Jewish community to represent minorities in top Turkish body

Directorate of Foundations President Adnan Ertem said they were working on independent elections at minority foundations.
Directorate of Foundations President Adnan Ertem said they were working on independent elections at minority foundations.

A candidate from the Jewish community was expected to be the new representative for minorities in the Assembly of Foundations, a powerful, state-run body which handles the affairs of foundations, including those belonging to minorities.

Moris Levi, the deputy leader of the Turkish Jewish community, was expected to be elected as the representative of the seven minority communities in the country, replacing Prof. Toros Alcan, a prominent figure from the Armenian community.

If confirmed, this will be the first time that Turkey's Jewish community will take part in the body, in which Greeks and Armenians have represented minorities in the past.

The assembly is dominated by bureaucrats and technocrats and it is the highest body for deciding the status of foundations that belong to minorities.

Non-Muslim communities in Turkey, which are concentrated in Istanbul, conduct their affairs through officially recognized foundations that represent their respective communities.

In the past decade, Turkey has moved to reinstate the rights of minorities, creating the post in the assembly amid calls by minorities seeking to have more say in their affairs.

Long treated as second-class citizens, the Greek, Jewish, Armenian and Chaldean communities have lauded the efforts for the return of their rights, although they have complained about it being a slow process.

Adnan Ertem, the head of the Directorate of Foundations which the assembly responds to, said in a recent interview that they were working on a set of regulations that would allow independent elections to be held in minority-run foundations.

If approved, it will mark a milestone for non-Muslim minorities in terms of conducting their daily affairs and preserving their heritage through foundations, giving minority communities broader freedoms.

The controversial wealth tax that was imposed in 1942 targeted rich non-Muslims, a pogrom in 1955 and the deportation of non-Muslim Turkish citizens in 1964, adding to "a fear of the state" among non-Muslim minorities.

The "democratization package" announced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government seeks to change the state's view on minorities, restoring their rights through new bills.

Then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in 2011 that the hundreds of properties that were confiscated from minorities over the years would be returned and compensation would be paid for the properties that were later sold to third parties.

Although no comprehensive laws exist to restore property rights, Turkish courts are gradually returning properties to minorities who prove ownership.

The election issue is a matter which overshadows minorities' democratic rights. Although minorities are free to elect their own foundation members, they are still subject to inspection by the state and require the approval of government authorities.


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