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ICC Note: While the violence against religious minorities in Turkey has largely gone away, the situation for Turkey’s Christians remains one of concern. Many of the country’s ethnic Christian minorities are fading away because of an aging population and the younger generation looking for opportunities elsewhere. A positive step was seen in rule changes have allowed Christians to reclaim land that had previously been confiscated by the state, but the process has been far from complete with many claims still outstanding.

04/25/2014 Turkey (SES Turkiye) – Istanbul’s religious minorities are scarred by the memory of September 1955, when mobs ransacked thousands of homes and businesses in a fit of violence. And while most Christians say they can worship more comfortably than in the past, they are concerned their congregations are becoming smaller each year.

Last Sunday saw Orthodox Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians turn out to churches for a day of Easter celebrations. Mihail Vasiliadis, 76, said the celebrations were far more peaceful than they once were.

Neighbourhood children used to disrupt Easter by blowing out the church’s candles, Vasiliadis said. On one Easter in the 1940s, his bed-ridden grandfather was forced to hand over his bed to a debt collector in order to pay the tax on religious minorities. After 1955, Vasiliadis said, Easter was celebrated in tighter secrecy as thousands of Greek families fled abroad.

“It was extremely difficult to celebrate Easter back then, when Turkey had such a climate. Now, there’s no problem, but there are no Greeks to celebrate. We have a demographic problem,” Vasiliadis told SES Türkiye.

In recent years the government has passed reforms aimed at improving the status of religious communities. During a recent speech, Deputy EU Affairs Minister Alaattin Buyukkaya said the government has returned property worth $2.5 billion to non-Muslims under a 2011 decree calling for the return of confiscated immovable property belonging to minority foundations.

According to the decree, minority foundations have the right to reclaim real property they had declared in 1936. Some applications have been rejected due to missing documents and difficulties determining the exact location of properties.

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