Following the general election, the 13-year long AKP rule is now expected to be replaced by a coalition government. A mountain of problems awaits the new parliament. The acute problems of non-Muslim communities will also feature on the agenda of the new parliament.
The statuses of the Patriarchate and the Chief Rabbinate as legal entities, the failure of non-Muslim minority foundations to hold elections for the past 3 years, the still not opened Halki Seminary, and problems of property ownership are among the many problems awaiting solution.
Surp Pırgiç Armenian Hospital Foundation Chairperson Bedros Şirinoğlu, Foundations General Assembly Minority Foundations Representative Toros Alcan and Yeniköy Panayia Greek Orthodox Foundation Chairperson Laki Vingas spoke to AGOS about the problems awaiting the new government
‘Problems must be solved within a year’
Surp Pırgiç Armenian Hospital Foundation Chairperson Bedros Şirinoğlu thanked the political party leaders for their role in the election of three Armenian Members of Parliament after 60 years and wished the MPs success. Şirinoğlu stated that the new MPs facced a great responsibility, adding, “I have no doubt that they will work for the benefit of the community.”
Şirinoğlu said the following regarding the urgent problems of the Armenian community: “The legal entity of the Patriarchate, and the failure to hold foundation elections are among the most urgent problems. We expect them to be solved within a year, these issues must be urgently dealt with to provide relief for our community.”
Şirinoğlu also underlined the fact that problems related to the returned properties of foundations continued, saying, “Some properties have been returned, but there are persisting problems related to many of them. Issues related to development plans need to be alleviated”
‘Not holding elections is not a sustainable situation’
Foundations General Assembly Minority Foundations Representative Toros Alcan stated that the most urgent problem on the government’s agenda was the failure of foundations to hold elections because of a lack of regulation.
Alcan said that not holding elections was not a sustainable situation, adding, “If the regulation does not pass and elections are not held, our communities could take a joint decision and go to court on the issue. We want whatever the law says to be implemented. The issue here is merely a regulation, not a law. Therefore, it does not need to pass through Parliament, and there are no excuses for not finding a solution”.
Alcan also emphasized the problems of minority schools, stating his desire for the clarification of the status of the schools with new legislation. Alcan underlined the fact that minority schools were charities, and were not profit-oriented like private schools, stating, “This year, our schools received support within the scope of the financial support given to private schools. However, minority schools provide education in the name of public good, and should receive subsidies from the State. This is a right based on the Treaty of Lausanne. We are not asking the State to pay salaries; we want it to contribute per student. All these issues can be solved with a comprehensive Minorities Law”.
‘Our greatest problem is demographic’
Yeniköy Panayia Greek Orthodox Foundation Chairperson Laki Vingas drew attention to the need for positive discrimination: “In recent years we have strived, as a community, both to revitalize and to overcome all the problems of the past. Our greatest problem is our demographic structure. The truth is that we exist in this world, but we have almost disappeared. The Greek community exists nominally, but in essence, our numbers dwindle every day. Until now, we have kept our tradition of patience alive, but we want to exist now. And for that, positive discrimination is necessary.”
Vingas stated that the four Christian MPs in Parliament new the problems well and would reflect them in the best possible manner, adding, “The only possible formula from now on is to allow freedom. Control mechanisms suffocate especially the smaller communities. Freedom will allow communities to grow so we can create value. Our greatest power in the past was creating value, yet that was taken from us.”
A community without a church: Assyrians
Assyrians are one of the most important faith communities in Istanbul; however, they are forced to use the churches of various other communities to worship.
Deputy Director of the Virgin Mary Assyrian Church Kenan Gürdal expects the new government to take steps for the construction of a church for the Assyrian community. Gürdal comments, “Following a government initiative, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality allocated a plot of land for us. Yet we have not yet been able to build our church. Official procedures at the Council of Monuments have not been concluded. The new government has to support us on this issue. We believe that political parties can solve our problems, which they know very well, if they can come together.