WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks during a Committee markup of H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act:
“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman for holding this markup of H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act. I commend you for introducing this important legislation, and I am pleased to be the lead Democratic cosponsor.
“In the last century, thousands of Christian properties in Turkey have been confiscated by successive Turkish governments. The same has happened in northern Cyprus since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Recently, Turkey has returned some properties, but many cases remain unresolved. Clearly, more needs to be done.
“H.R. 4347 directs the Secretary of State to provide Congress with an annual report through the year 2021 on the status of stolen, confiscated, and otherwise unreturned Christian churches, places of worship, and other properties in Turkey and northern Cyprus.
“The report should include a comprehensive listing of all properties claimed to have been removed from their rightful Christian church owners and should describe all engagement over the previous year by State Department officials with Turkish representatives. This bill also mandates that the report be included in the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report and in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
“I want to acknowledge two visitors here today who are in the audience, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian and Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian. I hope I didn’t mess the names up to much, but we welcome you here, gentlemen.
“In this context, let me take a moment to express my concern about recent disturbing anti-democratic trends in Turkey. Over the past several years, we’ve seen a lot of red flags: questionable trials of political opponents; increased media censorship; propaganda blaming foreigners—and in particular Jews and Israel—for domestic problems; increase of government control over various state institutions, including the judiciary.
“As Mr. Keating and I wrote in a recent letter to the editor in the Economist, the current government of Prime Minister Erdogan is eroding Turkish democracy. I ask unanimous consent that the letter be included in the record of today’s mark up.
“While I have concerns about Turkey’s current course, we should also take note of the bright spots. Negotiations to resolve the 30-year Cyprus dispute are moving along. Ending the division of Cyprus is critical for stability in the eastern Mediterranean and for prosperity on the island. Also, Ankara’s vitriol toward Israel has diminished somewhat in recent months. This provides hope that reconciliation between the countries might not be too far off.
“Turkey and the United States have a long history as NATO allies and partners. Our relationship is strongest when it is based on our shared values: democracy, human rights, tolerance, and justice. When Turkey’s commitment to those values is called into question, it damages our partnership and it hampers Turkey’s progress as a free and prosperous country. One clear way Turkey could reaffirm its commitment is by returning confiscated and stolen Church properties to their rightful owners.
“So Mr. Chairman, I hope H.R. 4347 will bring attention to this important issue, and make it clear to Turkey that it needs to do more to resolve the long-standing and legitimate claims of the Christian churches.
“I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, and once again thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding the markup.”