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Who Is The Owner Of Minority Properties?

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  • Who Is The Owner Of Minority Properties?


    Turkish Daily News
    August 1, 2005

    It is the smallest, the most barren, and the least green of all. But
    it is the closest to old Istanbul, only some 15 kilometers away. Its
    proximity made it a suitable place to send dangerous opponents. And
    indeed the island of Proti (Kinali) became the most convenient place
    of exile for several imperial exiles in its rich Byzantine past.
    Among them Romanus Diogenes, who was exiled there after losing the
    battle of Manzikert to the Turks. He, as all the others, was exiled
    to the Monastery of Metamorphosis on the top of Manastir Hill, where
    he has been buried for over 1,000 years.

    However, history does not forget this island easily. And in a strange
    way that old Byzantine past plays an important role even today, two
    months before Turkey is supposed to begin its long, thorny road to

    Every year the 29th of July is the official religious day of the
    Monastery of Metamorphosis, which has been standing in its present
    structural form for the last 300 years. It is also the day when the
    children of Rum (Greeks in Turkey) families come to the pedoupolis
    (children's camp) and are housed in the monastery's outbuildings to
    spend their summer. This has been a tradition for over 60 years. When
    the Rum community was considerably larger, the pedoupolis was the
    favorite summer place for hundreds of children. This year only about
    40 children were expected in the old dormitories.

    This was meant to be a promising year for Turkey. It was declared an
    official EU candidate, and the Rum community was behind Turkey's
    European perspective. In fact the leader of the community, Patriarch
    Bartolomeos, speaking to visiting Greek Deputy Foreign Minister
    Evripidis Stylianidis only last week had declared that "Turkey
    without Europe and Europe without Turkey is inconceivable." However,
    two days after that statement, the same Bartolomeos abandoned his
    usual composed and calm manner to say, "We feel a great injustice has
    been done to us."

    It was all about the monastery on Kinali. For some time now, the
    General Directorate of Foundations has been putting pressure on the
    Rum community to get the keys to the monastery, claiming that it
    belongs to the Turkish state. And this year the children were not
    allowed to come to the camp until the matter was settled. Speaking
    last week to the visiting representatives of the Salonika Bar
    Association at his headquarters in Fener, Bartolomeos revealed to
    them that "the General Directorate of Foundations, in order to allow
    the children's camp to operate, demanded that the Rum community sign
    a paper with which they would accept that the camp belongs to the
    Turkish state." Bartolomeos was furious. "After us operating our own
    children's camp for 60 years, now our boss has become the General
    Directorate of Foundations. The monastery has been registered under
    the name of the General Directorate of Foundations with the Turkish
    Land Registry, in other words, as part of the Turkish state. It is a
    monastery built by our fathers and operated for centuries like the
    rest of the monasteries on the Princes Islands. Every mountaintop in
    the islands has a monastery. And now the Turkish state comes and
    says, 'These are all mine, and if you want to use them, you have to
    sign [saying] that you recognize that they are all mine.' We are
    demanding nothing more than our rights. We are citizens of this
    country; we fulfill our responsibilities to the fullest and we claim
    our full rights. We do not want to be treated like second-class
    citizens. If Turkey is to make the road to Brussels shorter, it has
    to assume certain obligations that it has to fulfill," complained

    This year's ceremonies on Kinali did take place last Friday, but in a
    way the caused a new chapter to be written. News that the patriarch
    had come out against the Turkish authorities spread quickly. Members
    of the Turkish and foreign media attended the church service in order
    to hear to the leader of the Greek Orthodox community. Armenian
    Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan was present, too. "We want nothing but our
    legal rights as lawful citizens," Bartolomeos repeated, speaking to
    the congregation consisting of a few hundred mainly Rums but
    Armenians and Turks as well.

    The small drama played out over the Orthodox Monastery of
    Metamorphosis this year had an unusually happy ending. In a
    surprisingly speedy reaction, the top Turkish administrative court's
    10th Department issued a special ruling yesterday on the
    controversial ownership issue of the historic orphanage of Prinkipo,
    which was transferred from the Rum Foundation to the Turkish General
    Directorate of Foundations. On some occasions properties of the Rum
    community have been transferred to the directorate on grounds that
    there is no Rum congregation. However, this time the court accepted
    an earlier ruling and declared that the foundations directorate
    cannot take over the administration of minority foundations that have
    been continuously functioning. This is not the final stage, though.
    If the court that handed down the initial ruling insists on their
    initial verdict, then the case will go to the plenum of the
    administrative court for a final decision. But it is an important
    step that may turn the tide and ease spirits.

    So this year's celebrations on Kinali's hill caused a metamorphosis
    in the attitude of the Turkish state. It was a small big victory on
    Turkey's long way to Brussels.
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