Turkey approves asset return to Jewish minority foundations

Some properties owned by minority foundations seized by country in 1974 around the time of an invasion of Cyprus.

turkish parliament 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
turkish parliament 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
Turkey's parliament approved a law Wednesday to return properties confiscated by the state to Christian and Jewish minority foundations - a key reform demanded by the European Union. The EU has long been pressing Turkey to pass the measure that would allow the foundations belonging to minority groups to reclaim seized assets - including churches, school buildings and orphanages - that were registered in the names of saints. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn hailed Turkey for adopting the law. "The adoption of the new law on foundations is a welcome step forward," he said. "This is an important issue for Turkey, and one that all EU institutions have regularly highlighted as important to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms for all Turkish citizens." However, Rehn said: "It is implementation that will be the test of Turkey's progress in ensuring rights and freedoms." The law would also allow Muslim foundations to receive financial aid from foreign countries. The reform appears designed to meet conditions set by the EU for Turkey's membership in the bloc. Parliament passed the measure 242-72. President Abdullah Gul, a close associate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to sign the measure. Turkey seized some properties owned by minority foundations in 1974 around the time of an invasion of Cyprus that followed a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece. The country's population of 70 million, mostly Muslim, includes 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews and fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians. Parliament first approved the measure in November 2006. But the president at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was a secularist who was often at odds with Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government, and he vetoed it. Critics have said, however, that the measure makes no clear provision for assets that have since been sold on to other people. Religious minorities have often complained of discrimination in Turkey, which has a history of conflict with Greece, which is predominantly Christian, and with Armenians, another mostly Christian group. Many Armenians accuse Turkey of genocide early in the last century, but Turkey says mass killings at that time were the result of the chaos of war, rather than a systematic campaign of genocide.