World Bulletin/News Desk
Minority communities seeking to reclaim their confiscated properties are concerned over a recent urban renewal project, a nationwide government scheme to reinforce buildings against earthquakes, stating that the new project will make the process of returning the properties of minorities more complicated.
As the government is intensifying efforts to complete a giant urban renewal project across the country as soon as possible, minorities, who have already experienced many bureaucratic and procedural difficulties in their struggles to reclaim their properties that were confiscated by the state in the early years of the Turkish Republic, fear that urban renewal will further complicate the process.
Real Estate Law Association President Ali Güvenç Kiraz, who spoke to Today's Zaman, warned that thousands of title deed certificates will be reorganized during the urban renewal process, adding that access to registries of deeds will be much more difficult as plots of land will be divided and their ownerships given to other parties.
In 2011 the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) adopted an amendment to make it possible to return property belonging to religious minorities that had been seized by the state decades earlier.
The amendment, adopted on Aug. 27, 2011, added a temporary Article 11 to Turkey's Law on Foundations No. 5737, stipulating the return of property seized from minorities. The foundations were given a year to file applications.
Despite this amendment, minorities still have difficulties reclaiming their properties as the amendment only encompasses the properties of minority foundations and not those of individuals.
Furthermore, the amendment places the onus of proving ownerships on the foundations but the foundations have been experiencing problems as their properties were defined using vague expressions such as “the house next to Kirkor's house” in Ottoman-era records.
Garo Paylan, an activist working for an Armenian civil society organization, told Today's Zaman that the state is demolishing minorities' properties and houses under the public renewal project, pointing to the demolition of Kale neighborhood in Muş province as an example.
Paylan said historic Armenian houses in Kale in Muş are being demolished and replaced with modern houses built by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) as part of the urban renewal project.
The Armenian Kale neighborhood was declared an urban renewal site in a Cabinet decision on Oct. 21, 2012. TOKİ and the Muş Municipality signed a protocol for urban transformation projects in the neighborhood on July 2 under which TOKİ will build apartments on 11 hectares of land in the neighborhood.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hayko Bağdat harshly criticized the urban renewal projects in Muş.
“For instance Akdamar Church [on the island of Akdamar on Lake Van] belongs to us [Armenians] but we have to apply for special permission from the state to hold a religious ceremony in the church. This is nonsensical. Adopting a regulation to resolve such problems is not very difficult. It can be done very easily but nothing will happen until the state's mentality changes,” he added.
The confiscation of properties of minority foundations dates back to the early days of the Turkish Republic.
The 1936 Law on Foundations, known as the 1936 Declaration, ordered all foundations to submit a property declaration listing immovable and other properties owned by each and every foundation. Following the death of the nation's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, those property declarations were forgotten.
When the Cyprus problem escalated in the 1970s, the General Directorate of Foundations asked non-Muslim foundations to resubmit their regulations. Yet those foundations did not have such regulations because of a practice during the Ottoman Empire where such foundations could only be established by individual decrees of the sultan of the day.
After receiving a negative response from these foundations, the General Directorate of Foundations made a ruling that the declarations of 1936 would be considered their regulation. Unless these declarations did not carry a special provision entitling the foundation to acquire immovable property, the General Directorate expropriated all immovable property acquired after 1936. These expropriation acts were in violation of both the Lausanne agreement and property rights.Last Mod: 20 Temmuz 2013, 13:30