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Turkish minorities back constitutional change

Turkish minorities back constitutional change
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Turkey goes to the polls on Sunday in a vote that will not only provide the country with a new government, but also a new constitution.

Turkey is a country of some 74 million, 94 per cent of them Muslims, the rest are Turks of Jewish and Syrian origin, as well as a small Greek community.

The largest minority grouping is the Turkish-Armenian community with a population of about 60,000 mostly living in and around Istanbul.

The prospect of a new constitution based on social justice and human rights and religious freedom is backed by the majority of these ‘minority groups’.

The current constitution, forged in 1982 following the 1980 military coup, reinforces state and military authority and restricts individual rights and freedoms, it is a situation that needs to change according to Robert Koptaş, Editor of AGOS, the biggest selling Armenian newspaper in Turkey:

“When you examine the situation you see an improvement in government rhetoric. The government claims eveyone is equal before the law Muslims and non-Muslims. Some improvements have been made on minority groups rights to property ownership, which was a huge problem for us, it was a pretext to take the assets of non-Muslim organisations.”

The Jewish community agree things are changing for the better. Silvio Ovadya, a former leader of the Jewish community, said:

“Within the new articles in the law religious minorities have been handed new rights. For the first time in 50 or 60 years a new synagogue has opened.”

For the small Turkish Greek Orthodox community the reopening of the Halki seminary is key to improving relations between the community and the majority and has been the subject of accession negotiations between Brussels and Ankara.

The religious institution was closed by the Turkish government in 1971 and been the subject of a campaign to reopen it for the past 40 years.

Bora Bayraktar, our correspondent in Istanbul for euronews said: “ The question of minorities remains an important issue for Turkish accession to the EU. Progress has been made in recent years but for the Greek Orthodox minority the reopening of the seminary is pressing, and Turkey looks set to agree.”