Sassounian: Istanbul Armenians Document Violations of Minority Rights in Turkey

Two recent documents from Istanbul shed new light on violations of minority rights in Turkey. The authors of these reports make cautious, yet accurate assessments of the problems facing the Armenian, Greek and Jewish communities.

The first document, dated February 2011, is titled: “Report on non-Muslim Minorities.” It is written by three well-known Istanbul Armenians: Krikor Doshemeciyan, Yervant Ozuzun, and Murat Bebiroglu.

The authors’ stated aim is to seek solutions to the problems of minority populations in Turkey, at a time when the government is planning to revise the constitution to bolster its chances of joining the European Union. Even though the writers do not indicate as to whether their report has been submitted to Turkish officials, the authorities undoubtedly are aware of its contents. It has been posted in Turkish on the Istanbul-based website. The main points of the report are presented below in translation:

The authors trace the difficulties facing the non-Muslim minorities to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 as a monolithic, homogeneous state based on a single culture and religion. This policy had serious consequences for the minorities, forcing them to flee or be assimilated.

The non-Muslim minorities were viewed either as foreigners or internal enemies of the state. One cannot find a single policeman or officer who is a member of a minority group. The 1934 displacement of the Jews of Thrace, the exorbitant 1942 Wealth Tax on minorities, and the large-scale attacks on Greeks in Istanbul on Sept. 6-7, 1955, resulted in the impoverishment of these communities and the devastation of their culture. Such discriminatory policies and brutal attacks led to a significant decrease in Turkey’s minority population from 350,000 in 1927 to 80,000 today, while the number of Turks increased six-fold.

The writers point out that the Turkish government has recently returned a few of the properties belonging to minority institutions that were confiscated starting in 1974. Due to contradictions and shortcomings in the new law on minority foundations, the returned properties can not be put to good use, because none of the communities are allowed to repair them.

The government has further violated Articles 41 and 42 of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which obligated Turkey to provide funding and facilities to non-Muslim minorities for educational, religious, and charitable purposes, and to protect their religious establishments. Beyond the Lausanne Treaty, several provisions of UN conventions and the European Convention on Human Rights are continuously violated by the Turkish government.

One of the most serious problems facing these minorities is the Turkish government’s non-recognition of the Armenian Patriarchate and the Jewish Rabbinate as legal entities. The Greek Patriarchate was finally recognized as a legal entity last year.

Another problem is the government’s appointment of Turkish Vice Principals to oversee minority schools which causes deep mistrust. The preparation of new teachers and clergymen has also become impossible due to the closing down of religious seminaries by the Turkish state. The writers of the report request that clergymen be allowed to teach religion in minority schools, as they had done previously.

In conclusion, the authors urge the Turkish authorities to take into account all of the foregoing legal issues when drafting a “democratic and modern” constitution.

The second document is an interview conducted by Agounk Center’s Meline Anoumyan with Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Vicar General of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, as the Patriarchate is preparing to celebrate its 550th anniversary. According to Abp. Ateshian, 67,000 Armenians live in Istanbul, while another 3,000 reside in the country’s interior — 500 in Ankara, 300 in Iskenderoun, 70 in Sepastia, 50 in Malatia, and 20 families in Kharpert. In addition, the Vicar General revealed that there are 100,000 Armenians in Turkey who fear disclosing their true identity. This figure does not include the undocumented workers from Armenia who are not allowed to get married and whose children cannot be baptized by the Patriarchate due to their illegal status.

Abp. Ateshian is pleased that a few of the confiscated properties have been returned to Armenian foundations in recent years. He disclosed that there are 44 functioning Armenian Apostolic churches in Turkey — 37 in Istanbul, 3 in Iskenderoun, 2 in Dickranagerd, 1 in Mardin, and 1 in Gessaria. In addition, there are 12 Armenian schools associated with the Patriarchate, and Armenian Catholics have 3 schools and 10 churches. A total of 3,000 Armenian Catholics and 1,000 Armenian Protestants live in Turkey.

It is encouraging that after nine decades Armenian religious and lay leaders in Istanbul have mustered enough courage to raise their voices in defense of their violated civil rights!

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. There are many issues with Turkey’s membership with the EU.  The one mentioned in this article is an important one.  However, it is interesting that the Turkish government is making it sound like the European Union is not welcoming them because Turkey is primarily a Muslim nation.

  2.   The new found activism of the Armenian community in Turkey has potential strategic value. Docementing the violations against the Lausanne Treaty and basic civil rights will help the continued viability of the community in a dignified manner. I also see an intersection of interests between our brother and sisters in Turkey and the diaspora as it related to the return of high profile treasures of the Armenian people. A major campaign with the short term objective of returning the Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar and the collection of historic edifaces at Ani to the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriachate. In addition to the spiritual and culturla value, this will bring needed visibility to our claims in western Armenia and provide current day relevancy for our new generation.

