Eight articles of the bill were passed after fierce and heated debate in Parliament last Thursday, despite strong opposition to some. Yesterday's vote in Parliament was on the bill's last controversial article, Article 68, which returns confiscated fixed property to non-Muslim foundations. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP) claim that the bill, which introduces a number of improvements to minority rights, is a danger to Turkey's national security.
The improvements include allowing non-Muslim foundations to work together with organizations in foreign countries, establish branches and representation offices abroad, set up umbrella organizations and become members of organizations established abroad.
In 2007 President Ahmet Necdet Sezer vetoed the bill with the justification that “it could serve to strengthen minority foundations.” Opponents of the article, particularly the MHP, say allowing foundations too much freedom in their dealings with foreign countries would run contrary to the principle of reciprocity, as not all Turkish foundations in foreign countries have the same rights. Non-Muslims say they are offended by the bill, saying the nationalists’ arguments turn them into hostages in their own country.
Faruk Bal, deputy leader of the MHP parliamentary group, argued in a speech that the bill had to be withdrawn, saying passing the Foundations Law would revive the Treaty of Sèvres signed after World War I between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies, which partitioned Ottoman lands. The Treaty of Sèvres was annulled as a result of the Turkish War of Independence and was superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne. “The souls of the martyrs of the War of Independence are watching us,” said Bal.
Democratic Left Party (DSP) Eskişehir deputy Tayfun İçli also expressed frustration after the article of the bill was adopted: “[You] gentlemen who are greatly irritated by hearing the name of Atatürk (the nation’s founder and a key figure in the War of Independence), this is a law that puts dynamite under the Republic of Turkey. I suggest we all look into our conscience.”
The law is regarded by the European Union as essential to Turkey’s hope of meeting the bloc’s standards for minority rights. The bill is yet to be ratified by President Abdullah Gül, who is thought likely to approve it.