Will this government also introduce some regulations allowing non-Muslim communities to regain their seized foundations? The story of these seized foundations is part of a dimension of Turkish history which is not discussed in an open and conscious way. Many foundations belonging to minorities were taken from them just because of the way they were organized. Legal provisions require these foundations to be run by people living in the region in which they are located. However, minorities have serious difficulty replacing aging members or those who pass away with young people. This is a sad reality. The numbers of minorities are so small and they are getting old and dying. The story of the “seized foundations” reveals another story about our minorities: We are simply losing them.
My intention in this article is not to focus on finding a technical answer to the question of seized foundations, but rather to follow its social and historical implications.
Let's talk about Turkey's Greek minority. Their number is estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 and most of these people are quite old. They do not have a young generation coming up behind them. We could solve the problem of seized foundations with some new legal instruments allowing non-Muslim congregations to merge their foundations with others that can still function. But even this would only provide temporary relief because many of these functioning foundations will die soon, since there is no young generation to run them.
Last Saturday I read a news story in the Star daily that filled me with warm feelings and made me hopeful. Star interviewed Professor Niko Uzunoğlu, chair of the Universal Federation of Greeks, an NGO based in Greece. Uzunoğlu, like many Greeks who migrated from Turkey, has roots in Anatolia and wants to come back one day. Apparently, the recent reforms have made many Greeks of Anatolian origin feel very hopeful about coming back. “The decision of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to return the property of minority groups, was perceived as a call to the 120,000 Rum living in Greece to come back to Turkey,” Uzunoğlu said.
Uzunoğlu also gave some background about how Turkey's relationship with its minorities has deteriorated: “This issue has degenerated over time. Rum [ethnic Greek] people living in İstanbul were prohibited from engaging in many occupations in 1932. As a result of that, 20,000 Rum left Turkey. However, those people were subject to the Treaty of Lausanne. Turkey and Greece did not have any problems during World War II. But the minorities sub-commission founded by Ismet Inönü, the second prime minister of the Turkish Republic, in 1961 called a halt to bilateral relations, which had been improving at that time. Sixty thousand of the 90,000 Rums living in Turkey had to leave Turkey under tough conditions in 1964-65. Those difficult conditions continued until 2003. However, today these conditions are improving. Thanks to the recent decision regarding the property of minority groups, Turkey is compensating for the practice that forced many Rum to leave Turkey in 1964 and 1965. Previously Turkey did not deign to speak with us, which has changed a lot in the last 10 years. We are following this change with interest.”
Uzunoğlu in the first paragraph talks about my solution to our minority problem. In my view Turkey needs to adopt some new policies in which she encourages all non-Muslims who emigrated from Turkey (Armenians, Greeks, Jews Assyrians and others) and their descendants to return to Turkey. These people could be Turkish citizens easily and they should be provided with some privileges to compensate for their losses in the past.
What I am talking about is a huge policy change in Turkey. I believe Turkey will reach this point one day when it gains real self-confidence and become a full democracy. There is a long way going to this final destination.
Anyway, today is the 56th anniversary of shameful Sept. 6-7 pogroms in İstanbul in which properties of non-Muslims were looted and they were being attacked by mobs. After these terrific events in 1955, thousands and thousands of non-Muslims left Turkey forever. Professor Uzunoğlu is one of these Greek descendents who migrated to Greece. I hope he will be resettled in Turkey soon and he will be followed by hundreds of thousand of others.