Members demand reports on stolen Christian property in Turkey

The leaders of the House Foreign Relations Committee have proposed legislation that would require an annual report on Christian churches and Christian artifacts that have been confiscated by Turkey.

The Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, H.R. 4347, is a response to what supporters say is a steady erosion in the freedom to practice the Christian religion in Turkey.

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Federal law already requires the federal government to condemn violations of religious freedom around the world. But Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) says the U.S. needs to keep a closer eye on Turkey, which is why he proposed the bill.

"Over decades, Christian church properties, particularly those belonging to the Armenian, Syriac, and Greek Orthodox communities have been either violently overtaken or illegally confiscated by Turkish authorities under various excuses," Royce said. "These churches under Turkish control have been looted, converted to mosques, storehouses, casinos, vandalized and often irreparably damaged.

"It is important that the United States continue to encourage Turkish leaders to uphold their commitments and return all remaining properties without further delay."

The bill is cosponsored by ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who said the bill urges the U.S. to prioritize the return of seized religious property as soon as possible.

"Armenian, Syriac, and Greek Orthodox communities in Turkey have for many years been seeking the return of their confiscated properties," he said. "The claims of these communities must be respected and addressed in a comprehensive and timely manner."

The legislation finds that Christian churches in Turkey and Cyrus "continue to be prevented from fully practicing their faith and face serious obstacles to reestablishing full legal, administrative, and operational control over stolen, expropriated, confiscated or otherwise unreturned churches."

It finds that many historic Christian lands, including Armenia and Mount Ararat, where the Bible says Noah's Ark landed, are now within Turkey's boundaries.

Because of these problems and the violence Christian minorities still face in Turkey, the bill requires the Secretary of State to submit annual reports to Congress on the status of these Christian properties. The report would have to include a "comprehensive listing" of all Christian properties, including both buildings and artwork, manuscripts and other artifacts, that have been taken or destroyed.

It would also have to note all state Department efforts to return these properties to their original owners.

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