Politics 11:53 01/09/2011

Armenian Assembly statement on Turkish Government’s announcement

 The Turkish government's announcement of its decision to abide by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights to return long-ago confiscated properties of minorities comes as a step in the right direction. While it remains to be seen how the government will implement this new measure, the policy holds the promise of restoring the rule of law for minorities long discriminated against in Turkey.

The announcement comes in the wake of a series of developments in Turkey resulting in increasing civilian oversight of several branches of the Turkish government previously controlled by the military. Some of these reforms stem from Turkey's aspirations for membership in the European Union.

However, with the increasingly Islamist policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party and a recent turnabout for the worse in its relations with the Kurdish population in Turkey, we hope the timing is not just another effort to burnish the government's image as a reform-minded administration.

The timing of Erdogan's new policy on minority properties also coincides with the fact that the Turkish Parliament failed to act on the Armenia-Turkey protocols to establish diplomatic relations and open the border, despite its international commitments to do so. Turkey's failure to enact the protocols reflects a continued pattern of nonperformance, including its existing obligations under the Treaties of Kars and Moscow guaranteeing Armenia access to the Black Sea. Instead, Turkey, in solidarity with Azerbaijan, maintains its illegal blockade of Armenia and seeks to isolate Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.

As far as the Armenian minority in Turkey is concerned - after a century of violent persecution, official discrimination, and public racism - the decree to return some of the confiscated properties is a welcomed development, but cannot begin to redress the magnitude of the damage inflicted. This indirect admission that Turkey discriminated against minorities for over three quarters of a century does nothing to reverse the lasting consequences of the Armenian Genocide. Turkey has shown no evidence that it is prepared to deal with the legacy of the Armenian Genocide.

Designed to undermine the remaining minority institutions in Turkey, the confiscation of properties mostly deeded to minority endowment dates to the 1930s when Turkey ramped up its discriminatory practices under the influence of Nazi racial policies. These practices of the Kemalist regime followed upon the earlier policies of the Young Turk Committee responsible for the Armenian Genocide and continued with punishing taxation policies specifically targeting the Armenian, Jewish, and Greek minorities remaining in Turkey.

Turkey never redressed the result of its official policies dating from that era. Instead, it sustained pressure on minority communities by continuously denying or depriving community-based institutions and endowments that support schools and churches from legally registering the donation of properties. The policy, as a result, succeeded in reducing the presence of minority groups to a mere fraction of their former numbers. In a country with a population of 78 million, the total minority presence of Christians and Jews in Turkey numbers less than 100,000.

The decree also does nothing to protect the Armenian architectural heritage in Turkey represented in countless monuments, many of a religious nature, that have been subjected to vandalism, deliberate neglect, if not outright destruction. The sorry state of the antiquities in the historic city of Ani that sits astride the border with the Republic of Armenia remains a constant testament to offenses committed in denying the Armenian Genocide as Turkish officials continue to drag their feet about salvaging what little remains of the medieval capital city.

After 75 years, the announcement demonstrates the need for Congress to adopt the Royce-Berman legislation calling for the safeguarding of the Christian heritage in Turkey. It was precisely these issues that noted Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink raised publicly for the first time in Turkey, and as it turned out tragically, at the cost of his life. Much more can and should be done to address the concerns of minorities in Turkey.

Source Panorama.am
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