U.S. House of Representatives calls on Turkey to return the Christian Church Properties

15/12/2011

The U.S. House of Representatives today adopted a landmark religious freedom measure, H.Res.306, calling upon Turkey to return the Christian church properties it stole through genocide, and to end its repression of the surviving members of the vast Christian civilizations that once represented a majority in the territory of the present-day Republic of Turkey, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) reports.

The measure, spearheaded by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA) was scheduled for House consideration by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, with the support of Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ranking Member Berman, of the Foreign Affairs Committee. House Members speaking in support of the measure included Representatives Royce, Berman, Congressional Armenian Genocide Resolution lead cosponsor Adam Schiff (D-CA), Congressional Armenian Caucus CoChair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY). Congressional Turkey Caucus Co-Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY) was alone in speaking out against the resolution. The measure was adopted by voice vote.

“Despite Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent claims of progress on religious freedom, Turkey’s Christian communities continue to face severe discrimination,” explained Congressman Royce. “Today, the U.S. House of Representatives considered and adopted my legislation, which calls upon the government of Turkey to end religious discrimination, allow religious prayer and education, and return stolen church property. The United States has a strong interest in promoting religious freedom abroad.”

Rep. Berman concurred, noting that, “This important resolution calls attention to Turkey’s disturbing, persistent failure to respect the ancient Christian heritage of Anatolia and to treat its Christian communities as free and equal citizens. Turkey should take immediate steps to restore all confiscated church property and allow full freedom of worship and religious education for all Christian communities.”

In July, Reps. Royce and Berman were joined by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in spearheading House Foreign Affairs Committee consideration of the “Return of Churches” amendment to the State Department Authorization Bill. Their amendment was overwhelmingly adopted by a vote of 43 to 1.

“The passage of House Resolution 306 is a great victory for religious freedom around the world, and is a turning point in the Armenian people’s fight for religious freedom. Respect for the full exercise of our civil rights is really central to who we are as Americans and central to the values and ideals that we promote all over the world. My home state of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams on the principles of religious liberty and freedom and I am proud to co-sponsor the Resolution in that spirit,” said Congressman David Cicilline.

Armenian Americans across the U.S. were joined by religious freedom advocates and their counterparts in the Greek, Assyrian, and Syriac communities in making thousands of phone calls to their Representatives in support of H.Res.306, following action alerts issued by the Armenian National Committee of America, American Hellenic Institute, and American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association and the American Hellenic Council.

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