Turkish religious minority groups have been seeking compensation amounting to billions of lira in a number of cases filed against the Turkish government at the ECtHR. Kezban Hatemi, a lawyer who has been representing minority foundations in property cases for 25 years, said one important ongoing case at the court involves a building which was formerly a Greek elementary school in Ortaköy. Hatemi says that this building was expropriated by Turkey, but since the government’s new regulations include paying compensation for property that has been expropriated or sold to third parties, the cases at the ECtHR will most likely be dismissed.
Hatemi said the new regulation will help non-Muslim groups in Turkey feel at home for the first time. “The minorities will see for the first time what it means to be equal citizens and to have confidence in the state.” She said non-Muslim groups have had to go through many an ordeal in Turkey, such as the “asset tax” of the 1940s, when higher taxes were levied upon religious minority groups, and the Sept. 6-7 pogrom of 1955, against İstanbul’s Greeks and Armenians. “Now we have entered a brand new era. Of course there will some deficiencies, but now it is a fact that we have the awareness of being a solid country within the rule of law.”
There are thousands of pieces of real estate in Turkey whose rightful owners are religious minority associations, most of them in the more expensive neighborhoods of İstanbul, such as Osmanbey, Nişantaşı, Bebek, Taksim and Arnavutköy. A significant number of properties are also owned by religious minorities in Mardin and Diyarbakır.
The new government edict, a decree that has the power of law, allows minorities to register confiscated property with land registry directorates within 12 months. In addition to buildings, other edifices, such as fountains or cemeteries, will be returned to religious foundations. The market value of property expropriated or sold to third parties will be repaid to the original owners by the treasury or relevant general directorate.