ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ

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ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ
August 28, 2012, Tuesday

Has the dispossessing of non-Muslims ended?

The story of getting rid of non-Muslims from Turkey is also the story of transferring capital from one group to another; it is the story of creating a new bourgeoisie in Turkey.

Draw two maps and put them side-by-side. On one of the maps, mark out where the Armenians were located before they were driven out of Anatolia. On the other map, mark out the origins of the richest families in Turkey. These cities will appear on both maps: Adana, Kayseri and Malatya.So, while the Armenians were disappearing from the surface of Anatolia, at the same time a “new Turkish bourgeoisie” was also emerging. The disappearance of the Armenians was just the beginning of this story.

In 1934 a pogrom broke out in Thrace. For weeks, shops and properties belonging to citizens of this country who were of Jewish descent were looted. More than 10,000 Jews fled the region in fear and left all their belongings behind. And of course a new “upper class” emerged in the region after this carefully coordinated disaster.

In 1942, a “wealth tax” was levied on the wealthy citizens of Turkey. And of course these wealthy citizens happened to be non-Muslim citizens of this country. With the excuse of raising funds for the country's defense in the event of an eventual entry into World War II, Jews, Greeks and Armenians were obliged to pay an unbelievable amount in taxes for the possessions which they owned. As a result, most of them were forced to sell everything they had to pay these taxes. Their belongings found new owners, who paid very little money to the original owners who were forced to sell them in a matter of days.

In 1955, during the infamous Sept. 6-7 events, non-Muslims living in İstanbul, especially in the district of Beyoğlu, were targeted. Their churches, houses, shops and offices were looted by mobs. As a result, many non-Muslims left Turkey in fear once again and many properties were transferred to new owners.

The last and one of the most systematic blows in all these waves of dispossessing non-Muslims started in 1974. In that year, the Supreme Court of Appeals decided that most of the transactions of non-Muslim foundations purchasing new properties in the last four decades were in fact invalid because these foundations did not declare in their 1936 statements that they would buy new properties. What was hidden behind all the lofty words of the court was just a legal trick to dispossess these foundations. As a result of this “interpretation,” these foundations lost thousands and thousands of properties which they once owned.

What is happening in today's Turkey is rather complex. On the one hand, the dispossessing policy continues, but on the other hand, some property rights have been partially restored. You know the result of the legal battle over the properties of the Mor Gabriel monastery. The Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that the land of the monastery belongs to the Treasury. In exactly the same Turkey, the government is returning some of the properties of non-Muslim foundations. According to the Taraf daily, the number of properties that were returned to non-Muslim foundations since last year is 51. However, the Hrant Dink foundation declared that the number of properties which had been taken from Armenian foundations in İstanbul is 621.

In short, as far as repairing the disasters created by the deep-rooted dispossessing policies is concerned, Turkey has a very, very long way to go. This road will advance in quite a parallel way to the democratization of this country. Let's watch together what the days to come will bring.

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