Registering religious property: Mor Gabriel Monastery

In Midyat Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation v Türkiye [2023] ECHR 729 (in French), the applicant, a foundation (vakfı) established under Turkish law, was a religious institution and legal entity created during the Ottoman Empire which managed Saint Gabriel’s Monastery, built in the fourth century.

The issue before the Court was the domestic judicial authorities’ refusal to register land in the Foundation’s possession. Under Turkish law, the Foundation had been obliged to register its landholdings. It did so, but it had failed to mention several churches and cemeteries in the registration document that it submitted, including the property which was the subject of the present application and the cemetery which adjoined it. The Foundation claimed that it had owned those properties without having a title deed until 2006, with regard to plot 15, and until 2007, the date of the start of the establishment of a land register.

The Foundation asserted that plot 15 had been cleared during road-widening work, and that before the construction of stores in 2006 had been part of plot 19 – which was created during the establishment of a land register in 2007 – and the cemetery of the Syriac community. The successive operations had been an illegal takeover by the local administration of the cemetery’s property without it having been informed in advance and without authorisation having been requested. The national authorities’ refusal to grant the Foundation’s request to have plot 15 entered in the land register in its name had therefore violated its rights under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) and Article 9 (thought, conscience and religion).

The Government argued that plot 15 was not a cemetery: unlike the other plots, which had been returned to the Foundation, there was no grave or church on it. The Foundation’s claim to ownership was based on the rules of acquisitive prescription. Therefore, the Foundation did not possess it as “property” within the meaning of A1P1 and the complaint was incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention. It also claimed that domestic remedies had not been exhausted – which the Foundation disputed.

The Court held that the complaint was admissible. The domestic legal proceedings had not been in accordance with the required procedural guarantees and the general right of the Foundation to respect for its property under A1P1 had been infringed. There had therefore been a violation of A1P1. It was not necessary to examine the complaint separately under Article 9.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Registering religious property: Mor Gabriel Monastery" in Law & Religion UK, 12 October 2023,

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