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Cablegate: Foundations, Transformations and Eu Accession:

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PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #2104/01 3281210
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241210Z NOV 06
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6375
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA PRIORITY 2274

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 002104

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM TU
SUBJECT: FOUNDATIONS, TRANSFORMATIONS AND EU ACCESSION:
USCIRF FINDS FACTS IN TURKEY

REF: A. ANKARA 6394

B. ISTANBUL 2091

ISTANBUL 00002104 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive but Unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

This message was coordinated with Embassy Ankara.

1. (SBU) Summary: The United States Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) completed its
nine-day fact finding mission in Turkey with a generally
positive view of religious freedom here. Delegation members
clearly recognized the significant challenges facing
religious minority communities in Turkey, but also gained a
keener understanding of the complex broader issues affecting
this issue, including the almost religious adherence to
"laicism" as a pillar of the modern Turkish state and the
impact of the EU accession process on the evolution of
democratic institutions and practices here. End summary.

2. (SBU) USCIRF members visited Istanbul and Ankara November
11 - 19 on a fact finding mission to assess the state of
religious freedom in Turkey (ref A). The delegation arrived
with a variety of opinions and disparate levels of knowledge
of Turkey in general and the historical relation between
state and religion in particular. Over the course of their
visit, commissioners met with over 50 leaders of religious
minority communities, political parties, NGOs, business
organizations and Government in addition to subject matter
experts in the academic and press communities in both Ankara
and Istanbul.

3. (SBU) Though commissioners shared a common mission, their
line of questioning reflected the independent nature of
USCIRF and served also to address individual concerns about
religious freedom in Turkey. Some probed concerns that AKP
leadership might lead eventually to Sharia law and the demise
of the secular state. Others focused more specifically on
problems facing the individual religious minority
communities, as well as challenges facing the majority Muslim
community.

---------------------------------
Religious Minorities Free, But...
---------------------------------

4. (SBU) In general, representatives from the religious
minority communities claimed that, while able to freely
practice their religions, certain GOT policies had the effect
of restricting their ability to establish, operate and
maintain institutions necessary for the effective function,
if not survival, of their communities. Respected Istanbul
intellectual and publisher of the Armenian weekly Agos, Hrant
Dink, captured these feelings when he equated GOT respect for
religious freedom to "telling a bird with broken wings that
he is free to fly." This is a particularly important issue
for the small (3,000 - 4,000) Greek Orthodox community, but
is also important for the somewhat larger Jewish
(approximately 24,000) and Armenian (over 30,000) communities.

5. (SBU) Although the GOT's Foundations Directorate
(Vakiflar) and the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet)
told the Commission that the new law on Foundations brought
important advances that would help bridge the gap between the
majority Muslim population and the minority communities, most
contacts from minority communities said they found the law
seriously inadequate because it does not include a mechanism
for returning properties associated with foundations
previously taken over by the GOT (ref B). Several
Commissioners were concerned by the Ecumenical Patriarch's
reaction to GOT lack of progress on expropriated properties
noting that he seemed extremely disheartened. They urged
greater USG pressure on the GOT to re-open Halki and
strengthen the Foundations Law. An attorney for the Armenian
Patriarchate also lamented the law's application of the
principle of reciprocity to non-Muslim Turkish citizens, who
she argued were being used to advance the cause of Muslim
minorities in other countries.

----------------------
Referendum on Kemalism
----------------------

6. (SBU) An overarching theme was the relationship between
religion and state and more specifically, the impact of Truth
and Development Party (AKP) leadership on Turkish secularism.
Many contacts suggested Turkey was in a period of transition
and that the rise of the Islam-oriented AKP represented the
maturing of Turkish democracy. Others questioned AKP motives

ISTANBUL 00002104 002.2 OF 002


and believed reforms intended to relax government
restrictions on religious expression in public--wearing
headscarves in universities, for example--represented a
slippery slope towards the imposition of Sha'ria law. The
latter, however, were in the minority and one commissioner
who was initially concerned about the prospect of Sha'ria law
in Turkey was surprised to find himself positively concluding
that it was "generally a good thing for a country when its
citizens were religious." A few interlocutors implied that
they were more comfortable with the earlier, repressive,
secularist status quo than with the current trend toward
greater expression of Muslim -- not necessarily extremist --
religiosity, a sentiment that did not resonate with the
Commission members.

7. (SBU) The Turkish EU accession process was also discussed,
with most concluding that it was a positive force for
expanding religious freedom. Murat Belge, a Turkish
intellectual and the head of Bilgi University's comparative
literature department, called it a referendum on Kemalism
(Ataturk's secular legacy) and opined that anti-EU sentiments
reflected a fear of democracy. He surmised that the average
Muslim did not have respect for the minority religions,
stating, "It's difficult to have respect for minorities when
the majority doesn't enjoy the respect of the Government."

------------------------------------------
Chaldean Iraqi Refugees: Asylum-yes or no?
------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Some delegation members took a particular interest
in Turkey's Christian Chaldean community, specifically the
3800 Iraqi refugees who have sought refuge here. USCIRF
members asked Chaldean representatives to provide examples of
the community having been singled out for attacks in Iraq to
use as evidence in support of its argument that Chaldeans be
granted humanitarian refugee status (see USCIRF 09 November
press release at:
www.uscirf.gov/mediaroom/press/2006/november/ 20061109
IraqRefugees.html). Some delegation members openly
criticized what they said was both Department and UNHCR
policy, i.e. that the community's situation is no worse than
that of others in Iraq and therefore should not be entitled
to special humanitarian refugee status.

9. (SBU) Comment The USCIRF delegation was exposed to a
tremenous amount of information and a diverse array ofopinions regarding the status of religious freedomin Turkey
over the course of its visit. The complexity of this country
was evident to all as deleation members agreed with the head
of Turkish thnk tank TESEV Can Paker's assessment that,
"Turky is like boiling water--it can be liquid and gas at
the same time." A Jewish community representative
exemplified this dynamic by lamenting the secular
establishment's historical responsibility in denying the
minorities juridical personality while at the same time
declaring this establishment as critical to protecting Turkey
from encroaching Islamism. Some contacts expressed concerns
about the possibility of the delegation writing a negative
report on Turkey. It appears that their fears will be
allayed as most delegation members told us that despite some
obvious problems, they generally have a more positive view of
the religious freedom situation here than anticipated. End
comment.
JONES

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