Turkey, Culture

Turkey offers places of worship for minorities

Churches in Istanbul and Hatay allocated to minority foundations, paving the way for similar moves in future

21.07.2018
Turkey offers places of worship for minorities

By Burcu Calik

ANKARA

Reflecting Turkey's long history of multicultural tolerance, the Turkish government is paving the way for the free allocation of places of worship such as synagogues, churches, and monasteries to minority foundations.

The Foundations Council, the top decision-making body of the Foundations Directorate-General, which manages and audits religious foundations, recently signed a decision to facilitate the process.

The decision said no usage charge would be levied on immovable properties and properties used as places of worship allocated to public institutions and organizations that are used in line with the purposes stated in the foundation certificate-charter.

It allows immovable properties such as synagogues, churches, and monasteries of the Foundations Directorate to be allocated free of charge to the relevant foundations.

Until recently, such allocations only had been offered for mosques.

Under the decision, the Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart) Church in Istanbul’s Taksim district has just been allocated to the Assyrian Catholic Church Foundation for 49 years.

Similarly, the Mar Yuhanna Church in the southern Hatay province has been allocated to the Arsuz Greek Orthodox Church Foundation.

Decision settles court case

The decision is important for perceptions of Turkey in Europe, Adnan Ertem, the directorate’s head, told Anadolu Agency.

Stating that the Assyrian Catholic Church Foundation in Istanbul had filed a case over the Sacre Coeur Church at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Ertem said the court gave an interim decision urging conciliation between the parties.

He said the directorate’s new decision happily settles the case.

“We hope the decision will have positive effects on perceptions from abroad,” he said.

“All measures done affirmatively for minorities give positive results in terms of Europe’s view of Turkey,” he added.

Zeki Basatemir, head of the Assyrian Catholic Church Foundation, said the allocation of Sacre Coeur had brought a 20-year dispute to an end.

Stressing that ties with the Foundations Directorate were always friendly during this time, he said: “Actually, one-third of my life has been spent trying to solve the conflict on the allocation of this church.”

“The decision made us so happy,” he added.

Basatemir said Ertem had played an important role in bringing about the positive outcome.

Sacre Coeur’s history

The Sacre Coeur Church used by Assyrian Catholics living in Istanbul was built in 1910 by Jesuit priests.

After the Jesuits left Turkey, the church and its land reverted to the Turkish Treasury.

In the late 1970s, Assyrian Catholics coming from southeastern Anatolia restored the church and started to use it, as they did not have a church in Istanbul.

In 1997 the church was allocated to their foundation for 99 years, but problems over the free allocation arose between the Foundations Directorate and the Treasury.

With the directorate’s decision, those disputes have been brought to a happy resolution for all concerned.

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