Sunday, October 03, 2010

Can you open a church in Turkey?

Until amendments were made to the Zoning Law in 2003, it was highly debatable whether a place of worship other than a mosque could be opened or what the relevant practices and procedures to do this might be.

The relevant article of Zoning Law No. 3194 used to read as follows:

“In the development of zoning plans, the required places for mosques shall be designated, taking into account the conditions of the planned districts and regions and their future needs. Provided that the permission of the mufti is obtained and the zoning legislation is respected, mosques can be built in provinces, sub-provinces and towns. Places for mosques cannot be allocated for other purposes in violation of the zoning legislation.”

However, where it involves non-Muslims, what the law provides for, implementation takes away. This practice has been put to use in the case of regulations concerning places of worship. The zoning law amendment cited above has been rendered non-functional through the Implementation Guidelines.

Though the legal code permits it, for a variety of reasons, non-Muslims who want to open a place of worship face major obstacles. It is impossible for a church with a congregation of 30-40 persons to purchase a lot that is 2,500 meters squared and build a building on it. Further, the condition that permission be obtained from civilian authorities, because it does not include explicit criteria, is a regulation subject to arbitrary responses. In practice, municipalities have rejected requests that space be allocated and a multiplicity of bureaucratic obstructions have been encountered. Subsequent to the adoption of the amendments to the Zoning Law, dozens of applications have been submitted and denied; only a handful of applications have been successful. In theory it is possible for non-Muslims to have places of worship. In reality, this problem remains unsolved.

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