07/10/2008, 00.00
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Court of Strasbourg recognises legal status of ecumenical patriarchate and condemns Turkey

by NAT da Polis
The verdict condemns the Turkish state for improperly taking over the orphanage of Buyukada, on the Marmara Sea. In its ruling is also extremely important for religious minorities on Turkish soil.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - With a unanimous verdict (7 votes out of 7, including that of the representative from Turkey), the supreme court of Strasbourg for human rights has condemned Ankara for improperly occupying an orphanage on the Princes' Islands of Buyukada, in the Marmara Sea. The verdict grants the appeal by the ecumenical patriarchate, recognising its ownership of the orphanage.

With this appeal by the patriarchate to the Court of Strasbourg, which was also the first of its kind, there was an intention of denouncing the appropriation of the building by Turkish authorities (see AsiaNews article of 29/11/2007: The Supreme Court in Strasburg allows Patriarchs’ appeal for Buyukada orphanage).

In addition to the specific case, the verdict is of the highest importance because it gives international recognition to the legal status of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, always denied until now by the Turkish government. Religious minorities in Turkey are not recognised as legal personalities, and therefore cannot own property.

With this verdict, the patriarchate not only can own property in Turkey, but its rights are now safeguarded by the court of Strasbourg, to which Turkey also belongs. The verdict is also a response to those in Turkey who continue to deny the historical and spiritual role of the see of Constantinople, which the international community has always acknowledged.

In European circles, it is emphasised that the application of this verdict on the part of the Turkish state is another important test for the country, as evidence of democracy. In its journey toward European integration, Turkey is going through a difficult period, seeking to find its place in the European model, but having trouble applying this within its borders.

In the context of the same verdict, the court of Strasbourg has condemned the law of 1934 on religious foundations, which favoured the confiscation by Turkish authorities of the property of religious minorities, long persecuted and forced to leave the country.

The new law on religious foundations, approved by the Turkish parliament last February (cf. Ankara approves a new law for non-Muslim religious foundations, 28/02/2008) led to improvements, but has been blocked by the constitutional court, accused of being contrary to the constitution by the opposition, the parties CHP (of Kemalist origin) and MHP (ultra-nationalist). According to them, the new law undermines national interests.

It is worth noting that the appeal by the ecumenical patriarchate to Strasbourg was defended by a legal team made up of Greeks and Turks, in confirmation of the fact that collaboration of active citizens, without borders, guarantees human and minority rights. These rights do not constitute only a national question. As if to say: people of good will and without prejudices needed.

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