TURKEY: HDP MP Garo Paylan demands swift action by government on Vakif Election Regulation

ANKARA, Turkey – Religious denominations, cultural groups and minority components in Turkey are historically organized and state-regulated through so-called charitable trusts or foundations (“Vakif”) in which they hold lands, properties and other assets. The system predates the Turkish Republic and is used to administer and (self-)organize houses of worship, schools and orphanages. The regulation of the Vakifs of indigenous minorities sits in the portfolio of the Minister of Culture and Tourism.

It is to Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy that Armenian Member of Turkish Parliament for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Garo Paylan directed parliamentarian questions as to why Turkish authorities have denied these Vakifs to organize elections for their boards for the last couple of years. The regulation on elections for the boards of the minority components’ foundations has not been renewed and published and is effectively on hold since 19 January 2013 despite frequent requests and proposed solutions, also in the Turkish National Assembly, from representatives of the minority components over the last seven years. MP Paylan criticizes the governments’ handling of the dossier, “Last year, you made the statement ‘We will solve it soon” and “five Ministers have promised to solve the election problem before you. But they did not.” Elections can only be held through official directive and publication.

According to MP Paylan, the management of minority foundations has weakened in the past seven years because of deaths and resignations, and new elections are not allowed to be held. MP Paylan gives the example of the Beyoğlu Üç Horan Armenian Church Foundation, an important foundation for Armenians in Istanbul, which is now only managed by two remaining board members. There is discontent within the Armenian community over personnel decisions related to Armenian schools taken by this board, which is allowed to continue without accountability through democratic elections and the scrutiny of members of the Vakifs. MP Paylan also suggests the option to allow board members of affiliated Vakifs to temporarily hold seats at boards of other Vakifs.

HDP MP Paylan submitted on Friday the following questions to the Minister of Culture and Tourism:

“When will the Election Regulation for the foundations of minority communities be published?

Will you allow the appointment of a minority foundation administrator as trustee for another minority foundation?

While there is a democratic method available, i.e. elections, that will solve the problem of the minority foundations, will you fulfill the request of the president of (another) foundation requesting to be a trustee?”

On Saturday, Armenian Patriarch Maşalyan, residing in Istanbul, issued a statement also requested the government for a solution of the Vakifs Regulation.