Non-Muslim minority foundations in Turkey unable to hold board elections for 9 years

Christian and Jewish minority communities in Turkey have been complaining that minority foundations have not been able to hold board of director elections for the past nine years since the government suspended election regulations in 2013 and has failed to draft a replacement, Turkish media reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the Action Plan on Human Rights on March 2, 2021, in which it was promised that minority foundations would have their election regulations by April 30, 2022. However, communities have expressed doubt that the government will keep its promise.

Minority foundations were established by Christian and Jewish minorities and were originally set up by imperial decrees of the Ottoman sultan. After the Turkish Republic was established, the foundations of non-Muslim minorities were granted legal status under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which provided them equality before the law and freedom to establish and run “religious and social institutions.”

There are currently 167 foundations belonging to non-Muslim minorities in Turkey; however, there have been no legal arrangements allowing minority communities to elect their representatives.

Speaking to the Bianet news website, lawyer Rita Ender said the current situation violated both the Turkish Constitution and the Lausanne Treaty, which includes provisions protecting Turkey’s religious minorities.

“With the suspension of the election regulations, fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of belief, the freedom to establish associations and the right to vote for board members as well as the right to be elected were violated,” said Ender. “I don’t expect the government to suddenly solve this problem by the end of the month.”

Minorities also demanded that the government involve representatives from their communities while drawing up the new election regulations.

Speaking to the Duvar news website, Toros Alcan, a representative from the minority foundations, said the foundations were important for supporting the needs of minority communities.

“The foundations serve the educational, religious and social needs of minorities,” he said. “The last elections were held in 2009, which means the current directors have been running these foundations for the last 13 years. This has created a lot of discomfort within the communities.”

Harut Özer, a representative from the Armenian community, said the suspension of elections had caused much tension within minority communities. Therefore, they had started a signature campaign for better and transparent election regulations.

 

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and member of the Armenian community, Garo Paylan had submitted a parliamentary question on the election regulations in August 2021.

 

Saying that minority communities were “frustrated,” Paylan remarked, “By preventing the elections in minority communities for eight years, minorities’ right to hold elections are ignored and the foundations’ effective management is prevented.”

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