WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Committee, have introduced H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, reported the Armenian Assembly of America. H. R. 4347 requires an annual report from the U.S. Department of State on the status of stolen, confiscated or unreturned Christian properties in territories controlled by Turkey.
“This legislation holds Turkey accountable for its international obligations to protect and promote human rights, and it calls attention to Turkish leaders’ broken promises to return church properties to their rightful owners,” stated Chairman Royce according to a press announcement from the Committee. “Over decades, Christian church properties, particularly those belonging to the Armenian, Syriac, and Greek Orthodox communities have been either violently overtaken or illegally confiscated by Turkish authorities under various excuses. These churches under Turkish control have been looted, converted to mosques, storehouses, casinos, vandalized and often irreparably damaged,” Royce said.
Royce continued, “Vulnerable religious minorities deserve more than just piecemeal returns of their stolen religious properties.” According to Chairman Royce, “It is important that the United States continue to encourage Turkish leaders to uphold their commitments and return all remaining properties without further delay. This bill will make promoting religious freedom and tolerance in Turkey a U.S. diplomatic priority.”
Ranking Member Engel said, “The Republic of Turkey, and indeed all nations, have a responsibility to protect, restore, and return religious properties which have been unlawfully seized from their communities and rightful owners by state authorities.” “Armenian, Syriac, and Greek Orthodox communities in Turkey have for many years been seeking the return of their confiscated properties. The claims of these communities must be respected and addressed in a comprehensive and timely manner,” Engel said. “This legislation calls on the Republic of Turkey to meet its international obligations, and urges the United States to prioritize the return of unlawfully seized religious properties in order to begin to resolve the legitimate claims of these communities,” stated Engel.
A similar measure, H. Res. 306, passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote in 2011. The Assembly, along with the Eastern and Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, pushed for full adoption of the measure in the 112th Congress. The Senate counterpart, S. Res. 392, was introduced by then-Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), along with Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), however, it stalled in committee and no further action was taken. A Senate version of the Royce-Engel Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act has not yet been introduced.
“We admire the courage of Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for introducing this important measure that we hope will hold Turkey accountable for its international obligation to protect the rights, history, culture, and places of worship of its Christian Armenian minority,” stated Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).