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New Turkish Law Seen as Positive for Ethnic Rights


By Harry Tamrazian in Prague

Turkey adopted a long-awaited law on Friday that banned the death penalty and granted some rights to such ethnic and religious minorities, such as Kurds and Armenians. The new Turkish law is intended to overcome some of the objections by member states of the European Union to its membership in the western club of democratic nations.

Armenians who are recognized as a religious minority in Turkey with their own churches and schools have long complained of bureaucratic and political pressures, which inhibited a free and full development of their community life. One of the areas in which official pressure was felt was the ability of the community to own and maintain its properties. Since 1974, successive Turkish governments refused to recognize community property claims on lands and buildings acquired after 1936.

In that year the community was asked to submit a full list of real estate holdings and other properties it had. But donations to the church continued after 1936. In 1970’s the government claimed that anything acquired after the submission of the 1936 property list was illegal ownership. The official policy also applied to the Greek community in Turkey.

Now the new law, according to Robert Hatejian, editor of the Istanbul based Armenian daily Marmara, is a step forward in restoring property rights of these minorities. The law although vague in nature, is interpreted as reversing Turkish government decisions regarding those properties that were recognized as illegal between 1936 and 1974. The fate of properties acquired after 1974 remains unclear. However, the Armenian community hopes to also restore its right of ownership over these more recently acquired real estate and other properties.

The other significant change as a result of the passage of the reform package is the right of minorities to broadcast in their own languages. Although the Armenian community always was allowed to teach its language in community schools and to publish Armenian-language newspapers, broadcasting was off-limits, mainly because of the existence of a large Kurdish geographic population that demanded autonomy and even independence from Turkey.

The new law permitting non-Turkish broadcasting is meant to address EU concerns regarding the rights of the Kurdish population. However, by extension it could also apply to Armenians, Greeks and Jews. Mr. Hatejian expressed his satisfaction in a telephone interview with RFE/RL, saying that the Armenian community will start its own radio and TV programs.
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