Deal gives ownership of Istanbul church to Catholic community

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The Syriac Catholic community received a free lease for 49 years on Sacre Coeur, a church in Istanbul’s waterfront district of Bebek. Officials from the state-run Directorate General of Foundations signed a protocol with a foundation representing the community. Churches and other places of worship are run by foundations under Turkish laws.

The church, built in 1910, was already being used by the community. The allocation of the church marks a landmark step for the community, which has often relied on renting or borrowing churches from other Christian denominations for decades. The ethnic Syriac community historically lived in Turkey’s southeast, but now numbers around 18,000 in Istanbul, where the majority of non-Muslim minorities in the country reside. It has plans to construct its first church in decades in the city’s Ye?ilköy district after authorities recently cleared the bureaucratic hurdles on the matter.

Since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, Turkey has sought to restore the rights of religious minorities as well as their houses of worship, including those of Syriac communities, Jews and Greeks. Many properties have been returned decades after they were forcefully confiscated by the Turkish state, while the government continues to pursue a policy of restoring abandoned historical buildings.

In May, the state returned ownership of Syriac monasteries, churches and cemeteries to the community in southeastern Turkey.