Returning Churches, Restoring Rights: An Interview with Aram Hamparian

The Armenian Weekly conducted an interview with Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), on H.Res.306, the Return of Churches Resolution, introduced on June 15. Below is the interview.

Aram Hamparian

A.W.: Alongside the Armenian Genocide Resolution, there was a new resolution recently introduced in the House of Representatives calling upon Turkey to respect the rights of Christians and to return their stolen churches. Can you tell us more about it?

A.H.: Well, to begin with, we’re very encouraged by the introduction H.Res.306—the Return of Churches resolution—by two of the most senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce and Howard Berman, and gratified by the broad, bipartisan support it has garnered.

This religious freedom measure was launched with several dozen original co-sponsors, including the co-chairs of the Human Rights, Hellenic, and Armenian Caucuses, and, notably, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A reading of the resolution’s text shows that it calls, very simply, upon the government of Turkey to honor its international obligations to return confiscated Christian church properties and fully respect the rights of all Christians, among them, of course, Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Pontians, and Arameans (Syriacs), who have lived for thousands of years in what is present-day Turkey.

This legislation speaks to us powerfully as Americans—committed, as we are, to the principle of religious liberty; as Christians—who seek for ourselves and all people the right to worship in freedom; and as Armenians—who are working for a truthful and just resolution of the Armenian Genocide that morally and materially makes whole the victim of this horrific crime. There’s no better place to start this long overdue process than with Turkey returning stolen churches.


A.W.: Why this resolution now?

A.H.: This measure is urgently needed to confront—and eventually reverse—the vast destruction visited upon religious sites during the Armenian Genocide as well as Turkey’s official and ongoing, post-genocide destruction of church properties, desecration of holy sites, discrimination against Christian communities, and denial of rights to Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Pontians, Arameans (Syriacs), and others.

It’s adoption would add the powerful voice of the U.S. Congress—and the full moral authority of the American people—to the international defense of religious freedom for the Christian nations residing within the borders of present-day Turkey.


A.W.: Can you briefly describe the communities and churches this legislation seeks to protect?

A.H.: Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Pontians, and Arameans (Syriacs) have long lived in what is present-day Turkey. Many thousands of years before the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, these nations gave birth to great civilizations and established a rich civic, religious, and cultural heritage. They were, upon these Biblical lands, among the first Christians, dating back to the time of the travels through Anatolia by the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Armenia, in 301 A.D., as is well known, became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion.

As students of religion worldwide know, the territory of present-day Turkey is home to many of the most important centers of early Christianity—most notably Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople. These lands contain a remarkably rich legacy of Christian heritage, including thousands of religious sites.

And, of course, the Armenian Genocide nearly wiped out these Christian nations.

It’s true. The Armenian Genocide of 1915 and, more broadly, Ottoman Turkey’s genocidal drive to eliminate its entire Christian population, represents a terrible watershed in the histories of the Christians of these lands, marking, as it does, a genocidal shift from the Turkish leadership’s ongoing policy of violence and oppression to one of an outright, systematic, intentional, and state-implemented campaign of race extermination.

And so, during the World War I-era, after centuries of growing intolerance and persecution, Ottoman Turkey perpetrated a government-sponsored campaign of genocide against its Armenian and other Christians subjects, resulting in the murder of over 2,000,000 Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Pontians, and Arameans (Syriacs), and the exile of hundreds of thousands others from their homelands of thousands of years.

The Republic of Turkey, heir to the Ottomans, continued these genocidal policies against the remaining Christian population, through ethnic-cleansing, organized massacres, destruction of churches and religious sites, illegal expropriation of properties, discriminatory policies, restrictions on worship, and other means. As a result only a small fraction of the vast Christian population that once populated Anatolia remains today in modern Turkey.


A.W.: What is the situation today of remaining Christians within Turkey?

A.H.: The endangered Christian communities within Turkey’s present-day borders, in addition to all the crimes visited upon them and their holy sites throughout their histories, continue, to this day, to endure oppressive restrictions imposed by the government of Turkey on their right to practice their faith in their historic places of worship. These endangered sites are, nearly all, still today in Turkish hands as a direct result of genocide.


A.W.: What does the U.S. government—Turkey’s ally—have to say about religious freedom in Turkey?

