Erdogan hands back confiscated property

By Sami Kohen, September 1, 2011

The Turkish government has decided to return all confiscated property belonging to the country's non-Muslim communities, including Jews.

Over the past seven decades, the Turkish state has sequestered churches, shuls, cemeteries, hospitals, orphanages and other real estate owned by the Christian and Jewish communities following a ruling in 1936. According to the government, these properties will be restituted within a year.

The Greek and Armenian communities will benefit greatly as they have many assets to claim back, including houses, shops and business buildings.

The Jewish community in Istanbul, which numbers about 20,000, already owns most of its community buildings and all of its synagogues. Some real estate that is in the hands of the state will now be claimed back.

But the 1800-strong Jewish community in Izmir faces a potential tussle over its assets. Its seven synagogues come under the jurisdiction of the state even though they are run by the community, and it is unclear whether it will be able to reclaim full ownership.

In the areas where Jews have long since emigrated, restitution is out of question. In most towns, the old shuls have been turned into other premises. In Edirne, which used to have a large community, the state-owned central synagogue has been earmarked as a cultural centre.

Announcing his decision on restitution, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reassured the Christian and Jewish communities that the discrimination of the past is over.

Last updated: 1:05pm, September 1 2011