Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Çavuşoğlu denied media reports that churches were seized by the state under the guise of the expropriation of their lands. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), Çavuşoğlu said the claim stemmed from an issue related to the cemetery of an Assyriac monastery in the southeastern province of Mardin. The minister said local officials wrongly transferred the cemetery's plot to the treasury register. "It was an error made because those tasked with registering the properties did not check whether the land belonged to members of a faith. We are now returning this land to the monastery," he said.
He added that the state was only doing restoration work for the ancient churches, and that the churches had suffered from a campaign of terror at the hands of the PKK in southeastern Turkey.
Çavuşoğlu said along with the Ottoman-era mosques, the terrorists heavily damaged Armenian Catholic and Armenian Protestant churches and both were being restored by the Directorate General of Foundations in his ministry.
Since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, Turkey has sought to restore the rights of religious minorities as well as the worship houses of faithful minorities, ranging from Assyrians to Jews and Greeks. Many properties have been returned to these minorities decades afterthey were forcefully confiscated by the Turkish state while the government continues to pursue a policy of restoring abandoned historical buildings.