Since the Aug. 27, 2011 amendment to the Law on Foundations came into force, minority community foundations have been able to request the return of property that previously belonged to them.
The Foundations Assembly, a subsidiary of the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM), looked through the applications and decided to return 18 of 88 properties to their owners. According to the VGM, the Foundation Assembly, which considered some demands to be inadequate, is still processing the other applications.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman on the issue, noted that it was impossible for the government to approve of practices that have worked against minority community foundations for so many years. Reiterating that they made such an amendment to the Law on Foundations because they did not approve of Turkey’s treatment of minorities, which have been living together for centuries, Arınç said the return of property belonging to community foundations is a crucial step.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who attended an iftar (fast-breaking dinner) given by non-Muslim minorities in 2011, then said his government would not let any single citizen living in Turkey be offended or exposed to discrimination.
The transfer of property that was declared to belong to minority community foundations in 1936 to the foundations has been a nine-year process. In January 2003, Parliament passed a “harmonization package” aimed at bringing Turkish laws in line with EU standards, which, among other things, paved the way for minority foundations to own property upon obtaining permission from the VGM. As a result of the sixth EU Harmonization Package, passed in July 2003, the deadline for the minority foundations to apply to the directorate to formally certify ownership of property that has been proven to belong to them was extended as a further step to make it easier for these foundations to own property. The amendment to the Law on Foundations on Feb. 27, 2008 as part of the ninth EU Harmonization Package was a step taken across an historic threshold.
As a result of the amendment in August of last year, minority foundations were asked to apply within 12 months to register claims for property.
During this time, the Akdamar Church (Church of the Holy Cross) in Van and the Sümela Monastery in Trabzon were permitted to hold religious ceremonies following restoration. Additionally, great progress was made in the restoration of the Hagia Nikolai Church in Gökçeada, Çanakkale, both the Assyrian Catholic Church and the Greek Catholic Church in İskenderun, Hatay, the Armenian Protestant Church in Sur, Diyarbakır, and the Great Synagogue in Edirne.
Civilization of foundations
Arınç told Sunday’s Zaman: “We don’t just refer to foundations associated with the government when we say ‘our civilization is a civilization of foundations.’ We have the same respect and attention for the foundations formed by people who had different faiths and ideas but shared the same destiny with us, who lived on this land with us although they had a different faith, a different religious and racial background.”
He went on to explain that they cannot condone ending the activities of foundations created for charitable purposes or sequester their property for whatever reason, adding that this approach would not be in accordance with their understanding of fairness and justice.