European court fines Turkey in Greek Orthodox case

ISTANBUL Tue Mar 3, 2009 12:00pm EST

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights Tuesday ruled Turkey had violated the property rights of a Greek Orthodox foundation by seizing its land and ordered the government to pay damages.

Judges said Turkey had breached the European Convention on Human Rights by barring the foundation from registering its title to a church and surrounding lands on the Aegean island of Bozcaada, a statement from the court said.

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

The European Court of Human Rights fined Turkey 105,000 euros ($131,880) for damages and expenses after it ruled authorities had illegally prevented the rightful owner of the Kimisis Teodoku Greek Orthodox Church from registering its property, the statement said.

The foundation was denied the right to register its title to three pieces of land and a building on the island after the state land registry was reorganized in 1991, the statement said.

Turkish courts had ruled against the foundation because it had missed an initial deadline to re-register its deed and had ordered the property be turned over to the state Treasury.

The Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, spiritual leader of 250 million faithful worldwide, has filed more than two dozen cases with the European Court of Human Rights to recover some of the thousands of properties it says it has lost.

In September, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in a separate case that Turkey had violated the property rights of the patriarchate by seizing a 100-year-old orphanage on an island off of Istanbul and ordered its return.

It has also ruled that Turkey illegally took control of other properties in Istanbul owned by Greek foundations.

About 25 mostly elderly ethnic Greeks live on Bozcaada, part of a community of 2,500 Greeks in Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim. Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, is also home to about 15,000 Jews and 60,000 Armenians.

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