Turkey returns property to religious minorities

ISTANBUL – Turkey adopted a law to return immovable property to foundations of religious minorities. It solves one of the biggest judicial problems of religious minorities in Turkey. The changes to the law will be announced tonight by Prime Minister Erdogan during an iftar dinner with members of religious minorities.

The legal amendment pressed for not only by religious minorities, but also by the European Union, was announced in the state newspaper on Saturday. The problem of property rights of religious minorities (in Turkey officially Greek and Armenian orthodox and Jews) dates back to 1936. In that year religious minorities had to declare the sources of their income and so many registered their immovable properties. In the seventies a new interpretation of the registrations of 1936 lead to religious minorities losing all the properties they acquired after 1936, either by purchase or donation.

Religious foundations had also for a long time been allowed to have any property registered in their name. A change of law didn’t really solve that problem: the state could for example confiscate property if it wasn’t used enough. Several times in recent years the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had to give property back to religious minorities.

Religious foundations will have twelve months to claim their property rights. Real estate– not only churches and synagogues but also for example cemeteries – that is now owned by third parties will be compensated for. It remains unclear what will happen to properties that were not registered in 1936.

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