Turkey Parl. approves return of confiscated property to minorities

International Herald Tribune, France –
Feb 20 2008

Turkey’s parliament approves return of confiscated property to
minorities
The Associated PressPublished: February 20, 2008

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkey’s parliament approved a law Wednesday to
return properties confiscated by the state to Christian and Jewish
minority foundations – a key reform demanded by the European Union.

The EU has long been pressing Turkey to pass the measure that would
allow the foundations belonging to minority groups to reclaim seized
assets – including churches, school buildings and orphanages – that
were registered in the names of saints.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn hailed Turkey for adopting the
law.

"The adoption of the new law on foundations is a welcome step
forward," he said. "This is an important issue for Turkey, and one
that all EU institutions have regularly highlighted as important to
ensure fundamental rights and freedoms for all Turkish citizens."

However, Rehn said: "It is implementation that will be the test of
Turkey’s progress in ensuring rights and freedoms."

The law would also allow Muslim foundations to receive financial aid
>From foreign countries.

The reform appears designed to meet conditions set by the EU for
Turkey’s membership in the bloc.

Parliament passed the measure 242-72. President Abdullah Gul, a close
associate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to sign
the measure.

Turkey seized some properties owned by minority foundations in 1974
around the time of an invasion of Cyprus that followed a coup attempt
by supporters of union with Greece.

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.

Parliament first approved the measure in November 2006. But the
president at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was a secularist who was
often at odds with Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, and he vetoed
it.

Critics have said, however, that the measure makes no clear provision
for assets that have since been sold on to other people.

Religious minorities have often complained of discrimination in
Turkey, which has a history of conflict with Greece, which is
predominantly Christian, and with Armenians, another mostly Christian
group.

Many Armenians accuse Turkey of genocide early in the last century,
but Turkey says mass killings at that time were the result of the
chaos of war, rather than a systematic campaign of genocide.

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