Ecumenical Federation of Constantinopolitans (EFC)

Human Rights Council --25th session--

Geneva 3-28 March 2014

Item 3 - General debate

Delivered by Dr Dominique Morabito

The consequences of non-recognition of legal status of non-Muslim minorities in the Republic of Turkey

The Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which recognized the Republic of Turkey internationally, established and guaranteed the status of non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and upheld their rights. The essential clause gave the right to minorities to manage their religious and public welfare foundations such as churches, hospitals, schools, or cemeteries. Thus, the administrations of these foundations must be elected by the members of the Minority community. Despite this, successive Turkish Governments intervened against the clause abolishing illegally the Minority Council (1925), prohibiting elections in the Minority foundation councils and appointing a single administrator (1936-1950), prohibiting elections (1969-2003) and abolishing the Coordination Bodies supervising the Minority foundations in 1962. The worst violation occurred in 1974: after a ruling of the Higher Cassation Court of Turkey, stipulated that all real estate and legally registered properties in the name of non-Muslim Minority foundations during the period of 1936-1974 should be confiscated by the State, based on the spurious argument that “although the minority members hold citizenship of the Republic of Turkey, at the same time they are also foreigners”.

The present government (2003-2012) allowed the elections and the return of some of the appropriated real estate properties, but only 16% were returned and in some foundations no elections are carried out. The worst case is the largest Greek-Orthodox Foundation of Balikli Hospital and Elderly People’s Care Home where the present administration is in office since 1991, following an appointment by the Turkish Government. The appointee has denied the right to carry out elections while the Supervisory state authorities, the General Directorate of Welfare Foundation, remains inactive towards this illegal behavior. In January 2013, this Directorate abolished the Election Regulation of the Minority foundations without alternative policies. This means that, for an indefinite time period, elections cannot be held in Minority foundations.

Furthermore, Turkey does not recognize the legal status of religious authorities of the non-Muslim Minorities, such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate, leading to severe obstacles in the Patriarchate’s ability to carry out its spiritual duties for more than 300 Million Orthodox-Christians.

The mentioned problems are directly linked with the lack of legal recognition of the Minorities and leads to serious problems related to religious and cultural rights. In this respect, the Turkish government is asked to proceed with necessary reforms by (a) issuing new regulations for elections at the Minority foundations. Moreover, it should (b) allow the Coordination Bodies between the welfare foundations and (c) return the real estate properties to their legal owners. Above all, it must (d) recognize the legal status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.