Catholics demand equal treatment in new charter

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Göksel Bozkurt
A delegation of Turkey’s Catholics meet a parliamnetary panel working on a new charter to demand equal treatment for non-Muslim minorities and an equal share of public funds for religious services and education
The ruling AKP’s Ahmet ?yimaya (L) welcomes the representatives of Turkey’s Catholic community before a presentation at Parliament’s constitution-writing panel. AA photo

Representatives of Turkey’s Catholic community made a presentation at Parliament’s constitution-writing panel yesterday demanding legal status for their community, the return of confiscated property and compensation for some 200 buildings.

The Catholic committee also expressed support for Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew’s earlier presentation to the Constitution Conciliation Commission demanding equal treatment for non-Muslim minorities, including an equal share of public funds for religious services and education.

Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini, apostolic administrator of Anatolia, headed the delegation, which also included Armenian-Turkish Archbishop Hovhannes Tcholakian and representatives from the Syriac Catholics and the Chaldean Church.

Catholics have resided in Anatolia since the first millennium, said Franceschini, adding that Catholics handed over the key to Istanbul to the Ottoman Empire, who recognized the community as non-Muslim Ottoman citizens instead of foreigners. However, despite having the same rights as other minorities, the Catholic community was never recognized as a nation due to the fact that it is based in the Vatican instead of locally, he said.

Franceschini told the commission that the community’s grievances were expressed in all four meetings with the pope since 1989.

The Catholic community’s main demands were the return of some 200 buildings identified in a 1913 agreement between Grand Vizier Said Halim Pa?a and French Ambassador Maurice Bompard, who represented the Catholic Church in Turkey, as well as compensation for the time period that has passed since the properties were taken by the treasury.

Use of histroric churches

Speaking to reporters following the meeting with the commission, Franceschini said that in addition to the return of the buildings, the committee also requested that “all churches, old buildings and attractions in Turkey be repaired and used. Let us save all of the artifacts.”

The committee said as minorities they demanded nothing more than the same rights as Turkish citizens.

Roma representatives also met with the commission on Monday, demanding affirmative action instead of the discrimination that they have experienced.

“They love us as long as we entertain. Once the lights are turned off, they go back to their gated apartments, and we go back to our poor neighborhoods,” said a Roma representative to the commission.

The protection of Romas and Romanis in the new constitution was another demand from the 6 million “Gypsies” in Turkey, who not only asked for the protection of their culture, but also protection from police officers who stereotype them as potential criminals.

The ultra-nationalist “gray wolves,” the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) youth branch, also presented their suggestions to the commission, asking that the new constitution not lose focus on its “one language, one flag” principle.