Seizures of property by Turkish State threatens tiny Greek community

A decision by a higher Turkish court still extant today has led to a number of seizures of Greek minority property in Turkey, including a patriarchal orphanage on Prince’s Islands in the Sea of Marmara. In November 2004, a Turkish court refused to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s title to the property. A decision by a higher court in Turkey in 1974 (505/8-5-1974), in force to the present day, forbids minority charitable institutes to acquire property not expressly referred to in their founding charter. And the persistent refusal by Turkish courts to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul as a legal entity has led to the seizure of the orphanage at Prinkipo (Prince’s Islands), as well as 20 pieces of real estate that belonged to it, on the grounds that it was impossible for the institution to own property. But that is merely one chapter in an entire series of seizures of Greek minority properties in Istanbul and on the islands of Imbros and Tenedos. The 1974 decision was the pretext for the retroactive nullification of hundreds of donations toward charitable bodies, as well as seeing the start of seizures of donated real estate. The ban on property acquisition was necessary, said the decision, because the charities were a danger to the state. A typical example is the Valoukli (Balikli) Greek Hospital in Istanbul, from which the Turkish state has seized a total of 150 properties donated to it in the past by Constantinopolitan Greeks. Not so long ago, the Turkish Assembly passed a law whose ostensible purpose was to protect the community property of the Greek minority. In reality, it merely rubber-stamped previous property seizures and only recognized registered property whose legality brooked no argument. Not one legal appeal by minority members for fresh recognition of property has been accepted. As a result, the danger of the definitive loss of yet more properties is imminent. The various authorities involved systematically stymie procedures provided for by recent, and often contradictory, laws, with the result that deadlines cannot be met and the cases are written off. The General Directorate for Foundations (Vakiflar Genel Mudurlugu, or simply Vakiflar), the Turkish government agency which has authority over the running of churches, monasteries and synagogues, follows a well-trodden path. When foundation or community councils shrink as a result of death or a move to Greece, a state commissioner is appointed to manage the property, which almost always paves the way to its final seizure. The property is then swiftly sold off to Turkish owners. Similar methods are used for Greek minority schools. When, due to a lack of schoolchildren, they cease operating, the expropriation process is immediately set in motion. Tenedos The Turkish authorities use various means at their disposal to speed up expropriation procedures. A recent example was the charitable institutions of the Dormition of the Virgin on Tenedos (Bozcaada), to which some 100 buildings were attached. Its administration was ordered by the Vakiflar to request, via the courts, to have the property registered in the cadastre. But the Tenedos court refused to recognize the institution’s ownership of the properties, with the result that the buildings devolved to the Turkish Economy Ministry. Such seizures have extended to whole communities, with the result that the communities of Tatavla (Kurtulus), Aghios Georgios Antiphonetus, Aghios Georgios Therapion and Megalo Revma are in imminent danger. Monasteries and churches are also expropriated on the grounds that they no longer have a flock. At risk are the churches of Aghios Georgios Antiphonetus, Aghios Georgios at Edirnekapi (in Istanbul), of the Archangels at Arnautkoy, Aghios Dimitrios at Kurtulus, the Monastery of Christ on the isle of Proti, that on the isle of Antigone, and others. The seizures have been so outrageous that they have drawn protests even from Turkish legal scholars. But since expropriation is considered an issue of national importance, the chances of legal redress are negligible. At the same time, the Greek authorities have the issue very low on the list of Greco-Turkish relations, despite the fact that recourse to the European Court of Human Rights – the only outlet – would probably result in condemnation of the seizures in 90 percent of cases, according to moderate estimates. Favorable decisions by the court would place pressure on Turkey to comply in order to smooth its path to Europe and to avoid expulsion from the Council of Europe. The European Court of Human Rights has already handed down judgment against Turkey. (In 1998, the court ordered Turkey to pay compensation to Titina Loizidou over the loss of her property in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.) The post-Kemalist regime is afraid of the danger of mass court cases and for this reason has accelerated procedures to sell off minority properties, hoping in this way to come to a settlement and even win some compensation in the event of an unfavorable judgment. The issue is not compensation for the remnants of the Greek community in Turkey but the gross violation of its human rights.

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