Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Representatives of non-Muslim foundations gather at iftar in Ankara

Non-Muslim foundations hosted an iftar (fast-breaking) dinner on Tuesday in the Turkish capital of Ankara, with Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik in attendance.

Many distinguished figures came together on Tuesday night at an iftar dinner organized by non-Muslim foundations in the Turkish capital. (Photo: AA)

In his speech during the iftar, which was held in a hotel in Ankara's Gölbaşı district, Arınç said he wishes that non-Muslims who abandoned Turkey due to problems they faced would return to the country.

“We are proud of your [non-Muslims] presence in this country, which belongs to us all. I hope those people [non-Muslims] who left Turkey owing to bitter experiences they faced here [in Turkey] or other reasons will return to Turkey,” Arınç said.

Among the many guests were Directorate General for Foundations (VGM) President Adnan Ertem, Turkish-Jewish Community leader Sami Herman, Laki Vingas, representative of non-Muslim foundations at the VGM, Bedros Şirinoğlu, the president of the board of trustees of the Armenian Surp Pırgiç Hospital Foundation, Sait Susin, a representative from the Aramean (Syriac) community in Turkey and many other representatives of non-Muslim foundations, along with members of the VGM Council.

Praising the iftar dinner organized by the non-Muslim foundations, Arınç said fasting is a practice also observed by the followers of other faiths although in different manners. Arınç said he had many neighbors of different religious backgrounds in Manisa when he was a child and they would invite one another to dinners. Arınç further shared some of his memories of those days with the guests.

Recalling the bitter experiences minority groups suffered in the troubled past, Arınç said these tragedies have gone and he hopes such things are never experienced again. People who have different religious beliefs are now living in peace and stability in Anatolia, he said.

Appreciating their friendship, sincerity and commitment to their beliefs and rights, Arınç said he will do his best to propose solutions to problems faced by non-Muslims living in Turkey.

In a bid to expand the rights of minority groups in the country, the Turkish government adopted a decree last year to return all immovable property that had been confiscated from religious minorities in Turkey.

A similar government move in 2008 allowed the return of property to non-Muslim foundations, and the VGM approved the return of 181 immovable properties to the non-Muslim community, but since there were deficiencies in the implementation of the 2008 law, the government needed to issue the 2011 decree to ease the process.

Turkey's population of nearly 75 million, mostly Muslims, includes about 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 Jews 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.

Concerning the government efforts to return the non-Muslim properties, Arınç said 42 non-Muslim foundations have so far applied to the VGM asking for the return of 218 immovable properties. VGM decided to return 43 of these and to pay compensation for one of them, Arınç explained, adding that it ruled not to return 25 immovable properties. The decision for the remaining properties is yet to be given.

Arınç also assured that the VGM is restoring religious buildings belonging to faiths other than Islam.

Also speaking at the event, Vingas emphasized the importance of foundations for a society and said minority rights should be guaranteed in the new constitution.

In his speech, Çelik said the government works to improve conditions for religious minorities and foundations established by them.

People should voice their demands clearly through democratic means without resorting to violence, Çelik said.

Source: Today's Zaman

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