20 May 2013
Below is the summary and conclusion of the study “Laws and decrees passed by the succeeding Turkish governments on the Armenian (“abandoned”) properties” prepared by the National Congress of Western Armenians (NCWA). It will be one of the documents that will be discussed at the Congress scheduled for March 28 and 29, 2015 in Paris. Claims and demands of descendants of Ottoman Armenians from Turkey will be formulated at this prestigious meeting prior to the Centenary of the Genocide. Scholars, lawyers, activists, intellectuals at large, representatives of the media, organizations and government(s) will be present. It is open to the public. Interested individuals and organizations can attend and participate in the deliberations with advance notice to NCWA. For further information and registration contact the organization via their website.
- 1915 the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) adopted laws that legalized the liquidation of Armenian properties and foresaw the settlement of migrants from the Balkans and Caucasus on these properties.
- After World War I the new government which was established by Ahmet İzzet Pasha in October 1918 and then by Tevfik Pasha in November 1918 attempted to compensate the Armenians for the damages suffered, rejecting and reversing previous CUP laws.
- In contrast, the Ankara government, which ruled most of Anatolia from 1919 on, abolished the laws of the Istanbul government and reinstated the CUP laws. With the establishment of the Turkish Republic, all Armenian properties became the possession of the treasury. The Kemalists did not allow Armenian refugees to return to their homes and reclaim their property.
Before we turn to a close analysis of these laws, it is necessary to clarify the terms concerning Armenian properties.
- The term ‘Abandoned Properties’ (emvâl-I metruke) is used in Ottoman legislation, but there is no specific definition about who abandoned these properties. The state applied the laws about abandoned properties to all people including Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarian, Jews and Syriacs. However, in the legislation, there was a separation in the execution of the laws.
- ‘Deserters and missing people’ (fi rari ve mütegayyib kişiler) referred specifically to Armenians and not the others and the laws on abandoned properties were applied to Armenians only. (Ali Rıza Duzceer, Kazandırıcı Zamanaşımıyla Taşınmaz İktisabı (Ankara: Yetkin Hukuk, 1994), p. 96.) In other words, Greeks, Bulgarians, Jews and Syriacs were not considered ‘deserters’ or ‘missing’ and the laws about abandoned properties would not be applied to their properties. Their conditions were defined by different categories and applied according to different laws. For instance, the laws about Greek migrants (mübadil) who migrated according to the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey were referred to as ‘property transfer laws’(temlik kanunları).
Despite the fact that this separation can be correct from a legal terminology point of view, the government did not use this separation regarding the liquidation of the properties. Indeed, the properties of Greek migrants were managed according to the specific treaties and contracts between Greece and Turkey. During the Republican period, in some cases, Greeks and Bulgarians were considered in the category of deserted and missing people after all, and decisions were taken accordingly. In other words, in a practical sense, all properties left behind by Armenians, Greeks or other groups were managed according to the legislation on ‘abandoned properties’.
The legal management of Armenian property began immediately after the decision of deportation, with secret regulations. The CUP government legalized the application of rules of the regulation with the help of external factors. Each period had its own conditions and these conditions affected the contents of the laws. From the beginning of the deportation, the CUP aimed to liquidate the Armenian properties. Some articles of laws were composed of granting the return of properties to original owners, whereas other articles did not allow to the return of these properties. The settlement of migrants from the Balkans and Caucasus on abandoned property was also managed by the laws. In addition, the return of Armenians after the war was not permitted. This demonstrates that the CUP never aimed to return these properties. The ‘laws’ only aimed to legalize the liquidations.
After the war the Istanbul government arranged for regulations and laws to protect the rights of deported people and solve their problems, including their properties. However, with the resurrection of the CUP in Ankara, two clashing powers dominated Turkey and their decisions diff ered. Moreover, the Ankara government abolished the regulations and laws of the Istanbul government and re-adopted the laws they had launched themselves in 1915. After the success of the national movement and establishment of the Republic, the Kemalists became the sole power and could freely adopt laws about abandoned properties. Although the Lausanne Treaty included some restrictions on the adaptation of laws relating to minorities, the new republic solved these restrictions by issuing special regulations. After 1925 the Kemalists began to consolidate their power into a single-party dictatorship. The Grand National Assembly easily adopted the laws. In the case of abandoned properties, the liquidated properties were registered as income in the national budget, and migrants or nomads who were settled on abandoned properties were allowed to take the title deeds for these properties.
The laws of abandoned properties were only abolished on 11 June 1986. This means that these laws had stayed in effect for 73 years.The Turkish Republic continued to liquidate the abandoned properties in this period. However, the abolishment of the law did not mean that the liquidation stopped. The ‘General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre’ (Tapu ve Kadastro Genel Müdürlüğü) published a circular order about the abandoned properties on 29 June 2001.
According to this order, all abandoned properties would be transferred to the state and it was made impossible to give any title deed, information or document to anyone. This indicates that Armenian property had ultimately been transferred to the state and the real owners or their heirs cannot claim any rights to their properties, whether according to international law or Turkish law.
In May 1927 a governmental law authorized the exclusion of Turkish nationality to anyone who had not taken part in the War of Independence and had remained abroad between 24 July 1923 and 27 May 1927. This essentially sealed the fate of Armenian claims for confiscated property. Protests to the League of Nations by the Central Committee for Armenian Refugees from 1925 to 1928 were never acted on and were rejected by Turkey. The interests of the Allied Powers were no longer with Armenia, already Sovietized by that time. Diasporan Armenians and their supporters represented little more than a moral force easily ignored, and Armenian property claims were forgotten along with the Armenians. In 1929, a group of international legal scholars became engaged with Armenians’ claims for restitution, lodged at the League of Nations for adjudication. The scholars discussed complex legal questions regarding the abandoned properties commission. But despite all correspondence by Mandelstam, Pachalian and Drummond, international law failed in this period to bring about justice. There was no restitution, no redress and no compensation. The Young Turk hawk Tevfik Rüşdü Aras was inexorable in his answers: he reported that the government considered the affair définitivement liquidée, rejected the legal arguments of Pachalian and politely thanked the gentlemen for their letters.