Six historic graveyards were returned to İstanbul’s Jewish, Greek and Armenian communities.
Six historic graveyards were returned to İstanbul’s Jewish, Greek and Armenian communities on Thursday, following a decision by a government board that regulates the practices of the country’s non-Muslim communities.
The decision of the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM) to restore the cemeteries to their respective minority communities is the first ruling on a February application by 19 non-Muslim foundations for the return of 57 historic properties. In September, the government authorized the return of properties seized from non-Muslim religious communities in decades past.
Thursday’s VGM ruling saw the return of two cemeteries to the Beyoğlu Yüksek Kaldırım Ashkenazi Jewish Synagogue Foundation, as well as the repatriation of cemeteries belonging to the Beyoğlu Greek Orthodox Churches and Schools Foundation, the Balat Surp Hreştegabet Armenian Church and School Foundation, the Kadıköy Hemdat Israel Synagogue Foundation and the Kuzguncuk Beit Yaakov Ashkenazi Synagogue Foundation.
Laki Vingas, the representative of non-Muslim foundations at the VGM, told the Radikal daily on Thursday that the decision is a sign that the minority property law passed in September is being acted upon by the government. This week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the US Congress that she was encouraged by the “concrete steps … Turkey has taken over the past year to return properties to religious communities.”
Turkey’s mostly Muslim population of nearly 75 million includes roughly 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 Jews, 15,000 Assyrians and about 3,500 Greek Orthodox Christians. While Armenian groups have 52 foundations and Jewish groups 17, Greeks have 75. Some of the properties that were seized from those foundations include schools and cemeteries.