Can Dündar case is a new episode of Turkey's tradition of violating property rights

A local court has ruled that exiled journalist Can Dündar’s assets could be seized unless he returns to Turkey, again placing the issue of property rights at the top of the agenda in the country.

Since the declaration of the state of emergency after the failed coup attempt in July 2016, the property and wealth confiscated from alleged members of the Gülen movement has been to the tune of billions of dollars.

This is not the first time the Turkish state has launched a systematic seizure of assets from its citizens. Historic examples include the takeover of property during the Armenian genocide, the 1934 pogroms against the Jewish community in Thrace, and the looting of Istanbul’s Greek quarters on Sept. 6 and 7, 1955.

A new report by the Platform for Peace and Justice paints a picture of the scale of the phenomenon in recent years. In The Erosion of Property Rights in Turkey, authors Ali Yıldız and Leighann Spencer estimate the total value of assets confiscated, seized or frozen since 2015 to be more than $32 billion.

The right to property is not typically guaranteed in all circumstances. But by not providing compensation, Yıldız and Spencer say, Turkey is in breach of both its own constitution and international law. Similarly, by permanently enshrining in law the emergency powers used to seize property, Turkey is in contravention of the principal of proportionality central to Human Rights law, the authors say.

The 37-page report details the following assets:

Associations:

A total of 1,419 associations have been closed under emergency decrees, 1,326 on the grounds of links to the Gülen movement, and another 93 for affiliations to Kurdish or leftist movements. However, there are as yet no reliable estimates of their value.

Foundations

Emergency decrees have shut down 145 foundations, and their assets have been transferred to the General Directorate of Foundations (VGM). According to the Turkish Grand National Assembly’s 15 July Coup Attempt report, 123 of these foundations had assets worth 2.3 billion liras ($826 million).

Cash assets:

According Finance Minister Naci Ağbal in May 2016, cash amounting to 472 million liras ($163.5 million) held by legal entities that were shut down with state of emergency decrees has been transferred to the Finance Ministry.

Private schools:

The Turkish Finance Ministry received ownership of assets for 1,060 schools with 138,000 students that were closed by emergency decress. According to announcements by the Public Procurement Agency, the construction of a school with 24 classrooms is tendered for an average of 7.5 million liras, which would put the estimated value of the confiscated assets at 7.95 billion liras ($2.76 billion).

Student dormitories:

Finance Ministry was transferred assets of 841 dormitories with a capacity of 86,397 students that were shut down by state of emergency decrees. According to announcements by the Public Procurement Agency, the construction of a dormitory with a capacity of 1,000 students is tendered for a minimum of 27 million liras, bringing the estimated minimum value of said assets to 2.3 billion liras ($806 million).

Media Institutions:

In the media, 151 organizations including 34 televisions, 38 radios, 73 newspapers and magazines, and 6 news agencies were shut down by emergency decrees and their assets were transferred to the Finance Ministry. The value of İpek Media Group, consisting of two televisions, two newspapers and one radio station, was calculated as $250 million in December 2015. Considering that Doğan Medya, consisting of three newspapers, one news website, two television channels and one news agency, was sold for $1.1 billion in March 2018, it is estimated that the value of these 151 media outlets could not be less than $1 billion.

Hospitals and healthcare institutions:

Forty seven hospitals, health centres and polyclinics were shut down and their assets were transferred to the Finance Ministry by emergency decrees. Nine of these institutions have a bed capacity of 2,052. According to the 2016 announcement of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, 21 of these institutions have an annual turnover of 400 million liras. The value of said 47 health institutions was therefore estimated at $1.29 billion.

Private companies:

According to the information note sent by the Ministry of Customs and Trade to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, in addition to the 998 companies transferred to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey (TMSF) by emergency decree, 1,075 companies were completely shut down and their assets transferred to the Finance Ministry. While the value of the companies transferred to the TMSF was announced as 58.94 billion lira ($20.4 billion), there is no reliable information for the value of the 1,075 companies whose assets were transferred to the Finance Ministry.

Real Estate:

A total of 2,214 estates were transferred to the VGM, according to a statement by Minister of Finance Naci Ağbal, while 4,351 estates (3,361 of which were buildings) were transferred to the Finance Ministry. These buildings, according to the same statement, have an area of ​​7.2 million square meters. Considering the minimum cost circular of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation, the construction cost of these buildings is estimated to be 6.73 billion liras ($2.23 billion).

Universities:

Fifteen universities and their 7 hospitals were closed by emergency decrees and their assets were transferred to the Finance Ministry. There is no public information on the value of these universities that had 64,533 students and employed 2,808 academics. However, an estimated value of 8 of these institutions was at least $1.5 billion dollars as of 23 July 2016.