Turkey’s Catholics likely to join new charter talks

n_14960_41.jpgANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
 Following Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to Parliament’s constitution-making commission last week, representatives of Turkey’s Catholic community may also be invited to the Parliament to express their views on the new charter, sources say. Syriac community leaders also visited the Parliament this week
Parliament’s constitution-making commission is likely to invite Catholic representatives to express their views on the new charter following criticism that the tiny community is being disregarded.

Turkey’s ambassador to the Vatican, Kenan Gürsoy, recently said the Catholic community was “disappointed” at being snubbed and asked the Constitution Conciliation Commission to listen to their representatives “to avoid any misunderstanding.”

The commission has not made a final decision yet, but members are largely in favor of extending such an invitation, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned. The commission has previously met with leaders of Turkey’s Orthodox, Jewish and Armenian minorities to hear their demands concerning the new constitution.

Meeting with Syriac community

Separately, the panel met this week with representatives of several major Syriac associations in Turkey and Europe that had demanded that their community be granted a minority status similar to the one that Jews, Greeks and Armenians enjoy under the 1924 Lausanne Treaty.

Noting that they constitute one of Anatolia’s most ancient communities, the Syriac representatives requested measures to resolve the longstanding problems that Syriacs returning from Europe encounter in reclaiming their properties, as well as constitutional guarantees for their religion and language. According to figures they gave to the commission, the community today numbers 25,000 people in Turkey, with the majority based in Istanbul, while more than 300,000 Syriacs live in Europe.
In a separate presentation to the commission this week, Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir suggested that the new constitution should define “cultural and ethnic genocide and torture” and the use of weapons of mass destruction as crimes against humanity that would be exempt from the statute of limitations.

Speaking in his capacity as head of the Union of Southeast Anatolian Municipalities, Baydemir also requested the introduction of autonomous regional administrations and education in mother languages, proposals that were extensively outlined in a written presentation the union sent to the commission previously.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew made a landmark presentation at Parliament’s constitution-making commission last week, demanding equal treatment for non-Muslim minorities, including an equal share of public funds for religious services and education.

“It is the first official invitation to non-Muslim minorities in Republican history. A new Turkey is being born. We are leaving the meeting with hope and are extremely grateful,” the patriarch told reporters after the meeting.

The patriarch stressed his community’s biggest problem was the fact that it did not have legal entity status and requested that the new charter guarantees that, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.