ANKARA: AK Party Backtracks On Minority Law To Appease MHP

Ercan Yavuz Ankara

Today’s Zaman
Feb 12 2008

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has
relied on the support of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party’s
(MHP) to lift a ban against headscarves in Turkish universities,
is backing down from its earlier stance on returning property to
religious minorities. Sources close to the government say the text
of the minorities bill will be changed, in what they call a "gesture"
for the MHP’s earlier support.

In an effort to appease the MHP, the AK Party shelved planned
parliamentary meetings on the Foundations Law — which the MHP calls
the "traitor law" and which would require the return of property and
assets confiscated from foundations belonging to minorities.

In return for the support on the lifting of the headscarf ban, the
AK Party has agreed to change the bill to accommodate the specific
complaints of the MHP, making a U-turn from its earlier stance of
defending the bill. The reform is crucial for Turkey to meet conditions
set by the European Union for Turkey’s membership in the bloc, but
the freedom allowed to the headscarf is likely to curb the freedom
of others. Critics say the measure in its current form would not go
far enough, but the government in trying to appease the MHP plans to
introduce even more limitations.

Parliament first approved the Foundations Law in November 2006. But
the president at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was a secularist who
was often at odds with Erdoðan’s Islamic-rooted government, and he
vetoed it. The country’s population of 70 million, mostly Muslim,
includes 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews and fewer
than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians.

To avoid any damage to the headscarf freedom amendments, which were
approved overwhelmingly by a parliamentary vote last Saturday, the
AK Party, which suspended talks on the Foundations Law, also said it
would listen to the specific complaints of the MHP on the bill. The
MHP then prepared a report penned by MHP Deputy Chairman Faruk Bal.

The MHP had previously characterized the Foundations Law as being
like a grenade with its pin pulled. The party claims that if the
Foundations Law passes in the Turkish Parliament in its current state,
even cemeteries in Turkey could achieve foundation status. The MHP,
comparing the regulations of Greek and Turkish foundations, made a
list detailing what it said were the pieces of legislation that would
act contrary to the principle of "reciprocity" in the new Foundations
Law in regards to Turkish foundations.

Critics say the MHP’s stance bears hints of ethnic fanaticism, since
the owners of the foundations belonging to minorities are all citizens
of the Republic of Turkey. Representatives of minorities have stated
that they feel like "hostages" in their own country.

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What the MHP does not like about minority rights Citizenship condition:
The Greek Foundations Law states that those working in the leadership
of a foundation must be Greek citizens. In Turkey, by contrast, the
only condition for foundation leaders is that they be residents of
Turkey. There is no clear statement on the matter of citizenship. Thus,
clearer definitions and requirements on this issue are being called
for by the MHP.

Permission condition: In Greece, when it comes to financial matters
and possessions for Turkish foundations, the permission of the local
mufti must be sought. This local mufti is not one chosen by Turkey,
but instead is appointed by Greek authorities. In Turkey, by contrast,
minority foundations can acquire any possessions they wish.

In Turkey there is no official office from which permission is required
on possessions; the Foundations General Directorate is supposed to
be informed, but that is all.

In situations of disagreement: In Greece, when there is a disagreement
concerning the possessions that a foundation may have, ministries
get involved in settling the matter. In Turkey, by contrast, these
sorts of disagreements are left to the justice system. The MHP wants
more authority to be given to the appropriate ministries in Turkey
on this subject.

Inspection authority: In Greece, the inspection and control of
foundations belongs to the local mufti. In Turkey, by contrast,
there is an internal inspection mechanism is in place; reports on
foundations are to be prepared by independent inspectors, who will
then relay these reports to the Foundations General Directorate. In
Greece, directors of an elected foundation delegation approve of
appointed local muftis and then send their list of approved names to
the regional general secretary. In Turkey, by contrast, the minority
foundations choose their own leaders from amongst themselves, and
there are no laws in place regarding these choices.

Authority difference: In Greece, the regional general secretary has
authority when it comes to the management and directorship of the
minority foundations in Gumulcine, Ýskece and Dimetoka. In Turkey,
by contrast, there are no laws in place regarding the leadership and
management of minority foundations. In Greece, in the less-populated
areas of Ýskece, Rodop and Meric, the leadership of the Turkish
foundations is decided upon by the local muftis, and the regional
general secretary is then informed.

For-profit companies: In Greece, foundations are not-for-profit and can
only collect income for charity and the like. In Turkey, by contrast,
permission is given for minority foundations to not only profit,
but to take up partnerships in private companies.

Foundation status for cemeteries: In the Greek cities of Ýskece,
Rodop and Meric, Muslim cemeteries are officially recognized as
foundations. In Turkey, by contrast, there are no such regulations.

–Boundary_(ID_C1slDBSJXxgc/79n4vEiG Q)–
From: Baghdasarian

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