The Committee on Foreign Affairs of the US House has passed the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act (HR 4347), introduced by Chairman Ed Royce, which requires an annual report from the State Department on the status of stolen, confiscated or unreturned Christian properties in Turkey and in the north of Cyprus.
On the passage of the Act, Chairman Royce said: “I have long been concerned that Christian heritage sites in Turkey have been deteriorating and disappearing in the face of hostile government policies. Despite optimistic claims by Turkish leaders, a majority of religious properties remain unreturned”.
There is even, he added, legislation before the Turkish Parliament “to convert the landmark Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum to a mosque”.
“The US must hold Turkish leaders to their promises. By passing this legislation, the US sends a message to Turkey that it must return church properties to their rightful owners, while providing an objective measure of their progress each year,” he concluded.
The draft law which was presented by Royce and the minority leader Eliot Engel strengthens previous legislation (HR 306) that was adopted unanimously by Congress in December 2011 and called on Turkey to respect its international obligations and to return confiscated fortunes of Christian churches and to fully respect the rights of Christians to practice their religion.
The legislation specifically calls the US Secretary to record all Christian churches, places of worship and other church properties, including movable assets, such as works of art and objects from Turkey and areas of the Republic of Cyprus under military occupation by Turkey and that have been claimed as stolen, confiscated or illegally removed from the owners of Christian churches.
It also requires a summary of that information to be included in the annual reports of human rights and religious freedoms of the State Department.
The legislation refers to the north of Cyprus. The legislation was promoted by Greek American and Armenian American organisations.
After the Turkish invasion churches in the north were vandalized and looted, and icons, frescoes and mosaics were removed. Much of the stolen items have been traced in Europe’s illegal antiquities trade markets and in auctions around the world. (CNA)