More non-Muslim foundations seek return of confiscated properties

non-muslim.jpgThe VGM decided to return the Greek Primary School pictured here, which was confiscated in 1968 and given to the Ministry of Education.
A number of non-Muslim foundations have applied to the General Directorate of Foundations (VGM) to ask for the return of their immovable properties following a government move to allow properties confiscated from religious minorities since 1936 to be returned.
Nineteen non-Muslim foundations applied to the VGM recently for 57 immovable properties, particularly their cemeteries. Among those foundations is the Galata Greek Primary School Foundation, which applied for the return of the Galata Greek Primary School, a property the VGM decided to return to the Greek foundation. The school was confiscated in 1968 and given to the Ministry of Education. It is currently closed because of the declining Greek population in Turkey, but the Galata Greek Primary School Foundation is planning to have the building serve as a cultural center.

In addition, the Beyoğlu Yüksek Kaldırım Ashkenazi Jewish Synagogue Foundation applied for the return of two of their immovable properties, while the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church and School Foundation applied for the return of three of their immovable properties.

Among the non-Muslim foundations to apply to the VGM for the return of property is the Mardin Assyrian Catholic Church Foundation, which applied for 18 of their immovable properties to be returned. The Chaldean Catholic Church Foundation also submitted an application to the VGM for the return of one property.

A decree published in the Official Gazette in September made it possible for property seized from non-Muslim religious foundations to be returned to them and, in cases where the state has sold the property to third parties, religious foundations will be paid the market value of the property by the Ministry of Finance. Non-Muslim foundations have 12 months to apply to the VGM.

After the VGM completes its research regarding the property claims, it will decide whether or not to return those properties to their original owners.

A similar government move in 2008 allowed the return of property to non-Muslim foundations, and the VGM approved the return of 181 immovable properties to the non-Muslim community, but since there were deficiencies in the implementation of the 2008 law, the government needed to issue the September 2011 decree to ease the process.

The law on foundations in 1936 aimed to control non-Muslim foundations by placing them under the guardianship of the VGM. The laws on foundations have been altered a few times, with new amendments following each other; new laws granting some rights, which were then rescinded by other regulations.

Turkey’s population of nearly 75 million, mostly Muslim, includes roughly 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 Jews, 15,000 Assyrians and about 3,500 Greek Orthodox Christians. While Armenian groups have 52 foundations and Jewish groups 17, Greeks have 75. Some of the properties seized from those foundations include hospitals, schools and cemeteries.