Peril on Greek-Orthodox Foundations in Turkey

Peril on Greek-Orthodox Foundations in Turkey

By Thibault van den Bossche1715076000000

On April 26, 2024, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) intervened as a third party in the pending case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Dimitri Bartholomeos Arhondoni and others v. Türkiye (Application No. 15399/21). This case concerns Turkey's refusal to annul the designation of "fused" foundation attributed in 1967 to the Foundation of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Spyridon located on the island of Halki, even though its activity had never ceased. Dimitri Bartholomeos Arhondoni, the primate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church under the name Bartholomew I, is the first applicant, with the other two being members of the Greek Orthodox community.

The "decommissioning" of the Foundation, an unfounded interference by Turkey

In its written observations, the ECLJ explains that the change in designation from an "annexed" foundation ("mülhak"), meaning a foundation managed by a non-Muslim religious community, to a "fused," "inactive," "decommissioned," or "seized" foundation ("mazbut"), meaning a foundation managed by the public administration, constitutes interference by Turkey in the autonomy of the Monastery Foundation. In this case, since this interference is not provided for by Turkish law, it even constitutes a blatant violation of Articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect freedom of religion and freedom of association.

"Decommissioned," the Monastery Foundation loses its legal personality, cannot bring legal action, moves out of the control of the Greek Orthodox community and into that of the General Directorate of Foundations, a Turkish public institution currently under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. But above all, the Foundation loses ownership of all its real estate, which becomes the property of the State, and the General Directorate of Foundations is free to use them for profit. This case is therefore similar to many others against Turkey in which the ECLJ has also intervened: Midyat Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation (No. 13176/13), Arnavutköy Greek Orthodox Taksiarhis Church Foundation (No. 27269/09), Ecumenical Patriarchate (No. 14340/05).

The Greek Orthodox community victim of Turkish-Islamic nationalism

This expropriation technique, claiming that a foundation is supposedly "decommissioned," completes the one established by Turkey in 1974, concurrently with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, to support the Turkish community against the Greek community of the island. Turkey then decided to expropriate the Christian and Jewish community foundations of all the real estate they had acquired since 1936 by any means (inheritance, donation, purchase, etc.), in favor of the presumed or actual heirs of the person who owned the property before the foundation, or the State itself if they were not found. In 1935, Turkey had asked community foundations to declare the property they owned or managed. The official list resulting from this in 1936, now known as the "1936 Declaration," was used as a pretext to delegitimize all property acquired between 1936 and 1974. Today, the Greek Orthodox community still struggles to recover the thousands of properties stolen by these methods.

Halki (Heybeliada in Turkish), where the Monastery of Saint Spyridon is located, is one of the nine Princes' islands (Adalar in Turkish) off the coast of Istanbul, formerly known as the "Pope's Islands" because of the large number of monasteries built there. These islands, now appreciated by the Turkish jet set and summer tourists, are subject to strong economic interests. This aspect only adds to the ordinary persecution suffered by Christians in Turkey, victims of ethno-religious nationalism promoting the homogeneity of a Turkish and Muslim nation. On this same island of Halki, the closure of the Greek Orthodox seminary in 1971 still deprives Turkey's clergy of training, forcing the Ecumenical Patriarch and hierarchs to come from abroad and depend on Turkey's goodwill to grant them the compulsory Turkish nationality for these functions.

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