U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined with Senators Scott Brown (R-MA), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) to introduce the Return of the Churches Resolution, which calls on the Government of Turkey to return all churches and places of worship to their rightful owners and end all forms of religious discrimination.
"Freedom of religion is one of our most cherished values," said Senator Feinstein. "This resolution is a simple but clear statement of support for Christian communities in Turkey who should be able to practice their faith freely."
"Religious liberty is a core value of our democracy and I believe we should stand for the rights of people of faith around the world," said Senator Brown. "I am proud to lead this effort to speak out for those who are suffering discrimination in Turkey."
"This resolution sends an unequivocal message to the Government of Turkey that it must respect the rights of its Christian minority and reaffirms America's commitment to religious freedom around the world," said a spokesperson for Senator Kirk.
"I join with Armenian Americans from across the Commonwealth in sharing our gratitude with Senator Brown for his leadership, along with Senator Feinstein, in championing religious liberty and the return by Turkey of stolen Christian church properties," said George Aghjayan, a Westminster, Massachusetts, resident who serves as Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, Eastern United States. "In introducing the Return of Churches resolution in the Senate, they are building on the overwhelming bipartisan adoption of this freedom of faith measure by the House, and increasing pressure on the Administration to reaffirm--in both words and concrete actions--our nation's fundamental commitment to the return of religious sites to their rightful owners. We look forward to working with Senator Brown and his colleagues in support of the timely adoption of this resolution."
Specifically, the Return of the Churches Resolution calls on the U.S. Secretary of State to emphasize in all official contacts that the Government of Turkey should end all forms of religious discrimination, return all Christian churches and other places of worship to their rightful owners, and allow owners of Christian churches to preserve, reconstruct, and repair churches and other places of worship as they see fit.
According to the Congressional Research Service, between "1915 and the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923, the Ottoman Empire adopted a policy during World War I to deport most of its Armenian population from Anatolia The abandoned properties of the Armenians--including those belonging to Armenian Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches--were largely confiscated by the state and either retained or redistributed to its Muslim inhabitants."
Turkey remains on the 2011 "Watch List" of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF stated in its 2011 report that "the Turkish government continues to impose significant restrictions on [religious minorities'] rights to own, maintain, and transfer both communal and individual property, and to control internal governance, and to train religious clergy. These kinds of restrictions have led to a critical shrinkage of these communities, and in many cases, make it impossible for these religious institutions to chart a sustainable and vibrant future for themselves."
The Return of the Churches Resolution passed the House of Representatives in late 2011 by voice vote and with broad bipartisan support.