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ECtHR orders Turkey to pay damages to church foundation for violation of property rights

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ordered Turkey to pay 5,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages to a Greek church foundation in İstanbul for violation of its property rights.

Turkey violated Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the protection of property, according to a ruling that was announced on Tuesday.

The ruling concerns an application filed by the Greek Orthodox Taksiarhis Church Foundation in the Arnavutköy district of İstanbul. The church was built in 1899.

The court said Turkey refused to allow the foundation to register its property, hence violated its property rights without having clearly and fairly established the facts at the origin of the dispute and was engaged in discrimination.

At the center of the dispute is an 8,394-square-meter plot of land located in Beşiktaş, a popular İstanbul neighborhood.

The foundation filed an application at the ECtHR in 2009 after exhausting domestic legal remedies, claiming that it was deprived of its property because of its status as a Greek Orthodox Church.

Turkey will also pay an additional 5,000 euros to the foundation for legal costs and expenses.

It is the latest ruling by the ECtHR against Turkey for violating the property rights of its ethnic Greek minority. The European Union, which Turkey seeks to join, has on many occasions called on the government to return seized properties to minorities and expand their religious and cultural freedoms.

Religious minorities in Turkey, the number of whose followers has fallen significantly over the past decades, complain about being subjected to discrimination and treated as second-class citizens by government institutions.

The US Department of State said in a report released in June that Ankara continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews and Greek Orthodox Christians.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were criticized in the report for many rights violations, including restricting efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy, continued entry bans and deportations of non-Turkish citizen leaders of Protestant congregations and government officials’ use of antisemitic rhetoric in speeches.

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