Turkish parliament amending a law banning minority institutions to claim ownership on their confiscated real estates, made it possible for them to claim all such estates which they have declared back in 1936. In 1936, Turkish government asked such foundations to provide proofs of legal ownership on real estate they were using at the time. However in 1971, with a new regulation all real estate ownership rights of predominately Christian institutions in Turkey were frozen.
With the recent change in law, Turkish state gives back all ownership rights back to minority institutions as of 1936 declaration. In recent years, there were many cases against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights where Turkey was convicted to return these assets to minority foundations or to pay damages if the ownership could not be transferred. The new law is considered to be enacted to prevent future liabilities at European courts. On the other hand it could also be “a development towards democracy in Turkey”.
But is it really? In a political climate where most of the opposition opinion makers are prosecuted based on their views, and where the jailhouses are full of political prisoners, one might think that it is obscure or at least window dressing to “bring democracy” to the minority institutions.
But when you read the new article, you immediately see the catch. After declaring 1936 estates, minority foundations could transfer the ownership of estates only after parliamentary approval. So the new exercise does not provide any legal background to the issue, it merely transfers the decision on the ownership of minority estates to the government.
And the stature of limitations is only one year pursuing the validation of the law. Most foundations are in dire straits. Without the benefit of the income from their estates, they merely exist (many do not) and without the means to follow up such claims in a very complex judiciary system.
Solicitors and representatives of the minority communities were too eager to party after that legislation. However it is time to be prudent. Minorities in Turkey were second handed so many times during the last two centuries that it is difficult to believe anything has changed before observing the actual results. One might be hopeful, but should stay prudent.