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July 25, 2012, Wednesday

Mor Gabriel Monastery and the new AKP

About two weeks ago, the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals reached its final verdict concerning the Mor Gabriel Monastery, which has existed for more than 1600 years. It says that half the land the monastery is on belongs to the Treasury. The new Justice and Development Party (AKP) has not yet commented on the issue, which does not come as a surprise to me.

Some Muslim villagers suddenly claimed in 2008 that the land that has been used for many years by the monastery actually belongs to them. The court of first instance rejected their claim. The court held that even though the land was not registered in the name of the monastery at the Land Registry, two documents nevertheless prove the monastery was the legal owner. The first document is the so-called 1936 declaration, which was given to the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM) by the monastery in 1936. This declaration shows that the land belongs to the monastery. The document is the tax record of the monastery, proving that the monastery has regularly paid taxes since 1937. Based on these two documents and the declarations of expert witnesses, the local court confirmed that the lands belong to the monastery. However, at this stage the Treasury got involved and it appealed the decisions, claiming the land does not belong to the villagers but to the state. The Supreme Court of Appeals overruled the local court’s decision, but the court insisted on its verdict. Finally, two weeks ago, the General Assembly of the Supreme Court of Appeals settled the case in favor of the Treasury.

This is an embarrassing case for Turkey, and as a practicing Muslim, I feel ashamed that practicing Muslims in this country who have been fighting for their rights have remained largely insensitive to our non-Muslim brothers’ suffering at the hands of the Kemalist state. It unfortunately shows that we demand rights, freedoms and liberties for ourselves, but we do not care what happens to our neighbors, proving my point that we are actually all children of Kemalistan. Our latent identity is Kemalist and the overwhelming majority of us have Kemalist LAST (Laicist Atatürkist Sunni Turkish) cultural genes. These tend to surface regarding cases where non-Muslim Turks are involved. Mor Gabriel is a very telling example of this.

Another crucial lesson that the Mor Gabriel case teaches us is about the unpromising nature of the increasingly Kemalo-Islamist AKP, or the new AKP. If it were its first or second term in power, it might have reacted differently, but in its third term, which it calls its “term of mastery,” it has remained silent. Imagine if a similar thing happened to Muslim Greek citizens in Western Thrace. How would the AKP react? Would it say that everyone must respect the decisions of the courts? I would also expect that even if the monastery never owned this land, never declared it as part of it and never paid land taxes, the AKP -- which I once believed was not Kemalist -- would give this land to our Aramean citizens and brothers who number a mere 3,000 as a gift. (Yet, it seems that our latent identity still sees them as “indigenous foreigners” as they were once called by the Supreme Court of Appeals. Our Kemalist reflexes obviously see them as a threat and would be very happy if they migrate to the West, paving the way for a 100 percent Muslim country.)

The only good aspect of this terribly embarrassing socio-legal story is that the younger generation judiciary represented at the first instance (local) court does not suffer from the Kemalist bias and could objectively engage in judicial reasoning on the basis of documents and evidence. Hopefully, some 20 years later, these democrat and non-Kemalist judges will dominate the supreme courts of Turkey.

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