H. Clinton promises to continue to remain vigilant to the Christian religious heritage situation in Turkey

US Congressman Rep. Berman asked some questions to the US State Secretary Hilary Clinton and the latter answered to them in a written form.

As Asbarez.com informs quoting to ANCA State Secretary Clinton offered in her responses to inordinate and undeserved praise forTurkeyfor taking “concrete steps” to return a tiny fraction of stolen religious properties, but did commit to continuing to both pressAnkarato return additional properties confiscated from minority religious communities to their rightful owners.

Here is the complete text of the questions and answers.

Rep. Berman:On December 13, 2011, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling onTurkeyto return confiscated Christian churches and properties (H. Res. 306).  The resolution calls on the Secretary of State “in all official contacts with Turkish leaders and other Turkish officials . . .  [to] emphasize that Turkey should (1) end all forms of religious discrimination . . .(2) allow the rightful church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to organize and administer prayer services . .  . (3) return to their rightful owners all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties.”  Are you satisfied thatTurkeyis committed to returning confiscated Christian churches and fully respecting the Armenian and other Christian populations that have lived on these lands since biblical times?

H. Clinton: While I recognize religious minority groups continue to face concerning challenges inTurkey, I am encouraged by concrete steps the Government of Turkey has taken over the past year to return properties to religious communities.

In August 2011 the government issued a decree allowing religious minorities to apply to reclaim churches, synagogues, and other properties confiscated 75 years ago.  Several properties have already been returned to the 24 religious minority foundations that have applied thus far.  Separately, in November 2010, the government ofTurkeyreturned the Buyukada orphanage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in line with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

Turkish officials at the most senior levels have told me they are committed to reopening the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Halki Seminary in the near future.  In March, Deputy PM Bekir Bozdag stated, “There are no laws inTurkeyagainst opening a seminary to train Christian clerics; the state will also support such a move.”

The government is redrafting its 1982 military-drafted constitution to fully embrace individual rights, including those of religious and ethnic minorities.  Significantly, Parliament speaker Cemil Cicek reached out to Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian and Syriac leaders during this process.  In response, on February 20, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the Turkish Parliament for the first time in the history of the republic, noting the positive changes taking place inTurkey:  “Unfortunately, there have been injustices toward minorities until now.  These are slowly being corrected and changed.  A newTurkeyis being born.”

These steps are encouraging and we are urging the Government of Turkey to continue returning other properties confiscated from minority religious communities to their rightful owners, as well as moving forward with needed legal reforms in its Constitutional redrafting process.  We will continue to remain vigilant of the situation for religious communities and encourage needed reforms in the country.

Rep. Berman:There have been increasing ceasefire violations in Nagorno-Karabakh, with the most recent resulting in the death of an Armenian soldier.Azerbaijan’s President has repeatedly stated that only the first stage of war is over.  In January of this year, President Aliyev said, “It’s not a frozen conflict, and it’s not going to be one.”  The three Minsk Group Co-Chairs have all called the pulling back of snipers as a crucial step for decreasing tensions.  It has been at least a year since bothArmeniaand Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to this proposal, butAzerbaijanhas not.  What steps is the Administration taking to encourageAzerbaijan’s acceptance of this important proposal to prevent war from resuming in this vital area forU.S.interests?

H. Clinton:As a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, theUnited Statesremains deeply committed to helping the sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict reach a lasting and peaceful settlement.  TheU.S.has emphasized that the parties should show restraint in both their public statements and on the ground to avoid misunderstandings and unintended consequences.  We reiterate at every opportunity that there is no military solution to the conflict and that only a peaceful settlement will lead to security, stability, and reconciliation in the region.  We regret any loss of life and continue to call upon the sides to take steps – including the withdrawal of snipers – to improve the atmosphere for negotiations, prevent unnecessary casualties, and strengthen implementation of the ceasefire.

Rep. Berman:Can you give us an update on progress the Administration has made in expanding U.S.-Armenia trade and investment in recent years?

H. Clinton: TheUnited Statesremains committed to expanding our economic relations withArmenia.  The principle vehicle for addressing issues of trade and investment withArmeniais the U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Taskforce (USATF). Established in 1999, the USATF meets annually to deepen economic ties betweenArmeniaand theUnited States, advance market reforms inArmenia, and discuss opportunities forU.S.assistance to contribute toArmenia’s long-term economic development.  The task force is an open forum to discuss issues of concern and interest to both countries.

The most recent USATF was held in late September 2011 and focused on promoting trade and investment, protecting intellectual property rights, and enhancing the business climate inArmenia.

TheUnited Statescontinues to seek avenues, through our assistance programming, to promote greater linkages between American and Armenian private sector firms with the goal of increasing the volume of bilateral trade and investment.  For example, in the coming months the U.S. will sponsor a “Reverse Trade Mission” to the United States for up to 10 Armenian businesspeople from the information technology sector.  This mission will provide Armenian entrepreneurs a chance to explore opportunities to buy American products, sell Armenian products, and build mutually beneficial relationships with U.S.counterparts.

Armeniarecently completed its five-year compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).  That program, with its focus on the agricultural sector, laid the groundwork for increasing agricultural exports and greater private sector investment in the sector, and will have a significant long-term impact on trade.

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