12.14.11

House Passes Resolution Urging Turkey to Restore Properties to Armenian Church

Washington, DC –Late last night, the House of Representatives passed the Return of Churches Resolution (H. Res. 306), sponsored by Reps. Ed Royce, Howard Berman and Adam Schiff, calling on the Republic of Turkey to end all religious persecution and to return stolen Christian church properties. The legislation now awaits Senate action.

“For more than two centuries our nation has stood for tolerance of other faiths, and the promotion of religious freedom,” Rep. Schiff said. “American diplomats, members of Congress and presidents have consistently pressed other governments to respect and protect their minorities. This resolution is in the finest tradition of advocacy for those whose voices have been silenced. I am proud to be an original cosponsor and am pleased that the House passed the Return of Churches Resolution to shine light on the unacceptable violations and intolerance of religious freedom in Turkey.”

To watch Rep. Schiff’s speech about the resolution from the House Floor last night, please click here.  The full text of his remarks can be found below:

“From the spring of 1915 and continuing for the next eight years, the forces of the Ottoman Empire – police and military – engaged in a genocide of the Armenian people living within the borders of their dying empire. 

“When it was over, more than 1.5 million men, woman and children had been killed in the first genocide of the Twentieth Century.  They were beaten, shot, marched to their deaths through scorching deserts or across frigid mountains and left where they fell.  Families and entire communities were destroyed as the Ottomans did everything in their power to make a people disappear.

“But the physical near-annihilation of the Armenian people was not enough to satisfy the Turks’ desire to wreak vengeance on Armenia, which was the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion in AD 301.  Their campaign against the Armenians was broader and was aimed at destroying not only the Armenian people, but also their history, their culture and their faith.

“When Ottoman forces began to massacre their Armenian neighbors ninety-five years ago, there were nearly 2,000 Armenian churches in what is now Turkey.  Fewer than 100 remain standing and fully functioning today.  One of the world’s oldest Christian communities has, for the most part, disappeared from its ancestral homeland.

“While the Armenian Genocide stands as a singular event, the persecution of the Armenians has continued and much of it centers on the Armenians’ status as a Christian minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, where discriminatory laws are used to confiscate church property and prevent free worship. And other Christian communities, especially the Greek Orthodox, have also been the victims of Turkish intolerance.

“In northern Cyprus, which was invaded by the Turkish Army in 1974, churches have been left to rot, cemeteries have been desecrated or fallen into disrepair, and priests are forbidden from accessing the churches they prayed in as children.

“Earlier this year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its 2011 report: "The Turkish government continues to impose serious limitations on freedom of religion or belief, thereby threatening the continued vitality and survival of minority religious communities in Turkey." 

“Ours is a nation that has prized freedom of religion.  For more than two centuries we have stood for tolerance of other faiths, and American diplomats, members of Congress and presidents have consistently pressed other governments to respect and protect their minorities.  This resolution is in the finest tradition of advocacy for those whose voices have been silenced, and I am proud to be an original cosponsor and to join my colleagues, especially Mr. Royce and Mr. Berman, the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs committee – a friend who has been a leader on these issues throughout his years of service in the House.

“I urge a “yes” vote and yield back the balance of my time.”

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