"Civilized" Turkey continues to usurp Armenian property
Last December, hoping that the European Union would be ready to set a date for negotiations leading to Turkey's admission to the Union, the Turkish parliament made some cosmetic changes to its constitution regarding minorities, human rights, the death penalty and a host of reforms that European Union had set as conditions for Turkey's admission.
Those familiar with Turkey's bloody history and its government's manipulative prowess did not lend too much credence to Turkey's actions, which they considered to be only a smoke screen.
It did not take too long before the true nature of those changes were divulged. Indeed, although the parliament banned the death penalty, the Turkish army continued its slaughter of the Kurds in remote mountain areas. The persecution of dissidents continued, and torture in Turkish prisons did not abate.
The pledge of Erdogan's new religious administration to seek peaceful cooperation with Turkey's neighbors fizzled rather precipitously, as the government refused to lift the illegal blockade against Armenia and refused to establish diplomatic relations with that country.
The hopes of the Armenian community in Turkey to regain confiscated property were dampened because the government interpreted the complicated new laws in its own favor. More than one hundred pieces of valuable real estate were not returned to the Armenian community, and the confiscation policy continued relentlessly.
At this point no one is certain about the status of Turkey's candidacy to the European Union, as the leaders of that country reneged on almost all of the pledges they had made to the European Union. Additionally, Turkey refused to settle the Cyprus issue and end its occupation of that sovereign country.
Turkey's commitment to reform and democracy proved to be only skin deep, yet some demagogues in this country continue to present Turkey as a role model of democracy to the rest of the Moslem world.
Today the Armenian community is faced with another case of usurpation by this "emancipated" and "civilized" government that aspires to join the family of European nations. The Treasury Department of the Turkish government has initiated a lawsuit against the trustees of the Armenian Seminary (Tubrevank) to take over its property.
No legal mind can successfully entangle the Byzantine nature of the cobweb of Turkish laws. But it looks like the Treasury Department is accusing the trustees that the seminary has been operating under the status of a charity organization, while in essence it is a private school.
When the seminary was established fifty years ago to train Armenian clergy, the Turkish government banned the religious mission of the seminary, only allowing it to function as an ordinary high school. Despite that ban, many young people received a solid Armenian education and entered into the service of the Armenian Church.
Therefore, the Turkish government purposefully derailed a religious institution that would have been permissible under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the school continued to operate, by default, as a private high school. Today the ironic argument is that since the school is not a religious institution, it cannot enjoy the status of a charity.
If you think this argument is frivolous, wait until you hear the next one, which is more ludicrous.
The Turkish government has set up a special agency whose role is "to monitor the activities of minorities in defense of the country's security". It seems that a religious institution is deemed to be a threat to Turkey's security, so the commission has ordered the transfer of its deed to the State Treasury.
This is broad daylight robbery at the threshold of the 21st Century.
As the alumni of the Tubrevank were planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their alma mater next August by convening in Istanbo
ul from around the world, they are now faced with the grim prospect of this Turkish confiscation. They have resorted to a frantic networking to salvage the seminary as the Trustees have sought legal counsel to resolve this new encroachment on the Armenian community. But this should not, and cannot, be left only on the shoulders of the seminary alumni. This is an assault on the entire Armenian community; therefore, worldwide mobilization and action are in order.
1. It is incumbent upon the Armenian press to raise the issue and to sensitize the Armenian communities around the world. Lobbying groups in the U.S. and in Europe may approach their legislators to get involved with this threat. Europe is looking for excuses to turn down or to delay Turkey's admission into the Union. Recently a rift has developed over the deployment of U.S. forces on Turkish soil (as of this writing the Turkish government had not changed its position); therefore, there is a justified resentment in the U.S. over the issue. Turkey has enjoyed this country's munificence and was looking for a $16 billion bailout of its bankrupt economy, yet it turned down its benefactor and ally at the moment of great need.
2. The Armenian community in Turkey must appeal to the International Court in DeHague, invoking the terms of the Lausanne Treaty, and also recently passed Turkish laws, which supposedly were intended to uphold minority rights. Turkey must be accountable in front of world public opinion.
3. When Turkey sets up a special agency to monitor the activities of the minorities in "defense of the country", it automatically sets the stage for a legal battle, that Armenians, who are citizens of Turkey, are considered to be a subversive element and are aliens who are denied full citizenship rights. Therefore, as aliens they are entitled to be defended by an alien entity - in this case, by the Armenian government. If Turkey assumes the right to invade and occupy 40% of a sovereign country's territory under the pretext of defending the Turkish minority (who, by the way, are citizens of Cyprus, not Turkey), then by the same token the Armenian government can raise the issue and express its concerns with the UN, if it is not in a position to invade Turkey.
4. The Armenian Patriarch, His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrob Mutafian, has a great and serious responsibility to make this issue a cause celebre in European capitals. As Turkey was campaigning in European countries for admission in the European Union, Archbishop Mesrob was dispatched by the government to Europe to vouch for Turkey's good behavior. While his Jewish and Assyrian counterparts refused to take that political mission, our Patriarch carried it with great gusto and in high profile. When he was questioned about his motives, he justified his actions by claiming that Turkey's admission into the European Union would be beneficial to the minorities and to the Armenians in particular. The Patriarch was hoping to be rewarded for his mission. It looks like this new scandal was Turkey's "reward" against the Patriarch's endeavors.
Now it is high time for the Patriarch to fly back to the European countries and lodge protest against Turkey's new confiscation.
Turkey has thrown the gauntlet and Armenians have to take up the challenge.
We have nothing to lose by acting. Inaction will only encourage the usurper to continue in its shameful policy of harassing and intimidating the Armenian community.
March 18, 2003