02/28/2008, 00.00
TURKEY

Ankara approves a new law for non-Muslim religious foundations

NAT da Polis
The norm eliminates an historical situation of injustice according to which some Turkish citizens were treated differently from others. Now religious foundations can accept new donations, and proceed with the purchase of new properties.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - Non-Muslim foundations in Turkey will be able to accept new donations and proceed with the purchase of new properties, in addition to being able to collaborate with foreign foundations.  They will also be able to rent out their empty school buildings, left vacant by the departure of Christians from Turkey because of restrictive laws applied to them in the past.  These are some of the major developments in the new law regulating the aims and functioning of foundations.

In the midst of the ongoing debate over the headscarf (always forgetting the recent survey, published by AsiaNews among others, according to which 90 percent of Turks say they are religious and 52 percent practicing) and the crossing of the Turkish army into Iraq to strike the PKK - in a war whose beginning may be known but whose conclusion is not - president Gul has in fact signed the new law on non-Muslim foundations in Turkey, which his predecessor, the secular Sezer, had rejected because he claimed that it undermined the country's integrity.

With the approval of this law, Turkey, at the prompting of the European Union, intends to comply with European norms, in the perspective of its journey toward entering the EU.  It wants, in short, to correct and cut off all of the abuses committed through the policy exercised by the general direction of the foundations - an expression of the "deep state" - in regard to non-Muslim minorities.

But the new norm does not speak of the "mazbut", the properties occupied by the general direction of the foundations.  The occupation took place after the abandonment of the property by its owners, following the restrictive policy toward minorities, and these assets are now state property.  It does, however, address the situation of assets that were unduly confiscated by the state in 1974.  This takes its origin from a judgment by the supreme court, according to which all of the donations and properties acquired between 1936 and 1974 were declared illegal following the events in Cyprus in 1974.  These assets will be returned only if they are not passed along to third parties, and if a request is presented by the interested parties within 18 months.

Another positive factor is the elimination of the concept of reciprocity, invoked each time the "secular" state found itself violating the principle of the equality of its non-Muslim citizens.  From now on, the concept of reciprocity will be applied only to foreign foundations in Turkey.  At this point, the question arises among diplomatic circles of how the application of this concept can be reconciled with the principle of freedom of movement for all in the European context.

But no one is mentioning what will be done with the various monasteries that belong to the ecumenical patriarchate, and some are asking why.  The court of Strasbourg will give the reply, with the appeals that are presented to it.

Reactions to the new law are generally positive.  Standing out among all of them is the response of professor Baskin Oran, who says that finally, with the elimination of reciprocity, Turkey has re-established equality with its own citizens.  Another is that of the well-known journalist Ali Birand, who writes that Turkey, which in a clearly arbitrary way had taken possession of the property of Orthodox foundations, the members of which are its citizens, has restored justice with the new law.  "This same sensibility", he continues, "that has been demonstrated toward the foundations must now be demonstrated with the reopening of the theological school of Halki and with respect for the patriarchate, the presence of which in Istanbul brings prestige to our country".

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