Breaking News: U.S. House of Representatives Calls upon Turkey to Return Christian Properties


On Tuesday, 13 December 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives sent a powerful message to Turkey by adopting House Resolution 306 with a landslide vote of 43 to 1. This decision calls upon the Government of Turkey to guarantee religious freedom and return stolen properties to its diminishing indigenous Christian populations like the Armenians, Greeks and Arameans (Syriacs). 

Introduced by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), senior members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), the measure was scheduled by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), supported by Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Berman (ranking FAC Member).

“Urging the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties,” H.Res.306 among other things encourages U.S. Secretary of State (currently represented by Hillary Clinton) to urge Turkey during official meetings with Turkish state officials to end religious discrimination exercised in the country, to guarantee the rights of Christian peoples and religious freedom, and to return church properties to their legal owners.

The text of the resolution was the same as the abridged version, equally adopted 43 to 1, by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 20th of this year. About a month later, on 27 August, the Turkish Government responded constructively by issuing an official decree which invites Turkey’s Christian and Jewish communities to reclaim their confiscated properties.

Although the restitution decree is a great step forward, it is still narrow in its scope. It only permits the subjects of state confiscation to reclaim their properties from 1936 and has a limited timeframe to apply for compensation until 27 August 2012. In summary, the decree does not encompass a satisfactory solution to the fundamental problems which Turkey’s ethno-religious groups have suffered from and continue to suffer from.

His Holiness Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, the Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, comments: “The Syriac Orthodox Church in Southeast Turkey experiences little progress in resolving property issues. In addition to the ongoing expropriation of numerous amounts of ancestral land, our ancient monasteries and churches still face property issues. We hope and pray that H.Res.306 will resonate positively in Turkey and result in the enhancement of religious freedom in the country and the restitution of confiscated property.”

Daniel Gabriel, the Human Rights and UN NGO Director of the Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), states: “We have a strong hope that the measure will bring us a step closer to the modern Turkey of the 21st century which all non-Turkish and non-Muslim populations dream of. We are looking forward to another positive response by Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish Government. Hopefully the earlier adopted restitution decree will only be perfected by amending the Law on Foundations through a parliamentary act. There is clearly more to be done.”

Johny Messo, President of the SUA, expressed that “We greatly welcome the US House of Representatives’ resolution 306. It constitutes another landmark in the struggle of the Armenian, Greek and Aramean (Syriac) peoples of Turkey whose long forgotten voices still need to be heard. It is in the best interests of Turkey to sincerely appreciate its indigenous populations, reconcile with them and integrate them effectively in its nation-state and all its institutions.”

For more on the Aramean people of Southeast Turkey, the SUA refers to its Turkey Report 2011 titled “Recommendations for promoting and protecting the human rights of Aramean (Syriac) Christians,” published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights & the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) who initiated and successfully pushed for the amendment.



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