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    » 06/16/2010, 00.00


    Strasbourg court rules Turkey must return orphanage to Ecumenical Patriarchate

    NAT da Polis

    The mandatory ruling opens new perspectives for the legal recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which Turkish authorities have not done yet. It also gives hope to the Armenian, Jewish and Catholic minorities. The orphanage is expected to become an international centre for the protection of the environment as well as a centre for inter-faith dialogue.
    Istanbul (AsiaNews) – In a unanimous decision, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Turkey must return the former Greek Orphanage on Büyükada Island, the largest of the Princes’ Islands, back to Fener Greek Patriarchate. This concludes the long legal case between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Turkish authorities. The case had begun in 1997 when Turkey tried to use various legal means to take the building away from the Patriarchate in order to upgrade the area without compensation.

    The orphanage is a large, wooden building—an architectural jewel built in 1898 by a French company and bought in 1903 by Eleni Zarifi, the member of a rich Istanbul Greek family who donated it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Christian orphans. The orphanage was closed down in 1964 and the building left to decay.

    The sentence is very important because for the first time the European Court requires the Turkish state to return the property without compromise (restitutio in integrum); for example, paying compensation in order to keep the building.

    Another important feature of the ruling is the explicit recognition of the legal status of the Patriarchate. The Turkish state has never recognised the Ecumenical Patriarchate despite improved relations between Ankara and the Fener (the Istanbul neighbourhood where the Patriarchate is located), especially since Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power.

    The prime minister accompanied by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I visited the former orphanage for the first time on 15 August 2009, and since then has said on several occasions that he would not oppose the sentence of the European Court in Strasbourg.

    Since the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not legally recognised by the Turkish state, it cannot own property in Turkey. It is only allowed to meet the religious needs of the Orthodox community of Istanbul. Even its headquarters in the Fener belong to the Saint George Foundation (Vakif). The same is true for other religious minorities in Turkey.

    Political and diplomatic circles in Strasbourg point out that the ruling now opens new perspectives for religious minorities recognised by Turkey, most notably Jews and Armenians, based on the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). The same is true for the Catholic minority, whose members live in an unclear legal status and survive by maintaining a few buildings amid difficulties and uncertainties.

    Given its importance, Turkish media have given the sentence an extensive coverage. Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış told reporters that the government was not surprised by the ruling but could not say whether recognition would be given or not.

    Some time ago, Prime Minister Erdogan asked Bartholomew what the Patriarchate would do with the orphanage if it were handed back. The ecumenical patriarch answered that the intention was to turn one section into an international centre for the environment, and the other into a centre for inter-faith dialogue.

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    See also

    30/11/2010 TURKEY
    The Turkish government now recognises us officially, says Bartholomew I
    Coming on the eve of the feast day of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the return of the Buyukada orphanage is extremely significant for Orthodox Christians and marks an important moment for Turkish Christians. A Vatican delegation led by Card Kurt Koch attends the celebrations.

    20/08/2009 TURKEY
    Erdoğan open on minorities, makes first visit to disputed Patriarchate buildings
    Prime minister makes surprise visit to Bartholomew I and Büyükada Island, home to buildings owned by the Patriarchate, seized by the Turkish government, but recognised as Orthodox Church property by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Turkish prime minister continues on his path as a Janus-faced leader, in favour of democracy and minority rights on the one hand and playing the Turkish nationalist card on the other.

    13/05/2009 TURKEY
    Bartholomew I appeals to the European Court in Strasbourg against Ankara
    Many parishes and communities have been requisitioned by the Direction for Religious Foundations and used for private purposes (even as gaming halls). The Synod of the Patriarchate has made the decision to appeal to the courts in Turkey and should that fail to Strasbourg.

    01/08/2007 TURKEY
    Plot against the ecumenical Patriarch foiled
    The Istanbul public attorney’s office is investigating a group of ex army officers who seem to have plotted to eliminate Bartholomew I as well as Mesrob of the Armenians. The Turkish Supreme Court ruling contesting the ecumenical title of the Patriarchate is discussed in Brussels and finds an unlikely ally in the Church of Moscow.

    01/12/2005 TURKEY
    Closer dialogue between Vatican and Ecumenical Patriarchate
    The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue should be convened very soon. Vatican delegation visits Fanar neighbourhood on the Feast Day of St Andrew.

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