The Turkish government announced it will return property confiscated from Jews and Christians over the past seven decades.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday told the leaders of 150 Jewish and Christian foundations of the government order during a Ramadan break-fast dinner, according to reports. The trusts will be compensated for property that has been sold. The order, opposed by nationalist groups in the Turkish Parliament, is being seen as part of an attempt to endear Turkey to the European Union, which Turkey wants to join.
Most of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were taken over by the Turkish government after the 1936 Law on Foundations, which required the trusts to list their assets, according to The New York Times.
“Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to his religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over,” Erdogan reportedly told the leaders according to the Anatolian News Agency.
There are about 23,000 Jews in Turkey, which has a population of about 70 million.
The foundations have 12 months to apply to the government to regain their property, according to Today’s Zaman, a Turkish daily.
“Holocaust survivors welcome Turkey’s announcement on the properties of religious minorities and now call on the Turkish authorities to return hundreds of millions of dollars of stolen property—particularly gold—hidden by the Nazis there during World War II,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement.
Steinberg cited a report issued by the U.S. State Department in 1997 that found that more than 14 tons of gold looted by the Nazis from Europe was acquired by Turkey, now worth more than $1 billion.
“It is time for Turkey to come clean. If it wishes to enter the family of European nations, it should take the moral position adopted by the other European states and return to the victims—Jew and non-Jew—the properties stolen by the criminal Nazi regime,” Steinberg said.