Religious Freedom Measure Calls on Turkey to Return all Stolen Christian Church Properties
WASHINGTON—Senators Scott Brown (R-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced a bipartisan measure, today, calling upon the Secretary of State to press Turkey to return stolen Christian church properties and allow full freedom of faith for religious minorities, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
Spearheaded by Senator Brown, who holds a seat on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Feinstein, who serves as Chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Kirk, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, the measure most notably calls upon Turkey to return all confiscated Christian church properties, including “churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts.”
It also directly addresses Turkey’s obstruction of religious education, appointments, and succession within the Greek and Armenian churches by calling for the Turkish government to “allow the rightful church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to organize and administer prayer services, religious education, clerical training, appointments, and succession, religious gatherings, social services, including ministry to the needs of the poor and infirm, and other religious activities.” More broadly, the resolution calls upon the government of Turkey to honor its international obligations to end all forms of religious persecution and to protect the rights and religious freedoms of Christians.
“We join with friends of Armenia and believers in religious liberty across our entire country in thanking Senators Brown, Feinstein and Kirk for their leadership in seeking the rightful return by Turkey of stolen Christian church properties,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “In introducing the Return of Churches resolution in the Senate, they are building on the overwhelming bipartisan adoption of this religious freedom measure by the House, and increasing pressure on the Administration to reaffirm – in words, actions and results – our nation’s fundamental commitment to religious rights and freedom of faith. We look forward to working with both Senators and with each of their colleagues in support of the timely adoption of this resolution.”
An identical measure, introduced last June in the U.S. House by Representatives by Ed Royce (R-CA), a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Howard Berman (D-CA), the Ranking Democrat on this panel, was adopted overwhelming in Committee in July, and then approved by the full House with a voice vote in mid-December of 2011. Both the House and Senate measures reflect the strength of a growing movement to highlight, confront, and eventually reverse decades of official Turkish policy of destroying Christian church properties, desecrating holy sites, discriminating against Christian communities, and denying the right of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Pontians, Arameans (Syriacs), and others to practice their faith in freedom.
The Return of Churches resolution is consistent with many other resolutions adopted by the U.S. Congress over the past several decades defending religious freedom and protecting sacred sites and places of worship, as well as with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and America’s longstanding leadership in supporting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The territory of present-day Turkey, home to many of the most important centers of early Christianity – most notably Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople – contains, to this day, a rich legacy of Christian heritage, including thousands of religious sites and properties.