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Turkey Gives Christians Land to Build a Church: A Cemetery

Finally, Istanbul gives Syriac Christians a place to build: a cemetery

ICC Note:

In a “win” that’s not so much a win, authorities in Istanbul gave land to Christians to build a church. While it is being touted as “a first in the history of the Republic,” for a non-Muslim minority to be granted the rights to build a new Church building, there’s a problem. The land is a Latin Catholic cemetery. The church applied over three years ago for property, but are not happy with the outcome. Some say, “It is clear that (the authorities) want to cause conflict between the minority communities.”

12/18/2012 Turkey (Compass Direct)- Three years after a Syrian Orthodox foundation applied to build a church in Istanbul, the Greater Istanbul Municipality has granted them a large plot of land and a building permit.
Banner headlines in the Turkish media praised the early-December decision as “a first in the history of the Republic,” declaring that never before had Turkey allowed a non-Muslim minority to build an official new house of worship.

Still, Syriac Christians were far from pleased.

For one thing, the land they were “granted” by the municipality is, in fact, a Latin Catholic cemetery.

“We don’t want a Syriac church on top of a cemetery!” the website suryaniler.com stated. “This is a big scandal.”

In fact, the graveyard had been donated back in 1868 to the Italian Catholic Church in what is now Istanbul’s Yesilkoy district. It was then officially registered as Catholic property in 1936, although later confiscated in 1951 by the city.

The Council of Europe’s 2011 progress report noted that Turkey was not fully implementing Law No. 3998, which states that cemeteries belonging to minority communities can no longer be taken over by local municipalities.

According to lawyer Nail Karakas, the Latin Catholic foundation had applied to the city last summer, in accordance with the government’s August 2011 pledge to restore expropriated minority properties, to regain possession of their property and resume Christian burials in the graveyard.

So Syriac leaders are insisting that the cemetery land newly designated for their church be returned instead to its rightful owners. “It is clear that (the authorities) want to cause conflict between the minority communities,” commented Syriac layman Sabo Boyaci.

Boyaci also faulted the government for trying to exploit the Syriac community politically. “I don’t believe the government’s sincerity. They delivered this land to us in order to silence us on the matter of Mor Gabriel Monastery. The government simply aims to make a good impression on the European and Turkish public,” he told Hurriyet Daily News.

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