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Today's Zaman reports on "Foundations Law pleases neither nationalists nor minorities"

The newspaper "Today's Zaman" has reported that a law has been ratified by the Turkish Parliament to return properties confiscated by the state to non-Muslim religious minority foundations and also allow these foundations to receive financial aid from foreign countries.

The law, which is apparently designed to meet the conditions for Turkey's membership into the European Union, is not highly admired by Turkish Nationalists. Mehmet Sandir, the deputy leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, claims that the future of Turkey was being pushed into chaos by the law saying,"This law has passed now but when we come to power we will annul this law."

Meanwhile, while this law has passed, Turkey continues a legal battle in the European Court of Human Rights to confiscate the Patriarchal orphanage on the Island of Prinkipos (Buyukada).

The published article in Today's Zaman can be read in its entirety below.

Foundations Law pleases neither nationalists nor minorities
2/22/2008

Read this article on www.todayszaman.com

Turkey's nationalist politicians have stated that they are most uneasy about a law ratified by Parliament on Wednesday to return properties confiscated by the state to non-Muslim religious minority foundations, while the minorities in question have said they too find the law dissatisfactory.

The law also allows minority foundations to receive funding from foreign countries. Nationalists say allowing minority foundations too much freedom in their dealings with foreign countries would run contrary to the principle of reciprocity, as not all Turkish foundations in foreign countries have the same rights. Non-Muslims state that they are offended by this argument, saying it turns them into hostages in their own country. However, minority groups say despite some improvements in their property rights, the new law risks exacerbating the problems of non-Muslim minority foundations.

The EU has long been pressing Turkey to pass the measure that would allow the foundations belonging to minority groups to reclaim seized assets -- including churches, school buildings and orphanages -- that were registered in the names of saints. EU officials hailed the decision, including EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who said: "The adoption of the new law on foundations is a welcome step forward.

This is an important issue for Turkey, and one that all EU institutions have regularly highlighted as important to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms for all Turkish citizens."

The law would also allow Muslim foundations to receive financial aid from foreign countries. The reform appears designed to meet conditions set by the EU for Turkey's membership in the bloc.

Parliament passed the measure 242-72. President Abdullah Gul, a close associate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to approve the new legislation.

The improvements include allowing non-Muslim foundations to work together with organizations in foreign countries, establish branches and representation offices abroad, set up umbrella organizations and become members of organizations established abroad.

Nationalists are ill at ease with the law. Deputy leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Mehmet Sandir in evaluating Wednesday's vote on the minority bill said on Thursday in a statement he made to the press that his party has made all the warnings it possibly could against the law. "Why this persistence and obstinacy? Which problem of the nation will you be solving with this law?" he asked. Sandir said the law was passed not for the country and the nation but because the EU and the US demand it.

"From our perspective, this is no innocent law. It is an obvious attack on the sovereignty and independence of the Turkish nation. It is a violation of Lausanne, the European Human Rights Convention and the Constitution. This is a political decision, and it will have political consequences. It is a law of treason that is preparing a state similar to the partitioning and eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire."

Sandir, in a statement directed at the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), said, "You cannot possibly defend such an extensive range of freedoms without violating the Treaty of Lausanne." It was in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty where most foreign powers recognized the current frontiers and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. He claimed that the future of Turkey was being pushed into chaos by the law. "This law has passed now but when we come to power we will annul this law," he said.

In a statement released a few days before the law was passed the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), which works together with committees representing minority groups, agreed, that it was a violation of the 1923 treaty, but for an entirely different reason. "The present text of the draft is not acceptable because it violates the fundamental rights and liberties of non-Muslim citizens that are guaranteed under the Turkish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne," TESEV said.

TESEV has appealed to the government and Parliament many times to listen to representatives of non-Muslim foundations and come up with a new bill, saying the one adopted on Wednesday was not capable of solving the problems of Turkey's minority foundations.

Meanwhile, State Minister Hayati Yazici, who provided information on the law, said Parliament had passed historical legislation. "From now on, wherever there are buildings left from Ottoman foundations in the world from Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Syria to Algeria, Turkey will be restoring and maintaining these," he noted.

He said nobody had reason to have any suspicions about the law. "There is a sensitive republican government that protects rights and laws in every sphere. The only target of this government is to serve everyone equally," said Yazici.

Background on seizure of minority property

Turkey seized some properties owned by minority foundations in 1974 around the time of an intervention on Cyprus that followed a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece.

The country's population of 70 million, mostly Muslim, includes 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews and fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians.

Parliament first approved the measure in November of 2006. But the president at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was a secularist who was often at odds with Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government, and he vetoed it.

Critics have said, however, that the measure makes no clear provision for assets that have since been sold on to other people.

Religious minorities have often complained of discrimination in Turkey, which has a history of conflict with Greece, a country that is predominantly Christian, and with Armenians, another mostly Christian group.


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