A few days ago, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg announced that it respects the appeal of the board of trustees of the Church of the Holy Archangels in the Arnautkoy district on the European shore of the Bosphorus. The trustees filed the complaint against the Turkish state regarding their property of over 8 acres with the possibility of construction on it. This decision, according to Pravists, is of great importance because it is part of solving the complex legal puzzle that is gradually unraveling with the ECtHR’s jurisprudence regarding the property rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Greek Orthodox Foundation “Council of the Holy Archangels”, as is the full name of this Orthodox legal entity, is one of the 69 Greek Orthodox foundations in Turkey under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. According to Turkish law, religious communities exist not as denominations but as foundations, and their property has long been subject to encroachment. The board in question appealed the revocation of property rights to the large property to the European Court back in 2009, complaining of a violation of his property rights and discrimination against him on the basis of religion.
The property is located next to the former Robert College (closed in 1971, when the Halkina Theological School was also closed), where many prominent Bulgarians studied in the 19th century. The plot was declared as the property of the temple 109 years ago, and this declaration was renewed every 20-30 years until 2003. However, then the Turkish administration arbitrarily refused to register the ownership of the plot in the Turkish Land Registry, and after a series of unsuccessful legal claims, pending appeal to the ECtHR. In effect, Strasbourg is asking Turkish justice to reopen the property case, but in light of the court’s decision to violate the foundation’s property.
It is worth noting that the decision of the ECtHR was unanimous. The judge from Turkey also supported him. And this is the third decision in a row that orders the return of a property to its Greek Orthodox owner, as were the cases with an orphanage and a chapel to him on the island of Prinkipo (Buyuk-ada) in the Sea of Marmara (decision of 15.6.2010), as well as with a cemetery and a ruined monastery returned to the “Assumption” foundation on the island of Tenedos in the Aegean Sea (decision dated 2.6.2009). Turkish courts are expected to comply with the ECtHR decision and recognize ownership of the property.
These legal precedents give hope for a just solution to the property claims of the Bulgarian communities in Istanbul and Edirne, although they are not yet at such a stage.
Photo by Kübra Arslaner: