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.