Turks to return religious properties

Turkey will return hundreds of properties confiscated from non-Muslim religious groups or compensate the groups for properties sold to third parties.

The properties — including schools, orphanages and hospitals — were confiscated by the government in 1936. The properties involved belonged to officially-recognized religious minorities: Jews, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics and Chaldean Catholics.

The Latin-rite Catholic community and Protestant churches do not have official legal standing in Turkey.

The Turkish Constitution proclaims Turkey a secular country, but its brand of secularism involves almost absolute control over religion, including Islam. The government builds and funds mosques and employs Muslim prayer leaders. It has granted full legal status only to the foundations formed by a few minority religious groups, including the Jewish community and the Greek Orthodox.

Latin-rite Catholic parishes, dioceses and religious orders “own property, but it’s not clear if that ownership will be recognized. Other Catholic properties are owned by a foreign government. Catholic parishes operate on property owned by the Italian and French embassies in Ankara and the French consulate in Istanbul. The Latin-rite cathedral in Izmir is a protectorate of France.