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Turkey To Compensate Victims Of Religious Persecution

Prime Minister Erdogan announced yesterday that Turkey would reimburse religious minorities whose property was confiscated, destroyed or sold by the government since 1936. It is an important gesture by the Turkish government, which still has a long journey to make before coming to terms with minorities and Turkey’s turbulent history. The New York Times has the story.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement on Sunday to representatives of more than 150 Christian and Jewish trusts gathered at a dinner he hosted in Istanbul to break the day’s Ramadan fast. The government decree to return the properties, bypassing nationalist opposition in Parliament, was issued late Saturday…

Many of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were seized after 1936 when trusts were called to list their assets, and in 1974 a separate ruling banned the groups from purchasing any new real estate.

This clears a roadblock that held back Turkey’s application to join the European Union, which has strict laws on the protection of religious minorities. It is also good news for people everywhere who believe that minorities deserve equal rights and full protection under the law.

For the Turks, it also represents a small but significant step down a difficult but necessary road.  If Turkey is to take a place as a regional leader in the 21st century, it is going to have to come to terms with issues that were swept under the rug during the Kemalist period.  Keeping a tight lid on the Pandora’s box of minority, ethnic and religious issues was one of the justifications the Turkish ‘deep state’ used for its repressive domestic policies.  Now the lid is opening, and a good many Armenian, Greek, Arab and Alevi issues and memories are going to come flapping out.

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  • WigWag

    “Prime Minister Erdogan announced yesterday that Turkey would reimburse religious minorities whose property was confiscated, destroyed or sold by the government since 1936.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    I guess that means that victims of the Armenian Genocide (1914-1918) get nothing; not even an apology from the holocaust-denying Turks.

  • Jim.

    Get the Greeks and the Turks to sit down with each other and settle their differences peaceably, and there’s hope for this world yet.

    If the Hagia Sophia is re-consecrated as an Orthodox Church, that would be huge.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Jim: Don’t hold your breath. That one has been Turkish since 1452 — 40 years before Columbus discovered America. The Indians will get Manhattan back first.

  • WigWag

    Perhaps the Turks won’t return the Hagia Sophia to its rightful owners, but what about the country’s only local Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary, called Halki. The Turks have shut it tight; in effect they’ve stolen it from the Orthodox Church. Unless it has been already been returned, it stands as just one more point of contention between the Erdogan Government and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch.

    In fact, in 2009 Patriarch Bartholomew when asked by the news show “60 Minutes” why he didn’t just leave for Greece said,

    “This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us it is equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes…In the gospel it is written that it is given to us not only to believe in Christ, but also suffer for Christ.”

    More about the Turkish Government’s awful treatment of the Orthodox can be found here,

    But perhaps the Orthodox Christians in Turkey should consider themselves lucky. After all, they are not being murdered in the tens of thousands like the Kurds. The Turks haven’t massacred hundreds of thousands of Christians for several decades.

  • Kris

    “Hagia Sophia is re-consecrated as an Orthodox Church”

    Now now, let us be realistic and incremental. Instead of such religiously fraught cases, let us start with baby steps: returning Arabia and its holy places from the Saudis to the Hashemites.

    A moderate and pragmatic person am I.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    This action surprises me, it’s like Erdogan is greasing the religious minorities, so they won’t oppose him when he reaches for more power.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Oh, I meant to mention that I don’t think joining the EU is what Erdogan wants. In fact I think the Turks are laughing their […] off about what is happening to their enemies the Greeks. I think they know that the Euro is dead, and that the European Union is going to go through some traumatic changes. So Erdogan’s actions were unlikely to be for the benefit of the Europeans, or at least not as part of a plan to join the EU.

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