Turkish Court Takes Monastery's Land, Declares Assyrians 'Occupiers'
The final decision of the [Turkish] Supreme Court of Cassation in the legal case of St. Gabriel, ordering it to transfer the lands which the monastery has owned for 14 centuries to the State Treasury marks a major legal scandal. Cynically, it was the same institution which in 1974 ruled against the [non-Muslim] minority foundations in Turkey and has played an important role in intensifying minority problems. The latest ruling, in which the State is designated as the 'land owner' and the 'other' (being St.Gabriel) as the 'occupier' proves that not much has changed in Turkey's policy towards minorities. The court decision sheds light on an important parameter of the process that has been labeled as "democratization."
The confiscation of properties, trusts and estates of non-Muslim minorities by the government or by third parties is one of the darkest pages in the history of the [Turkish] Republic. Even though the Law of Foundations has been subject to various revisions within the framework of EU reforms over the last ten years, due to the nationalistic understanding that aims to preserve the existing status quo, the problems of minority foundations have not received a profound and lasting solution. This is very much related to the hegemonic perception that has been formed historically towards minorities in Turkey. Minorities, as a group in Turkey, have been regarded not only as infidel [Turkish gavur] for many years, but also as groups that foster secret ambitions, who "have stolen the wealth that belonged to us," or as "hostile" and "unreliable" element within the Turkish nation formation. The deep traces of such institutionalized discourses can be read in the reflexes of the judicial and political authorities in the context of the legal trials of Hrant Dink, St. Gabriel and Publishing House.
Many people have written about the St. Gabriel case and the trial has been well documented (full coverage). But what is striking in this case is that the legal procedure started and concluded to the disadvantage of the monastery during a process which has been hailed as transition towards "democratization" by many people. Turkish elites have preached continously that "many things have changed in Turkey, and matters are no longer as they were." However, the case of the monastery is just another example which proves the opposite.
Unfortunately, while many in Turkey did not know much about Assyrians [known as Süryani in Turkey], they got to learn about them thanks to the St. Gabriel trial. Despite being a non-Muslim minority according to the definition of the Lousanne Treaty, the Assyrians have not received any legal status throughout the history of the Republic. Policies of denial and assimilation have resulted in the loss of cultural identity, excluding them from political participation for decades while institutionalizing their third class status. With the beginning of the EU accession process in Turkey, they started to be remembered and rediscovered afresh as an exotic culture. Within the framework of the rediscovery phenomenon, Assyrians have been converted to a 'touristic object' on one hand, while on the other hand the state presented them as an example of its generous "tolerance." (...)