...that since August 2011 Turkey has returned more than 300 previously-expropriated properties to the country’s religious minority communities? However, many more properties have not been returned.
Starting in 1936, the Turkish government expropriated properties from religious minority communities, including churches, schools, businesses, hospitals, orphanages, and cemeteries. These property expropriations, especially of churches and schools, seriously limited religious minority communities’ ability to enjoy religious freedom.
In August 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a revised process for the restitution of expropriated properties to minority religious communities. In comparison to previous attempts to return property, religious minority communities initially viewed the government’s latest attempt more positively. The government no longer requires the religious minority community to present a title or deed, which many did not have due to the passage of time or the ancient nature of some properties. The August 2011 decree also includes a provision for financial compensation if the minority community’s property was sold to a third party and the government no longer controlled or owned it.
Between the passage of the August 2011 decree and July 2013, more than 300 properties were returned. The Turkish government estimates that these properties are worth $2.5 billion. Two especially notable property returns took place between January 31, 2012 and January 31, 2013: In January 2012, 470 acres of forest land were returned to the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary, and in July 2012 the Syriac Patriarchate’s building in Istanbul was returned, concluding a 25-year legal battle.
Hundreds of applications have yet to be reviewed. However some applications may be duplicates as different communities may be applying for a single property. Notwithstanding some progress, minority communities have criticized the process for being too slow and asserted that the government has rejected a troublingly high percentage of applications on the grounds that the community lacked required documentation and proof of ownership.
To learn more about religious freedom in Turkey see USCIRF’s 2013 Annual Report .