Turkish Court rejects request to return Armenian Patriarchate building

Turkey’s Armenian Patriarchate has lost its legal battle to reclaim the Sansaryan Han building, which was confiscated by the state about seven decades ago, Today’s Zaman reported.

The court rejection came in spite of a recent government plan to return seized properties to minority groups.

The historic building, built in 1895 and commissioned by Migirdich Aga Sanasaryan, was designed by architect Hovsep Aznavour. It was seized by the Turkish state in the early years of the republic. The Armenian Patriarchate has been fighting a legal battle for its return since 2011.

The Istanbul 13th Court of First Instance rejected the patriarchate’s request for the return of Sansaryan Han in the last session on Friday, attended by lawyers representing both the Patriarchate and the Treasury.

A contractor leased the building on June 18 from Turkey’s Directorate General for Foundations (VGM). The lease agreement was executed before the conclusion of the lawsuit and prompted speculation that the building will be turned into a hotel.

Ali Eyuboglu, an attorney for the Armenian Patriarchate, said the court’s reasons for not returning the building are not clear as all the documents and expert reports indicate that the building rightfully belongs to the patriarchate. Eyüboğlu said they will appeal the decision once the court issues its reasoned opinion regarding the verdict.

In a related development, Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrikulu submitted a parliamentary motion addressed to Minister of Culture and Tourism Omer Celik inquiring whether the speculation that the Sansaryan Han will be turned into a hotel is true.

Minority foundations, seeking the return of properties that were seized by the Turkish state in the first decade of the Turkish Republic, have long been saying that they have experienced a number of challenges. Despite a 2011 law passed to ensure confiscated property be returned to its rightful owners, the foundations indicate that reclaiming the properties is not going to be easy.

In August 2011, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government adopted legislation to return all confiscated immovable property belonging to minority foundations in Turkey, a long-overdue step towards expanding the rights of minorities in the country. The decree allows foundations to reclaim real property declared in 1936, when all the foundations were asked by the government to present lists of their property assets. Applications for at least 88 items have been rejected. 

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