Turkey’s Armenian, Greek and Syriac minorities have lodged an official appeal for the return of 35 estates owned by 14 foundations following the enactment of the Foundations Law last year.
“We have come [a long way] since the days when a permit was required to even drive a single nail into a wall. We are now returning properties that were usurped from the hands of [minority communities] back to their real owners,” Adnan Ertem, the head of the Prime Ministry Foundations General Directorate, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Representatives of Turkey’s minority communities have filed 1,500 appeals to date since the legislation for the new Foundations Law was enacted in two parts – first in 2008 and second in August 2011 – but the Foundations General Directorate has approved a mere 181 of them so far, Ertem said.
“If there are claims about the expropriation of the [estates in question] by public institutions, then [minorities] can appeal to the judiciary. There is no need to pass a law for this,” Ertem said, adding that it was out of question to hand back estates classified as “Registered Foundations” and whose ownership had passed to the Foundations General Directorate after they were left without an owner.
Minority communities have a grace period to apply for the return of their properties until August 2012 as part of the law passed last year. No appeals have yet been issued for any properties outside of Istanbul, however.
In the meantime, the country’s Syriac Christian community has also been waging an uphill legal battle to retrieve their ancient monasteries and foundation lands in eastern and southeastern Turkey.
Five lawsuits filed by the Forestry and Waterworks Ministry, the Land Registry and Cadastre Directorate General, the Treasury and residents from neighboring villages against the managers of the Syriac Mor Gabriel Foundation on the grounds that the historical monastery is occupying their lands have also made their way to the European Court of Human Rights.
As more and more villagers began settling on the lands in question, the 1,700-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery (Deyr-ul Umur), the Syriacs’ most revered place of worship, was gradually encircled by farming communities. The inhabitants of the villages of Yayvantepe, Çandarlı and Eğlence subsequently filed a suit against the monastery in 2008 on the grounds that it was occupying their lands.
Although Syriacs are often regarded as a minority, they are exempt from the terms of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which only recognized Armenian, Greek and Jewish minorities in the country.
The issue of returning Syriac monasteries is a matter that is beyond the directorate, Ertem said, adding that the Syriac community in Istanbul had plans to establish a church there and that they were ready to give the green light provided the community can find a tract of foundation land.
Ertem also said they were working on the return of the Armenian Surp Haç Tıbrevank Clerical School in Istanbul’s Üsküdar district.
“We are trying to get hold of an Ottoman-era document indicating that the foundation was owned by the [Armenian] community. The community is unable to present the document,” he said.