Turkey is seeking to assure its non-Muslim citizens

Church in Istanbul

By Bulent Arinc The Daily Star Lebanon

After decades of official neglect and mistrust, Turkey has taken several steps to ensure the rights of the country’s non-Muslim religious minorities. In this way it seeks to guarantee that the rule of law is applied equally for all Turkish citizens, regardless of individuals’ religion, ethnicity or language.

Turkey’s religious minorities include Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Assyrian, Keldani and other Christian denominations, as well as Jews, all of whom are integral parts of Turkish society. As part of the government’s new initiative to end any sort of discrimination against these non-Muslim communities, President Abdullah Gul has emphasized that message by receiving Bartholomew, the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Istanbul, and by visiting a church and a synagogue in Hatay – a first by a Turkish president.

In August 2009, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with leaders of religious minorities on Buyukada, the largest of the Prince Islands, and listened to their problems and concerns, a clear signal of his government’s intent to buttress their sense of civil inclusion. As deputy prime minister, I met with representatives of religious minorities in March 2010, and visited the Armenian and Greek Orthodox Patriarchies in 2010 and 2011. Likewise, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bagis, has met with these communities’ leaders on several occasions.

Beyond establishing warm relations between the Turkish government and the country’s religious minorities, official policy has been changing as well. In May 2010, Erdogan issued an official statement that warned public servants and citizens against any discrimination against religious minorities, and that emphasized the absolute equality of Turkey’s non-Muslim citizens.

But the groundwork for the initiative of recent years was laid long before. In August 2003, the Erdogan-led government introduced legal changes to resolve property-rights issues related to religious minority associations. For the first time in the Turkish republic’s history, 365 landholdings and buildings belonging to the minority communities were legally registered under their name. In 2008, the government, despite fierce opposition from other political parties, changed the Law of Associations and allowed religious-minority associations to purchase real estate (and to receive contributions, regardless of size, from abroad).

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Commentary/2012/Mar-06/165647-turkey-is-seeking-to-reassure-its-non-muslim-citizens.ashx#ixzz1oi9G5als
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

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