Let me speak for a few moments about Turkey and the findings that you would find in our report chapter on Turkey. It’s a country that the commission has followed for sometime and this was the first year that we had added Turkey to our watch list. That was due to the ongoing religious freedom violations against many of Turkey citizens including members of the majority and minority of religious communities. We recognized that Turkey has a democratic system and a strong tradition of secularism however it’s that interpretation of secularism that has led to many of the concerns that we have. The concerns that were highlighted that led to us placing them on the watch list were the whole debate about the headscarf and the ability of Turkish citizens to wear it in. Of course, everyone knows in February 2008, the parliament passed amendments to the headscarf ban on university campuses but then constitutional court later overturned it. That was something we were troubled to see that progress, that we hope, was being made ultimately was overturned. Other concerns were the significant restrictions of minority religious communities including state policies and actions that effectively deny non-Muslim communities right to own and maintain property to train religious clergy and to offer religious education. This has led to decline in some cases, the virtual disappearance of religious communities that have been in Turkey for millennia.
Now the commission did travel at Turkey in 2006 and that with the variety of government officials and parliamentarians and leaders of diverse religious communities and throughout the trip we heard from almost every tradition that there are ongoing problems with the opening, maintaining and operation of houses of worship, however, individuals are still generally free to gather for worship as provided with the country’s constitution. Many people also spoke up, however, the past decade that EU engagement process has led to significant improvements for religious freedom especially for the minority communities. However, we did learn about significant restrictions on the majority Sunni Muslim community, the Alevis and Christian and other communities, and that these concerns continue.
In our chapter on Turkey we quote the European Commission 2008 report, which said on another things that Turkey needs to make further efforts to create an environment conducive to the full respect for freedom of religion and practice and we certainly echo that sentiment. So in each of our chapters we have at the very end at set of recommendations for US policy and some of the recommendations that we had concerning Turkey was that the US government explore ways to cooperate with Turkish authorities on ways to allow women the freedom to express their religious or non-religious views to dress so as to respect their beliefs as well as the secular status of the Turkish republic, and we also encourage the European union to raise the headscarf ban with the Turkish government. We just add parenthetically, we have had conversations with the European Commission and did raise the importance of the EU raising the headscarf issue as we acknowledged that progress that has been made through their engagement over excision. This is one area that they’ve been silent on and they explained reasons already understood about why that it’s difficult for him to do so but it’s still an area of activity, I think, the European Union would be wise to engage the Turkish government on. Other recommendations we had were to urge Prime Minister Erdoğan to follow up on his January 2008 statement that the ecumenical status of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate should be an internal church issue and grant official recognition to the ecumenical status of the patriarch. We also recommend that all religious minorities be able to freely select and train the religious clergy, for instance by reopening Halki seminary under the control of the ecumenical patriarch and that the process regain clear title or fair compensation for it. Expropriated holdings be expanded to include properties sold to third parties or those held by the government. And we also recommend that the Vakiflar, the office of foundations no longer be empowered to expropriate properties which have been an ongoing and long-time concern for the Commission in the United States in general.