Istanbul (AsiaNews) - The General Directorate of Foundations has returned a wooded area of 190 hectares, to the the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Theological School in Halki. The area, which surrounds the complex, had been confiscated in 1943, during the Second World War, and was owned by the monastery of Agia Triada, within the district of the Theological School.
It is the largest area so far returned to its rightful owners, since the Turkish government put in place a 2011 law that property, confiscated following the 1936guidelines that removed the right of ownership from non-Muslim religious foundations, must be returned.
The new legislation concerns the restitution of properties that are still in the possession of the Turkish State and have not been sold to third parties.
The Directorate General of Foundations took the decision on 11 January, but it has only now become operational. It is estimated that the State will return about 165 properties to non-Muslim Turkish minorities.
This important news certainly gave a final satisfaction to Mehmet Ali Birand, a great Turkish journalist, who died recently. Birant has always fought for the rights of minorities. He himself was part of a minority, being of Kurdish origin, on his mother's side, as he had recently revealed.
Bartholomew I, who attended his funeral, on January 19 last, said that he "was a vibrant voice in defending our rights, at a time when nobody in Turkey dared defend them and served as teacher to the young Turkish journalists on civil rights. "
In fact, Mehmet Ali Birant dedicated his latest article, called his swan song, to Halki and the important return of the forest. His article was published in the English edition of the newspaper Hurriyet few days ago.
"The return of the 190 acres of woodland to the Theological School of Halki - writes Birant - confirms that Ankara is beginning to evaluate different issues relating to minorities."
"The AKP [Erdogan's governing Justice and Development Party,] has made huge strides in the field of minorities," he continued.
Birant praised the decision, considering the difficulties. He adds: "The concept of reciprocity that the Turkish government invokes whenever there talk about the reopening of the Theological School of Halki, is the remnants of a society with a barter mentality and not one of civil rights."
"The time has come - he concludes - for great and generous gestures".
Photo: Nikos Manginas