Press Conference Explaining the Lawsuit of the Catholicosate of Cilicia filed with the Turkish Constitutional Court

Aztag Armenian Daily Newspaper – July 2015

“The main purpose of the lawsuit is to demand the return of the See of the Catholicosate of Cilicia and not financial compensation,” stated Prof. Sofuoglu

1 July 2015. On Wednesday morning, a Press Conference organized by the Communication Department of the Catholicosate of Cilicia was held at the Cilicia Museum Hall for the representatives of Lebanese media. Very Rev. Housig Mardirossian welcomed the journalists and introduced the speakers, Prof. Cem Sofuoglu, legal expert on confiscated properties in Turkey, Dr Nora Bayrakdarian, professor at the Lebanese University, Dr. Taner Akçam, historian and expert on the Armenian Genocide. Very Rev. Mardirossian expressed his regrets that Dr. Payam Akhavan, an International human rights lawyer, could not arrive on time for the conference.

Speaking in Arabic, Rev. Housig explained the historical background to the lawsuit and described the persecution of Armenians under the Ottoman rule from 1894-1923. He then thanked Lebanon for helping Armenians to begin a new life and empowering the Catholicosate of Cilicia to resume its spiritual role and to help organize Armenian communities in Lebanon and the diaspora. He then informed the journalists that two months after the lawsuit was filed, the Constitutional Court of Turkey is studying the file. Dr. Nora Bayrakdarian, speaking in Arabic, described the preparatory process that began in 2012, with an international conference held in Antelias, entitled “From Recognition to Restitution,” which was attended by Turkish legal experts and international lawyers and jurists. She then stated that the lawsuit of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, which was filed with the Constitutional Court of Turkey on 27 April 2015, set an important precedent both for the Church and the nation. In her conclusion, Dr Bayrakdarian informed the press that the Court was expected to respond in 90 days; if the Court does not do so, the lawyers will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Very Rev. Mardirossian then invited Prof. Cem Sofuoglu to speak to the media. Speaking in English, he said that the current case is unprecedented in the legal history of Turkish property claims. He added that the claim addresses the issue of human rights only and has no other political motives. Prof Sofuoglu then described the legal complications regarding the reclamation of property rights. In 1883 and 2001 the Turkish authorities issued two orders forbidding the release of any information on property ownership and the registering of new documents, and they prohibited access to the archives. Also, according to the 1963 property laws it is forbidden to return abandoned properties to their owners (particularly to Armenians). After affirming that the purpose of the lawsuit was the return of the See of the Catholicosate of Cilicia and not financial compensation, he said that the verdict of the Court should be known between September and November of the current year.

Continuing on the same theme, Dr. Taner Akçam explained that more than a thousand documents in the Ottoman Archives refer to the Catholicosate of Cilicia as the important spiritual centre for Armenians, independent of the spiritual centres in Istanbul and Etchmidadzin; he also quoted the correspondence between Talaat and Gemal Pashas where they state that the Catholicosate of Cilicia should not be totally destroyed considering its future role in shaping the destiny of the nation.

Following the three presentations, the press was invited to ask questions, most of which focussed on the technicalities related to the return of private properties. Responding to a question raised by Aztag, Prof. Sofuoglu agreed that awareness building as well as filing law suits demanding private properties were good ways of putting pressure on the Turkish government.

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