Turkey Turns Orthodox Cemetery into a Green Zone

08/19/2020 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – Nine months after the Samandağ Greek-Orthodox Church Foundation discovered that property belonging to them was turned into a green zone in the locality’s zoning plan, no answers have been forthcoming from the municipality.

The foundation is located in Hatay’s Samandağ district, and their property’s change of status was discovered in the revision development plan of the municipality. It is a plan which was approved by Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The authorities failed to notify the foundation of this development, despite a previous five-year legal battle which confirmed the property’s title deed as belonging to the foundation. The property in question includes a Christian cemetery adjacent to the Virgin Mary Church, the only place used as a Christian cemetery within the area.

The foundation has objected to the development plan, but the municipality has not responded except to say that it was the fault of the previous administration. No solution has been proposed by the municipality. Why this location was chosen for a green zone is also confusing to the foundation, considering the amount of empty lands in the district.

Unfortunately, such situations are commonplace in Turkey. Churches lack a legal personality and thus often exist as foundations or associations, a title which gives them some operational space but still neglects to recognize a church as a church. The Turkish authorities often seize the properties of churches, citing a multitude of reasons, many of which are often traceable back to the genocide a century earlier. It is also common for local municipalities to not take seriously issues relating to churches, and for the local authorities to abdicate their responsibilities citing a lack of clarity regarding the law.

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