Sassounian: From Genocide Recognition to Reclaiming Church Properties

The Armenian American community took a major step last week to reverse the consequences of the Armenian Genocide and end the Turkish government’s long-standing policy of erasing all traces of Armenian civilization from present-day Turkey. 

Armenian inscriptions at the entrance of a church in the historic Armenian city of Ani. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

 

Going beyond mere acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide, some members of Congress have introduced a new resolution that urges “the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties.”

The sweeping House Resolution 306 calls on the government of Turkey to:

1) end all forms of religious discrimination;

2) 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 community gatherings, social services, including ministry to the needs of the poor and infirm, and other religious activities;

3) return to their rightful owners all Christian 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; and

4) allow the rightful Christian church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to preserve, reconstruct, and repair, as they see fit, all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties within Turkey.

This bipartisan resolution, sponsored by Cong. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Cong. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), was immediately endorsed by 30 of their House colleagues, 10 of them Republicans. This is a good start, as Republicans constitute the majority in the House and their support is crucial for the successful passage of the resolution. Significantly, Cong. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a long-time opponent of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, was one of the first supporters of the resolution regarding the return of church properties.

It is not surprising that this resolution has such broad support, as it is hard to imagine that any member of Congress, the State Department, or the Obama Administration would oppose returning a religious building back to its proper owners. By contemporary societal standards, no one would accept the conversion of a church into a mosque, or vice versa. Turkey’s devout leaders, as good Muslims, would be the first to acknowledge and uphold the sanctity of houses of worship.

Beyond building a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress, practically all religious denominations in America, be they Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, or Muslim, would support such a resolution. All ethnic groups, such as Latinos, Greek-Americans, Irish-Americans, Jewish-American, Arab-Americans, Afro-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Assyrian-Americans, would also lend their support to this resolution.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) noted that the resolution intends “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 of the right of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Pontians, Arameans (Syriacs), and others to practice their faith in freedom.”

The right to religious freedom is not simply an internal Turkish issue. This right is protected by many international agreements, including the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne to which Turkey is a signatory. Turkey continues to violate Articles 41 and 42 of the Lausanne Treaty, which obligate it to provide funding and facilities to non-Muslim minorities for educational, religious, and charitable purposes, and to protect their religious establishments. Regrettably, the House resolution makes no mention of these violations and Turkey’s obligations under the Lausanne Treaty.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issues an annual report documenting violations of religious rights around the world, has placed Turkey on its Watch List for the third year in a row. The commission has found that “the Turkish government continues to impose serious limitations on freedom of religion or belief, thereby threatening the continued vitality and survival of minority religious communities in Turkey.” The Turkish government also “continues to intervene in the internal governance and education of religious communities and to confiscate places of worship.”

In recent years, the House and Senate passed several resolutions calling on Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus, Lithuania, Romania, and Vietnam to protect houses of worship and return wrongfully confiscated properties belonging to religious minorities. In line with these resolutions, the House of Representatives should adopt Resolution 306, calling on the Turkish government to respect the right of worship for all Christian minorities and return to them their expropriated churches and other religious properties.

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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 $917 million 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.

11 Comments

  1. Harout Sassounian wrote the following opening paragraph to the above essay:

    “The Armenian-American community took a major step last week to reverse the consequences of the Armenian Genocide and end the Turkish government’s long-standing policy of erasing all traces of Armenian civilization from present-day Turkey.”

    Erasing all traces (read Armenians) has been accomplished!!
    That was the final consequence of the 1915 Genocide.
    The fact that Sassounian wrote this in California and you, the readers, are eye-balling these lines outside of western Armenian is proof positive of this fait accompli.

    Even if the entire world recognized the historical fact of the Genocide this reality will not change.

     

  2. Rahageets.. i am sorry.. did you say erasing all Traces of ARmenian has been accomplished?  i was could not follow your incoherent post.. would you please be precise and clear as to what you were trying to really say???

    Gayane

  3. re. Even if the entire world recognized the historical fact of the Genocide this reality will not change.

