Clinton hails improvements in Turkish religious rights

Clinton hails improvements in Turkish religious rights

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Clinton hails improvements in Turkish religious rights

Clinton says Turkish officials are committed to reopening the Halki Seminary in the near future. AP photo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has praised the improvements the Turkish government has secured in the field of religious freedoms in a letter sent to a prominent congressman. 

“I am encouraged by concrete steps the government of Turkey has taken over the past year to return properties to religious communities,” Clinton wrote in last week’s letter to congressman Howard Berman, a Democrat from California and the ranking Democrat in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. Berman was one of the sponsors of a bill on the return of properties confiscated from Christian communities, which was accepted last year. The U.S. Senate has also endorsed the resolution. 

“In August 2011 the government issued a decree allowing religious minorities to apply to reclaim churches, synagogues, and other properties confiscated 75 years ago. Several properties have already been returned to the 24 religious minority foundations that have applied thus far,” Clinton wrote. “Separately, in November 2010, the government of Turkey returned the Buyukada orphanage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in line with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights,” she wrote. 

“Turkish officials at the most senior levels have told me they are committed to reopening the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Halki Seminary in the near future. In March, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ stated, ‘there are no laws in Turkey against opening a seminary to train Christian clerics; the state will also support such a move,’” Clinton wrote. “The government is redrafting its 1982 military-drafted constitution to fully embrace individual rights, including those of religious and ethnic minorities. Significantly, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek reached out to Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian and Syriac leaders during this process,” she wrote. 

“In response, on February 20, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the Turkish Parliament for the first time in the history of the republic, noting the positive changes taking place in Turkey: ‘Unfortunately, there have been injustices toward minorities until now. These are slowly being corrected and changed. A new Turkey is being born,’” Clinton wrote. 

“These steps are encouraging and we are urging the government of Turkey to continue returning other properties confiscated from minority religious communities to their rightful owners, as well as moving forward with needed legal reforms in its constitutional redrafting process,” she wrote. “We will continue to remain vigilant of the situation for religious communities and encourage needed reforms in the country.”