  3. OR, that the Turkish leaderships, obviously, have yet to become worthy of joining any civilized organizations – actually ones already within its group nations that are advanced and like-minded… seeking to advance their own nation as well as to advance with ALL it neighbors as well. Turkey lacks mindedness… with civilized peoples and also European nations. Turkey’s leaderships are still of the Ottoman mentality – and, thus, a Turkey’s inclusion is not desired.
    P.S.  For example, a Turkey in NATO, (brought in by the USA mistakenly) for leaderships of a Turkey have not yet reached that level of honesty and sharing with other nations – with all their on again/off again stances – all Turkeys’ PLOYs, distractions, deceits, devious actions (Protocols)
    and lies, (too, recently resurrecting ancient Armenian churches and cathedrals to appear to the civilized nations of the world the “greatness” of a Turkey towards the Armenians – then reverting these sites as museums for Turks… thus permitting Armenians  a ONE DAY A YEAR to use  their own historic religious sites for prayer… Ottoman Turkey – still.

  4. ” Serious reforms were first attempted during Ottoman Turkey’s Tanzimat (Reorganization) period of 1839 to 1876. Pushed by Europe, Turkey declared measures, quickly proven ineffective, to safeguard the rights of its subjects, including Armenians.
    A Turkish constitution was then declared in 1876 but suspended, along with parliament, just two years later.
    Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, signed in 1878 by the European powers, Turkey, and Russia, guaranteed the safety of Ottoman Armenians but was dead before the ink dried.
    Turkish “reforms” reached new levels in the 1890s with massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
    In 1908 came the “reformist” Young Turk party. Inspired by European ideals, it pledged liberty, equality, and fraternity. “Reform” culminated in the cataclysm of 1915.
    Turkey’s next European-inspired “reformer” was Kemal Ataturk, who all but finished off the country’s remaining Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Christians, not to mention thousands of Muslim Kurds.
    He seized historical western Armenia, which Europe had promised to Armenians, and attacked the just-reborn Armenian Republic while Europe looked on.
    Ataturk’s “reformist” legacy endures to this day: Genocide denial, the blockade of Armenia, and 80 years of military coups, human rights abuses galore, and even massacres, all tolerated by Europe.
    Today comes yet another collection of Turks pledging European-approved “reform.” This too will end in disaster if history is any guide.  Given Europe’s wretched record regarding Armenians, there is little evidence that the EU will ever restrain Turkey against Armenia.”

    – Quoted excerpt from the article Ship of Fools:  Turkey and the European Union

  5. Let’s call a spade a spade okay! The EU is racist and you ALL know it!! No one is being fooled by them. The “Christian Brotherhood” shows their true colors time and time again. So please, enough with the excuses already!

    As for the minority citizens of Turkey and their “complaints”, they are lucky that they live in a nation that took them in, where they can at least work and live. Turkey is by no means a perfect nation. They have, and will always have some sort of problems. But they are trying to improve. Now, compare that with what any Turk living in Armenia endures (assuming that you can find more than a handfull of them). Ask them how they are treated (the Mosque in Yerevan always has Armenian plain-clothes “officials” outside taking pictures of everyone going in and coming out)! Armenia boasts a 98% national purity rate. There’s only one way a country can achieve that…via ethnic cleansing (the Serbians tried it with the Croats and the Bosnians)!!

  6. I wish the best to these groups that seek to empower the beleagured minorities of Turkey.  It is my wish to see them in high level government and military positions very soon.  Turkish Republic should face truly shameful acts it committed against its own citizens in the past regardless of the circumstances.  I think Armenians can and should play a role in Istanbul politics at least.  These all should happen because it is what Turkey deserves, not because it would get brownie points from EU. 

    As we all know there is no EU membership in the cards for Turkey.  I would not put too much stock in that basket.  Let us keep in mind that EU is not same as Europe and Europe is not EU.  It is a means, not an end.  Real purpose and goal is improved welfare of it citizens.  Turks have been part of European civilization, culture, histroy, economics and politics for a very long time.  This fact is not subject to referandums or committees.

  7. Nice try! Whom ever is impersonating Murat, you’re not fooling anyone! I’ve come to know the real Murat, and he wouldn’t say anything like what’s written in the third sentence of the first paragraph!! This type of action doesn’t surprise me at all!!

