ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ

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ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ
July 12, 2012, Thursday

How was a monastery robbed in Turkey?

When there is no deep, profound change in his neurosis, a neurotic person repeats his old habits, no matter how much he has changed on the surface. Well, Turkey has changed quite dramatically and this government has made a lot of reforms, but old habits have not changed fundamentally and irreversibly.

Look at what is going on in the Mor Gabriel Monastery case. This monastery has existed since before we Turks arrived in Anatolia. It is a 1,600-year-old, ancient institution. Today, our Treasury claims that the lands of the monastery belong to it. And we got to this point through very well-known legal tricks.

First, the villagers who live in the neighboring villages brought legal cases against the monastery from 2008 onwards. They claimed that quite significant portions of the land were actually theirs and the monastery was illegally occupying them. I know from my experience very well that if some “citizens” bring an organized action against non-Muslims in Turkey, it is almost certain that the state somehow has a hand in it. There must have been some dark circles operating behind the curtains to motivate the villagers to take action against the monastery. In this regard, I do not think it is surprising that these cases and the return of the Arameans from abroad to their homeland somehow coincided. The legal action was a kind of welcome home present for the Arameans.

Well, after seeing all the changes that have taken place in Turkey, we were expecting that the government would intervene in this situation and would look into who was actually behind these legal cases which suddenly popped up. What happened instead was mind-boggling. The Treasury joined the villagers in this intimidation and attack campaign. The Treasury claimed that these lands belonged to it. The Treasury is a body that operates under the strict orders of the government. So there is no room to argue that this institution took all this legal action on its own initiative. Even if it did at the beginning, it was not possible for it to pursue these cases so far and to such an extent without having the consent of the government after all the criticism directed at these cases.

I do not want to bore you with the legal details but it is necessary to quote a few parts to understand what is really going on in these cases. The court of first instance rejected the citizens’ claims, drawing attention to these details: Yes, it was true that the land was not registered in the name of the monastery at the Land Registry. However, two documents prove that the monastery was the legal owner. The first document was the so-called 1936 declaration, which was given to the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM) by the monastery in 1936 in compliance with an order that year for all non-Muslim foundations. We see in this declaration that these lands belonged to the monastery. The second group of documents is the tax records of the monastery. All these documents show that the monastery was the owner of these lands and paid regular taxes for them.

When the Treasury appealed against the decision by the court of first instance, the first shocking decision came from the Supreme Court of Appeals, which says the monastery has no document proving its ownership of the land. The monastery this time requested a “decision correction” from the Supreme Court of Appeals and this time included all the documents on which the court of first instance based its decision. Nothing, however, has changed; the Supreme Court of Appeals declared again that the Treasury is the rightful owner of these lands.

This is exactly the same Supreme Court of Appeals which deprived non-Muslim foundations of all their properties before. Seeing non-Muslim citizens as “indigenous foreigners,” a term once used by it, is embedded in its genes. However, the other part of the story needs quite a serious explanation. How can this government, after developing all these minority-friendly policies, be the architect of such a deeply embarrassing action against our handful of Aramean citizens and their ancient church? Well, my answer was in the first sentence, and if there are others, I am very much willing to listen to them.

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