Claim: Turkish government confiscates Christian properties

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Claim: Turkish government confiscates Christian properties

2018-08-11 06:43 BST
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Orthodox Christian organization falsely alleges Turkish government seizes properties of Orthodox Patriarchate in Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the opening of Bulgarian Sveti Stefan Church

The Order of St. Andrews, an Orthodox Christian society located in New York, the US, falsely accused the government of Turkey of “confiscating thousands of properties of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Turkey and called Turkish government to “put an end to this practice” in a statement published on 4 August 2018.

“The Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities within Turkey are well aware of the five principal issues of concern that the Order of Saint Andrew has identified regarding religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all Christians in Turkey: … Confiscation of thousands of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s properties by the host government”

The claim is baseless and the situation has been the opposite during the term of Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has been in power in Turkey since 2003. The properties of the Christian foundations which had been expropriated in the past have been returned by the AK Party government. In 1936, the Turkish government prohibited the religious communities, foundations and associations to acquire properties with the Law Numbered 2762, in an attempt to “secularize” the country. Although the law was aimed to seize the properties of Islamic foundations, Christian foundations’ properties were also expropriated in the process.

However, after the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, the government started to return these properties. Under the AK Party government, Christian properties at a value of  2 billion Turkish liras in total were returned to Christian foundations between 2003 and 2011. The properties included many premises, schools, apartments, churches, fountains and factories.

Apart from returning back the property titles to Christian foundations, notable Christian institutions were also revived and their buildings were restored by the government in the last 15 years. One of the major examples is the old Armenian orphanage of Camp Armen. The land of Camp Armen belonged to a private person until 2015. When the owner of the land wanted to demolish Camp Armen in order to construct another facility for financial reasons, the land was expropriated and the abandoned orphanage building was restored by the government. The Camp Armen Orphanage was reopened as an Armenian cultural center in 2018.

The Akdamar Orthodox Church, located in a small island on Lake Van, was another abandoned building which was significant for the Orthodox Christian community. The 1,100-year-old church was renovated in 2007 and opened to worship with the participations of then Vice Ministers of Culture of Armenia and Turkey and other officials and dignitaries.

The Bulgarian Church of Sveti Stefan, also known as the Iron Church, is the world's only surviving completely iron church, and dates back to the 19th century. The church was damaged over time and it was restored by the Turkish government between the years 2011 and 2017. The restoration cost $3.5 million, which was covered by the Turkish government.

To have a deeper insight about returning of Christian communities in the last 15 years and the situation of religious minorities in Turkey in general, visit Timeline Turkey.