Turkey’s Homework on Minority Rights

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe calls Turkey for a series of measures regarding religious minorities to be implemented throughout the coming twelve months. A progress report is expected by February 2011.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (ACPE) passed a document on 27 January regarding measures to be taken by Turkey in the context of minority rights. The ACPE expects a progress report related to the measures from Turkey until February 2011.

Religious Clergy: Turkey should find constructive solutions concerning the training of religious minorities’ clergy and the granting of work permits for foreign members of the clergy.

Legal personality of religious institutions: The state should recognize the legal personality of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, the Armenian Catholic Archbishopric of Istanbul, the Bulgarian Orthodox Community within the structures of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate, the Chief Rabbinate, and the Vicariate Apostolic of Istanbul. The absence of legal personality which affects all the communities concerned has direct effects in terms of ownership rights and property management.

Theological college: The Country should find an agreed solution with the representatives of the minority with a view to the reopening of the Heybeliada Greek Orthodox theological college (the Halki seminary), inter alia by making official in writing the proposal to reopen the seminary as a department of the Faculty of Theology of Galatasaray University, in order to open genuine negotiations on this proposal.

Ecumenical title: the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul should be given the freedom to choose to use the adjective “ecumenical”.

Places of worship and foundations: Turkey should resolve the question of the registration of places of worship and the question of the mazbut (‘registered’) properties confiscated since 1974, which must be returned to their owners or to the entitled persons or, where the return of the assets is impossible, to provide for fair compensation.

Mor Gabriel: the Orthodox Syriac monastery of Mor Gabriel, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, founded in 397 AD should be ensured to not be deprived of its lands, and that to be protected in its entirety. The Assembly expresses equal concern about the current status of the unlawful appropriation of significant amounts of land historically and legally belonging to a multitude of other ancient Syriac monasteries, churches and proprietors in south-east Turkey.

Syriac people: Turkey should recognize, promote and protect the Syriac people as a minority. This shall include, but shall not be limited to, officially developing their education and carrying out religious services in their Aramaic native language.

Public services: The state should take practical measures to make possible for members of national minorities admission to police forces, the army, the judiciary and the administration.

Violence against minorities: Turkey should firmly condemn all violence against members of religious minorities (whether they are Turkish citizens or not), and conduct effective investigations and promptly prosecute persons responsible for violence or threats against members of religious minorities, particularly in respect of the murders of an Italian Catholic priest in 2006 and three Protestants in Malatya in April 2007.

Hrant Dink murder: The legal proceedings concerning the murder of Hrant Dink in 2007 should be completed. The Assembly particularly invites the Turkish Parliament to follow up without delay the report of its sub-committee responsible for investigating the murder of Hrant Dink, a report which has highlighted errors and negligence on the part of the security forces and the national police, without which this murder could have been prevented.

Circular: The circular on the freedom of religion of non-Muslim Turkish citizens, issued by the Ministry of the Interior on 19 June 2007, should be implemented, and its impact should be evaluated.

Cemeteries: Turkey should fully implement Law No. 3998, which provides that cemeteries belonging to minority communities cannot be handed over to municipalities, and thus to prevent the building of housing which has been observed on certain Jewish cemeteries.

Desecration of sacred space: The country should address seriously the problem of the desecration of the Catholic cemetery in the Edirne-Karaagac quarter, which is a sacred burial place for Polish, Bulgarian, Italian and French Catholics, and facilitate the restoration of the destroyed memorials and sepulchers there.

Education: Legislation should be adapted so as to allow children from non-Muslim minorities, but without Turkish nationality, to be admitted to minority schools.

Gökçeada and Bozcaada islands: The bicultural character of the two Turkish islands Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) should be preserved as a model for co-operation between Turkey and Greece in the interest of the people concerned.

Ombudsman: The office of ombudsman (pending since 2006) should be instituted, as this will be of key importance in avoiding tension in society.

Hate speech: Anti-Semitic statements and other hate speech, including any form of incitement to violence against members of religious minorities, should be made criminal offences.

Media: Turkey should encourage the development by the media of a code of ethics on respect for religious minorities, bearing in mind the vital role that they can play in the perception of these minorities by the majority.

Campaign against racism: A national campaign against racism and intolerance should be organized, stressing that diversity is to be regarded not as a threat but as a source of enrichment. (TK/VK)