Erdoğan Offers ‘Arab Spring’ Neo-Laicism

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Daily News

TUNIS

2011-09-16T144830Z_1057611084_GM1E79G1N2G01_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil wave to people during a rally at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli September 16, 2011. 

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Following criticism in Egypt, the Turkish PM repeats his support for secular governments where he says all religious groups are treated equally

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan (L) draws intense interest during his visit to a covered bazaar in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. AA photo Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday repeated his controversial call for uprising-hit Arab countries to adopt “secular states,” following Turkey’s model.

“Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state of law. As for secularism, a secular state has an equal distance to all religious groups, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist people,”
Erdoğan said during a visit to Tunis, the place where the wave of pro-democracy revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa began late last year.

“Tunisia will prove to the whole world that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Turkey with its predominantly Muslim population has achieved it,” Erdoğan said. His administration is seen by many as a model for post-revolution Arab countries, though Islamic groups in Egypt were split over his pro-secularism remarks there.

“On the subject of secularism, this is not secularism in the Anglo-Saxon or Western sense; a person is not secular, the state is secular,” Erdoğan said, describing Turkey as democratic and secular. “A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way. In Turkey, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and it did not pose any problem.

You can do the same here.”

Erdoğan traveled to Tunisia following a rapturous welcome in Cairo and issued the kind of trademark warning to Israel that has earned him hero status on his “Arab Spring tour.”

“Israel will no longer be able to do what it wants in the Mediterranean and you’ll be seeing Turkish warships in this sea,” the Turkish prime minister said after meeting with his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, on the third day of his visit to North Africa.

Erdoğan reiterated his insistence on an Israeli apology for last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.

“Relations with Israel cannot normalize if Israel does not apologize for the flotilla raid, compensate the martyrs’ families and lift the blockade on Gaza,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would assure protection for Turkish vessels bound for Gaza or elsewhere in international waters. “Israel cannot do whatever it wants in the eastern Mediterranean. It will see our determination. Our frigates, our assault boats will be there.”

Erdoğan’s visit marks “the willingness to strengthen brotherly relations and cooperation between Tunisia and Turkey,” the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was one of the first top foreign officials to visit Tunisia in February and is also among the Turkish ministers accompanying Erdoğan on his visit. Davutoğlu signed a friendship and cooperation agreement with his Tunisian counterpart, Mouldi Kefi, in Tunisia on Thursday.

Accompanied by a delegation of ministers and businessmen, Erdoğan arrived late Wednesday at the Tunis international airport, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Essebsi.

Around 4,000 people waving Turkish and Palestinian flags had also gathered at the airport under heavy security to show their support for the man who has become one of the region’s most popular leaders.

Erdoğan is due in Libya on Friday for the final leg of his tour. The transitional administration there has also said that Islam would be the main source of legislation in the new Libya.

* Compiled from AFP, AP, Reuters and AA stories by the Daily News staff.a

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Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sebnem Arsu

ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish government said it would return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from religious minorities by the state or other parties over the years since 1936, and would pay compensation for properties that were seized and later sold.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement on Sunday to representatives of more than 150 Christian and Jewish trusts gathered at a dinner he hosted in Istanbul to break the day’s Ramadan fast. The government decree to return the properties, bypassing nationalist opposition in Parliament, was issued late Saturday.

The European Union, which Turkey has applied to join, has pressed the country to ease or eliminate laws and policies that discriminate against non-Muslim religious groups, including restrictions on land ownership. Many of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were seized after 1936 when trusts were called to list their assets, and in 1974 a separate ruling banned the groups from purchasing any new real estate.

Disputes over the groups’ properties have tied up Turkish and European courts for decades, and the European Court for Human Rights has ordered Turkey to pay compensation in several cases related to religious minority rights in recent years.

“Like everyone else, we also do know about the injustices that different religious groups have been subjected to because of their differences,” Mr. Erdogan said at the dinner, according to the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency. “Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to his religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over.”

In contrast with its staunchly secular predecessors, the Islam-inspired government of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P., has been more sympathetic and attentive to Turkey’s non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians. It has enacted a number of measures since 2002 to bring Turkish law more into compliance with European Union standards on minority rights, so that Turkey’s application to join the union could advance.

The decree issued on Saturday removed legal impediments that had continued to block the return of the properties even after amendments were enacted in recent years to allow it.

“There have been changes made to existent legislation at least five times since the government of the A.K. Party, but they have not been very satisfactory in practice,” said a Greek government official who asked not to be identified because of his diplomatic position. “We hope this time the changes would make a real difference in implementation.”

Less than 1 percent of Turkey’s 74 million people belong to religious minorities; there are about 120,000 Christians of different denominations, including Greek Orthodox, and about 25,000 Jews.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 29, 2011, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities.

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