Ankara criticizes 'anti-Turkish' bill on Christian properties

Ankara criticizes 'anti-Turkish' bill on Christian properties

Ankara criticizes anti-Turkish bill on Christian properties

Halki Seminary on Heybeliada, an island off Istanbul

Turkey has strongly criticized a U.S. House committee bill that directs the State Department to monitor the return of property confiscated from Christians in Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

"While the clear and concrete steps that Turkey has taken for the improvement of the rights and freedoms of all of its citizens, including for the non-Muslim minorities are evident; attempts by anti-Turkish circles in the U.S. Congress, driven by domestic political considerations, to push such unconstructive and baseless initiatives are unacceptable," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement June 27.

The bill, which passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, requires the U.S. secretary of state to provide an annual report to Congress regarding Washington's efforts to secure the return and restoration of "stolen, confiscated, or otherwise unreturned Christian properties" in Turkey and the northern Cyprus.

Terming the bill as "null and void as far as Turkey is concerned," the statement stressed that such initiatives were incongruous with the existing spirit of partnership and alliance between the two traditional allies.

Introduced by Republican Committee Chairman Ed Royce and ranking Democrat Eliot Engel in March, the bill received bipartisan support in the committee, but was met with opposition from Democrats Gerry Connolly and Gregory Meeks.

"It simply does not reflect the relationship the U.S. has cultivated with Turkey, a close and trusted NATO ally," said Connolly. "Passing this legislation will lead to a rupture in our relationship with Turkey at a time when the preservation of our strategic alliance should be a top priority."

The bill is unlikely to go for a full vote until after the summer recess.

It requires the U.S. secretary of state to report no later than 180 days later on the State Department's engagement with Turkish authorities to return the properties.

Lauding the adoption of the bill, Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America Ken Hachikian said the measure sent a strong signal to Ankara that it must come to terms with its obligations to Armenians.

The Armenian diaspora claims that the loss of lives suffered by Ottoman Armenians during their relocation in 1915 constitutes a "genocide."

Turkey rejects the claim, saying that both Turks and Armenians were killed when a portion of the Armenian population sided with invading Russians and staged an armed revolt against the Ottoman authority during the First World War.

The uprisings were followed by a decision by the government in Istanbul to relocate the Armenians living in eastern Anatolia.