Turkey: Catholics demand return of 200 buildings

Agreed in 1913 deal between Ottoman empire and France

19 April, 16:26

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA, APRIL 19 - Turkey's Catholic community has asked the state to return 200 properties, based on a list included in a 1913 agreement between the Ottoman Empire and France, which at the time was representing the Church of Rome at the Ottoman Porte. The news has been reported by the English-language section of the Hurriyet website.

The list includes churches, schools, orphanages, cemeteries and hospitals, some of which still exist, in Istanbul (where around 100 properties are located), Ankara, Adana, Trabzon, Amasya, Samsun, Van, Konya, and other Turkish cities but also in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and other Middle Eastern countries that were part of the Ottoman Empire at the time. Representatives of Turkey's Catholic community have lodged an appeal with the Reconciliation Commission of the Turkish Parliament, the website says, a reference to the parliamentary body that listens to the requests of religious and social minorities with a view to constitutional reform.

The Archbishop of Izmir and chair of Turkey's Conference of Bishops, Monsignor Ruggero Franceschini, told the commission that although the Catholic church is not legally recognised in Turkey, it is nevertheless demanding the return of the goods based on the 1913 agreement between the Grand Vizier, Said Halim Pasha, and the French ambassador, Maurice Bompard.

In 1936, the Turkish government asked minorities to declare their properties, which were subsequently confiscated, but the Catholic church was excluded, having been granted the status of "foreign" a few years earlier, upon the birth of the Turkish Republic, founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, Hurriyet recalls. The Catholic community has asked the parliamentary commission to atone for these errors as part of the new Constitution.

After the return of six historic cemeteries to the Jewish, Greek and Armenian communities, which was announced by a Turkish media outlet on April 6, the first decision has been taken this month on requests made by 19 non-Muslim foundations for the return of 57 properties. The demands were made after the government moved in September to authorise the return of goods confiscated from non-Muslim religious communities in previous decades. The move was praised from several quarters, not least by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who hailed the initiative as an example of respect of religious freedom by Turkey's Islamic government. (ANSAmed).

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