This has been the largest return of property in terms of size to a non-Muslim community since the Turkish government adopted a decree in August 2011 to return all confiscated immovable property belonging to minority foundations in Turkey.
According to the decree, minority foundations are able to reclaim real property they had declared back in 1936. All real property, cemeteries and fountains will be returned to their rightful owners. Immovable property currently belonging to third parties will also be paid for.
The 1936 Law on Foundations aimed to control non-Muslim foundations by placing them under the guardianship of the VGM.
According to the decision, 190 hectares of forestland near the Halki Seminary will be given to the seminary’s owner, the Aya Triada Monastery Foundation.
Laki Vingas, the first non-Muslim citizen of Turkey to be elected as a representative of non-Muslim foundations in the Council of the General Assembly of the VGM, voiced his satisfaction over the VGM’s decision to return the woodlands to the Greek Orthodox community, adding that all the returns of non-Muslim properties are being made in line with the law and that there are no problems in the implementation of the law.
“This is the restoration of a right,” he told Today’s Zaman.
Vingas noted that there have been many other property returns that were higher in value but the return of the forestland has symbolic importance because the Halki seminary is involved.
The Halki Seminary, the only school where the Greek minority in Turkey used to educate its clergymen, was closed in 1971 during a period of tension with Greece over Cyprus and a crackdown on religious education that also included Muslim religious schools. The seminary is still closed.
Turkey’s population of nearly 75 million, mostly Muslim, includes about 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 Jews, 15,000 Arameans (Syriacs) and about 3,500 Greek Orthodox Christians. While Armenian groups have 52 and Jewish groups have 17 foundations, Greeks have 75. Some of the properties seized from those foundations include hospitals, schools and cemeteries.