Monday, September 04, 2006


In the 2001 movie "The Man who sued God," Billy Connolly plays an ex-lawyer who sues God because his boat is struck by lightning, and his insurance company claims it to be an act of God. By claiming to be God's representatives on earth, the Christian church is held to be the liable party, putting them in the difficult position of either having to pay out large sums of money, or proving that God does not exist.
While the concept of putting God on trial is not new and indeed the Old Testament Book of Job can and has been interpreted as such a trial, a situation such as that envisaged by "The Man who sued God" seems farcical and though entertaining, apparently so far removed from reality as to render any discussion as to its plausibility ridiculous.
Or so it would seem. Yet it is a little known fact that the justice system of some States has permitted the summons of certain deities to court, especially ones that are not held in high esteem by the State itself. In particular, in 1959, the National Real Estate Directory of Turkey, Milli Ermak made orders against the personages of Jesus Christ, his mother Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, when they did not respond to a summons or show up in Court. This all sounds like a sick joke but it is not.
Readers will recall that the fifities were an extremely difficult time for the Greeks of Turkey. According to new evidence recently published in Spyros Vrionis' excellent book: "The Mechanism of Catastrophe," the British government, in an attempt to thwart the Cypriots' campign for decolonization and enosis with Greece, 'encouraged' an initially reluctant Turkey to make rival claims to the island and also 'suggested' that a few domestic disturbances against the native Greek minority of Turkey would also be of assistance.
The results of such suggestions culminated in the September 1955 pogrom against the Greek community of Constantinople, which we commemorate this month. This unspeakable act of ethnic cleansing led to the detruction of its property, heinous crimes of violence committed against its members and its decimation and terminal decline from a few hundred thousand in the fities to less than two thousand today. Given that this terrible crime seems to have been sanctioned by at least one world power, international outcry was muted, permitting the Turkish government of the time, led by Adnan Menderes, who was later hanged for his efforts, to proceed to greater depravities and humiliations against Turkey's Christian minorities. One of these, was the confiscation of their community property and it is within this context that it that the extraordinary trial of Jesus, Mary and various siants took place.
According to a recent report by the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah, on 11 November 1959, through the Istanbul police, the Turkish Court issued a summons for Mariam Bind Ovahim (Mary, daughter of Joachim) to appear in Court. Police reported (in all seriousness) that the said Mariam could not be located. On 8 January 1960, the Court entered summary judgment against her in her absence. Quoth the august judge: "Since Mariam Bind Ovahim is nowhere to be found, her property will revert to the state."
This groundbreaking advance of jurisprudence that permits jurisdictions to extend their sway to the heavely realms in what would have been considered 'heaven' (pardon the pun) to the Soviet, athiest Bezbozhnik journalists and lawyers alike, had interesting consequences. Large properties in Constantinople belonging to the said Mariam Bind Ovahim were confiscated without delay. Subsequently, the National Real Estate Directorate brought lawsuits against 80 different holy persons (all venerated exclusively by Christians) who also had the temerity, owing to their translation to heavenly abodes, not to appear in the court to plead their case. In this manner, approximately 300 different properties were confiscated, the total value of these amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars by today's property values. Milli Ermak then applied itself to the confiscation of similar properties in regions where significant Christian minorities remained, such as in the Tur Abdin and Mardin, the preserve of the Syriac community.
Confronted by such an outstanding example of the flexibility of jurisdiction, it is quite possible to miss an equally exciting development in property law - the recognition of title to land for supernatural beings. It is perhaps a triumph of the capitalist system that Turkey was so eager to enforce during the Cold War in order to secure American aid, that the major supernatural beings of the Christian world are permitted to be wealthy landholders and in what can be only considered as divine condescension on their part, submit to the payment of human taxes. A farce unsurpassed even by the most caustic of moral fables of Nasreddin Hodja? Sadly not.
Pursuant to a 1913 decree promulgated by the Neo-Turk triumvirate, which also oversaw the genocide of the Christians of Asia Minor, Christian religious foundations were compelled to register their property under the names of Biblical personages such as for example, the Jesus Foundation, the Mary Foundation, the Angel Gabriel Foundation, and other similar titles. In 1936 authorities demanded that Christians should register their property again but Christian foundations were forbidden from owning any property. During the court proceedings instituted by the state in order to confiscate these properties, their Biblical 'owners' were treated as ordinary human citizens. When they did not show up to Court to assert their property rights, the government confiscated their estates. Such confiscations also took place during 1956-1960, 1975-1979 and also 1982-1991.
When hapless Church leaders went to the court to claim properties confiscated or occupied by the Turkish authorities they were told that only the people under whose name the properties were registered could qualify to do so. They were asked questions such as: "Where is Jesus, and the Virgin Mary the true owners of these estates? Do they have descendants who could be treated as beneficiaries?" Possibly, if Dan Brown is to be believed. But even if he is not, a sequel to the Da Vinci Code where a state conspiracy exists to steal the properties belonging to Jesus' bloodline, would not be so far fetched as it sounds, that is of course, if we accept the premise that Jesus Christ bin Allah was a Turkish citizen. If he was an inhabitant of Victoria, his land tax liability would have been crippling and the confiscation of his properties, a godsend.
The discriminatory treatment of minority property is still practised today in a country poised to enter the European Union. The arbitrary confiscation of ecclesiastical foundations continues unabated and this occurs owing to the fact that despite the native Christian population of Turkey, preceding its Turkic compatriots by over a thousand years, its ecclesiastical foundations are considered as foreign and thus subject to strict controls and discriminatory tax laws that negate any right to free enjoyment of any properties that these may hold. As minority law expert Kezban Hatemi stated recently at a conference in Turkey: "A foreigner is a person who is not a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. Foundations of congregations are foundations set up by people who are citizens of the Republic of Turkey coming together. This classification shows non-Muslim citizens of the Republic of Turkey as if they were foreigners. This mentality is the obstacle to democracy".
Dr Baskin Oran, professor of Political Sciences at Ankara University has rightly pointed out that the guiding ideology of the Turkish State and how it defines its citizens is the font of such discriminatory practices: "[The concept of] Turk signifies an ethnic group, not a nation. When this is the case we continuously come across things like this. This way, the non-Muslims are formally being left out of the concept of citizenship. This leads not to being a non-Muslim but to being a non-citizen."
Interestingly enough, it appears that God has not sat by with his arms folded while his family has had its demesne denuded by employees of a rival franchisor. Residents of Buyukdere recently went to the press complaining about the property they were given by the state, which had previously belonged to Christian foundations, after their ethnic cleansing in 1915. The villagers are under the impression that the property and the buildings are cursed. The authorities have turned a church into a school, which is impossible to heat in the winter and cool in the summer and villagers are very unhappy about it. This correlates with anecdotal evidence I collected in Turkey from older citizens to the effect that fruit and vegetables lack the succulence they once had after the expulsion of the Christians.
Divine wrath visited upon horticulture perhaps? In a world where God can be sued and His Son made into a feudal land seigneur, anything is possible. We leave you now with a quote from the Parable of the Landowner, spoken by the Arch-taxpayer himself: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 'Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."

First published in NKEE on 4 September 2006