Court counters prevailing 1920s deep state mentality in Orphanage Ruling


The İstanbul-based Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has won yet another case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) after the court ordered the Turkish government to return a historic Orthodox orphanage to the patriarchate and pay 26,000 euros for both non-pecuniary damages, costs and expenses. The patriarchate’s lawyer, Kezban Hatemi, told Today’s Zaman that the ruling was expected as the mentality of the 1920s, which favored ultranationalism and the deep state, still prevailed in Turkey.

Hatemi said the patriarchate won back the Fener Greek minority school in another ECtHR ruling two years ago when the court condemned Turkey for violating the European Convention on Human Rights on the protection of property and ruled the government to pay 900,000 euros. “These properties were illegally confiscated. Unfortunately, Turkish citizens paid for it,” she said.

In its ruling issued on Tuesday, the ECtHR referred to its earlier judgment in July 2008 in which it held that Turkish authorities were not entitled to deprive the applicant of its property without providing appropriate compensation.

“The applicant, Fener Rum Patrikliği (the Ecumenical Patriarchate), is an Orthodox church in İstanbul and represents the Orthodox minority in Turkey. In a judgment of 8 July 2008 the Court held that the Turkish authorities were not entitled to deprive the applicant of its property without providing for appropriate compensation,” the court said.

“The church had not received any compensation and it had therefore had to bear an individual and excessive burden, entailing a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property). It further held that the question of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) was not ready for decision and reserved it,” it added.

Turkey should reregister the orphanage, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, on the Princes’ Islands off the coast of İstanbul to the patriarchate within three months. According to lawyer and human rights defender Orhan Kemal Cengiz, the ruling is significant.

“First of all, it refers to the patriarchate as ‘ecumenical’ in parenthesis. This suggests finding a solution to the legal identity problem of the patriarchate. Secondly, the court asked the government to return the property instead of emphasizing the compensation issue,” Cengiz said, and added that the ruling might prompt other minority groups in Turkey to go to the ECtHR to reclaim their properties. “The patriarchate might also change its legal strategy from reclaiming property to seeking more rights,” he said.

In that regard, Cengiz gave credit to the government as he said that the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has the good will to solve the issue but does not know how to do it as there is the need for more legal work to pass new laws.

“The problem in Turkey is that all mosques belong to the government and churches do not have a legal identity. A deliberation process could be started to solve the issue,” he said. Another issue he stressed is the uncompromising stance of the opposition parties on the issue leading to no solution in the seven years of AK Party rule.

Commenting on the ruling, the Turkish minister for EU affairs and chief negotiator for Turkey in Europe, Egemen Bağış, said that the decision had been expected and had simply now appeared in writing. Bağış said that a formula has been worked out with the patriarchate to carrying out repairs to the building, which was in a very bad state, and convert it into a centre for environmental studies.

During his visit to Greece in May, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey was ready to give back the orphanage to the patriarchate when the detailed verdict was revealed. Erdoğan had also said that he was not personally concerned by possibly recognizing the “ecumenical title” of Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew, who is a Turkish citizen.