  8. Robert:
    [1] re: As for the minority citizens of Turkey and their “complaints”, they are lucky that they live in a nation that took them in, where they can at least work and live’
    Is that why millions of Moslem Turks still live in Christian Europe, having previously escaped abject poverty in glorious Turkey ?
    Why don’t you guys take in your  fellows Turks, unwelcome guests in Europe – back to the prosperous paradise that is Turkey ?
    [2] re: The EU is racist and you ALL know it!! No one is being fooled by them. The “Christian Brotherhood” shows their true colors time and time again. So please, enough with the excuses already!”
    If it weren’t for the Christians that you  seem to so despise, Turkey would still be a backwards dump:
    –          Moslem Turks confiscated billions of accumulated wealth of the  2,000,000 murdered Armenians to launch modern Turkey. (…your smiling FM Ahmet Davutoğlu inadvertently let slip recently that Armenians in Ottoman Turkey were indeed very successful and very wealthy).
    –         Christian Europe took in millions of destitute Turks, gave them jobs, gave them a civil and tolerant  society to live in.
    –         Every factory that produces consumer &  industrial goods in Turkey was designed by Christian Europeans, mainly Germans.
    –         Every piece of military equipment Turkey uses was conceived and designed by Christian minds: Europe, USA, Russia.
    –         If it weren’t for the wealthy Christian markets of Europe and USA, Turkish GDP would the same as Mongolia.
    [3] re: (the Mosque in Yerevan always has Armenian plain-clothes “officials” outside taking pictures of everyone going in and coming out)!”
    Right, Armenian NSS has nothing better to do than photograph people going into the Blue Mosque of Yerevan. RoA government spent millions renovating and restoring it so they could catch Turkish spies visiting it.
    [4] re: “Armenia boasts a 98% national purity rate. There’s only one way a country can achieve that…via ethnic cleansing”
    Some example below (from CIA Factbook) to prove the absurdity of your statement above.
    Apparently Japanese, Albanians, Mongolian, Icelanders, Koreans engaged in some sort of ethnic cleansing that nobody else is aware of.

    Japan: Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.6%
    Albania: Albanian 95%, Greek 3%, other 2% (Vlach, Roma (Gypsy), Serb, Macedonian, Bulgarian) (1989 est.)
    Mongolia: Mongol (mostly Khalkha) 94.9%, Turkic (mostly Kazakh) 5%, other (including Chinese and Russian) 0.1% (2000)
    Iceland: homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts 94%, population of foreign origin 6%
    Korea South: homogeneous (i.e. 100%) (except for about 20,000 Chinese).
    Korea North: racially homogeneous (i.e. 100%); there is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese.
    Reason RoA is 98% Armenian is because it’s the remaining 10% of historic Armenia that exists after centuries of massacres, ethnic cleansing, and the Genocide.
    Surviving Armenians retreated to that little piece of land: nobody else would or could live in that tough environment.
    Armenians do not practice ethnic cleansing: it is a traditional Turkic specialty.
    In Ottoman Turkey, around 1900, there were about 3 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, about 2 Million other Christians (e.g. Greeks), and 12 million Turks and other Moslems. (25% Christian).
    Today’s Turkey: Muslim 99.8% (mostly Sunni), other 0.2% (mostly Christians and Jews).

  9. I am real me, and still of the opinion that Turkish Republic should face and deal with truly shameful acts in its past suchs as “The 1934 displacement of the Jews of Thrace, the exorbitant 1942 Wealth Tax on minorities, and the large-scale attacks on Greeks in Istanbul on Sept. 6-7, 1955, resulted in the impoverishment of these communities and the devastation of their culture…”.  As a Turkish citizen, I consider these a stain on my conscience. 

    One can not credibly argue against “fake” shamful acts, or manufactured history such as favored here on this site, as I have done without respecting all facts.  I would be the last one to claim that Republic of Turkey never did anything wrong and did not pursue excessively nationalistic policies at any time in its 85 yr hisotry.  Causes and reasons and rationalizations aside, and I am an expert on them!

    These are actual facts and I am yet to meet any Turk who would be against even a symbolic gesture to correct such wrongs.  These are openly discussed and argued in the press and books and memoires for a long time anyway.  These are not controvercial topics in Turkey as far as I can tell.  Only the addition of excessive policies against Kurds (Dersim) in the early years of the Republic has been controversial, which is understandable given the current bloody Kurdish terrorism campaign.

    Turks have come a long way in facing their pasts and in due time I expect even more policies enacted to not just protect the non-Muslim heritage and communities, but encourage the growth of ethnic and religious minorities throughout Turkey.  Compare this with the discourse here that is full of references to Mongols and Romans and Seljucks etc. and establishing Greater Armenia in Eastern Turkey (the very same ideology that caused so much death and misery exactly a century ago!)

    I am just a stickler for facts, not a blind nationalist.

  10. Murat:

    Please provide some examples of “… manufactured history such as favored here on this site…”

  11. An Armenian in Turk government – another Turk PLOY – big show of the Turks to the civilized world as Turks are still seeking entry to the EU – of which Turks are not worthy.  Manooshag

  12. Violation of minority ethnic-groups rights by majority is a natural phenomena. It is based on emotional reactions and nationalism and other factors. By the way, there is one possibility that Turkey can join EU. That is when Turks living in EU outnumber the others.

  13. Turks slaughtered anyone within their empire to obtain Turkish purity, they influence Hitler with their treatments of minorities
    No wonder Turkey is 98% Moslem today
    They have never been held accountable for any of their many crimes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.