    So what do you suggest?  What if the entire world recognizes that you are absolutely correct, what will that change?

  4. Want a solution..it’s called repatriation not recognition. Churches returned to a community that no longer exists – that’s a novel concept. Dream on my fantasy-loving pseudo-nationalists. The simple fact is that you and countless others and your progeny will never return to fill those returned churches. That is the undeniable reality of the Genocide.

  5. This is a simple scheme to snitch land from Turkey and wipe it off the map. The people of Turkey have a right to defend their borders at all costs. Also, Armenian Extremeists (note: you guys are extremeist racial supremacists) when you ask for money from Turkey. Why did you start asking Turkey for money now? Because you guys recently noticed Turkey flourished into the 15th largest economy. You guys say the Turkish economy was built on Armenian dollars. If so? Then why did ROT (Republic Of Turkey) start with 0 dollars and rised to the 15th largest economy. Because we built it on our own. You guys even try to snitch money from companies that do or did with business with Turkey. The more you guys cry, squeal, moap, and whine about “land and money” the more likely we get to keep the parts of Turkey you claim and we will defend it at all costs. We will not fear of death and no matter how many of our nation’s martyrs it takes, we will die and spill our blood to protect our soils.

  6. S. karaman
    Why shouldnt Turkey do as other civilized countries do – go into the dark spots in the country’s history and make amends?

  7.  
    S. Karaman,
    Being an Armenian, I would say that I agree on most of the statements that you have made in your comments.
    “This is a simple scheme to snitch land from Turkey and wipe it off the map. The people of Turkey have a right to defend their borders at all costs”.
    Yes, it was and continues to be a huge “scheme” the way Turkey “snitched” lands from Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds and Greeks and tried to wipe them off the map.  We have every right to demand whatever belongs to us at all costs.
    “Also, Armenian Extremeists (note: you guys are extremeist racial supremacists) when you ask for money from Turkey. Why did you start asking Turkey for money now?”
    I don’t understand how you make the connection between extremism/racial supremacist and  people asking money.  One of the reasons that we Armenians started demanding “money” now. because your ancestors wiped off several generations of my ancestors and it took us couple of generations to recover and get organized.
    “ You guys say the Turkish economy was built on Armenian dollars. If so? Then why did ROT (Republic Of Turkey) start with 0 dollars and rised to the 15th largest economy. Because we built it on our own.”
    Yes you are right, we do claim that you built your economy on the dollars, lands and other commodities that your government confiscated from our ancestors.  One thing I know for sure, that the farms, lands and all other possessions i.e. live stocks, business, bank accounts and personal properties that my grandparents had were all “snitched” by your government.  Also do not forget the billions of dollars that are being pumped in your economy and industries just to keep you on the West side.
    “ The more you guys cry, squeal, moap, and whine about “land and money” the more likely we get to keep the parts of Turkey you claim and we will defend it at all costs.”
    Right again, we should yell louder, shout and demand more about our “land and money”, and we should claim and take back whatever belongs to us at all costs.
    “We will not fear of death and no matter how many of our nation’s martyrs it takes, we will die and spill our blood to protect our soils.”
    Can’t agree with you more, we do not fear death and sacrifices that our nation needs to offer to take back what rightfully belongs to us.
    As I said, we have so much in common.

  8. @Karaman – Do you think that asking to renovat and own the churches in Turkey means that Turkey will cede all of their country to Armenia.  We can’t fool the Turks as this has been the Tashnag plan since 1908 to claim all of Turkey in 2010.  We have been training the clergy in SEAL training camps for this plan !

  9. Daron- true that my friend.. loved it..

    Ragnar- well well well… you said something that makes sense for once.. have not seen you forever.. have been researching more on the topic by non-Turkish authors i hope? welcome back.. or is it really?

    Gayane

  10. S. Karaman- you will be an addition to the group of idiots who post on these pages and guess what? all your comrads sound just like you: ignorant, in darkness, unintelligent and plain arrogant….so carry on with your stupidity.. it is absolutely amuzing…

    Gayane

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