A.H.: The State Department, which often goes to great and frequently unreasonable lengths to excuse Turkey’s conduct, has criticized the persecution of Christians in Turkey, including the improper confiscation of their properties.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, established by Congress, recently designated Turkey as one of a handful of countries on its watch list for a third consecutive year.

All this reflects the sad reality faced by the remaining Christians in Turkey: They are, all too often, prevented from praying in their historic churches, which have been desecrated, sometimes used as storage sheds, and in some cases, even turned into barns. In very rare instances—such as the Akhtamar Church—Turkey has undertaken repairs, but refused to return religious properties to their rightful church owners, instead converting them into museums, where prayer, as a rule, is prohibited.


A.W.: Has Congress taken action on these types of religious freedom issues in the past?

A.H.: The United States, as a nation that was, quite literally, founded upon a belief in religious liberty, has a long and proud tradition of actively promoting and defending freedom of faith around the world. Our own Bill of Rights safeguards religious freedom for Americans, and our longstanding leadership in championing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants has helped protect freedom of faith across the globe. America’s enduring commitment to religious freedom was powerfully reaffirmed in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and has been underscored in countless pieces of specific legislation. Here are a few examples:

  • Just last year, the U.S. House passed H.Res.1631, which called for the protection of minority religious communities and places of worship in the illegally occupied portion of Cyprus.
  • S.Res.705, adopted by the U.S. Senate during the 110th Congress, reaffirmed U.S. support for the preservation of religious and cultural sites, and, in particular, called upon the government of Lithuania to halt and, if necessary, reverse the desecration of a Jewish cemetery located in the Snipiskes area of Vilnius.
  • H.Res.562, passed by the House during the 105th Congress, cited the confiscation of property by foreign governments as a means of victimizing minority populations, and, specifically, urged foreign governments to return wrongfully expropriated properties to religious communities.
  • H.Res.191, which was adopted by the U.S. House during the 109th Congress, called upon the government of Romania to provide fair, prompt, and equitable restitution to all religious communities for church properties that had been previously stolen by the government.
  • H.R.3096 from the 110th Congress, put the U.S. House on record pressing the government of Vietnam to respect freedom of religion and to return properties confiscated from churches.
  • H.Con.Res.371, passed by the House during the 110th Congress, called on foreign governments to return looted and confiscated properties to their rightful owners or, where restitution was not possible, to pay equitable compensation, in accordance with principles of justice and in an expeditious manner that is just, transparent, and fair.


A.W.: What type of opposition do you expect to this resolution?

A.H.: Sadly, if history is any guide, we can look to the Turkish government to stridently oppose this effort to end faith-based discrimination, promote religious tolerance, and secure the rightful return of Christian churches.

This bipartisan measure speaks openly and honestly about the real situation in Turkey today, which inevitably runs up against the many Ottoman and Kemalist myths about Turkey as a model of tolerance and pluralism. So, we’re likely to hear that this measure is unnecessary or even counter-productive given all the great strides that the Turkish government is supposedly making. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the Turkish Embassy trying to spin that its adoption would somehow upset the fragile Turkey-Armenia Protocols process.


A.W.: What can our readers do to help move this legislation forward?

A.H.: The quickest and easiest first step is for folks to send a free ANCA WebMail asking their U.S. Representatives to support the Return of Churches resolution (H.Res.306) and work for its adoption.

Another great way to help is to spread the word to friends, family, work colleagues, and people you know who attend churches, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship—basically anyone concerned about religious freedom and human rights. Send them the link, or just explain in your own words what this effort is all about.

There are so many ways to engage, from getting involved with your local ANCA chapter and visiting with your local legislators, to meeting with the editors of your community newspapers, volunteering for supportive candidates, and building coalitions with friendly groups.

There are as many ways to help as there are people who want to be helpful. If people need a hand, we’re here for you. Just send us an email, call, or post a note to our Facebook page.


  1. dear aram hamparian-
    i believe that the armenian communities in canada and the u.s. should work together on this very important issue.
    how can this be done.
    gerard paraghamian

  2. Where is the Government of Western Armenia?
    And who has the necessary human and financial resources to take possession,
    administer, renovate and ensure the functionality of these institutions.
    Resolution, recognition, even return of Confiscated Churches, could become
    meaningless if there is no trained cadre of strong willed, dedicated, and well
    provisioned people on the ground who are able to keep what is rightfully

    Look at your AGBU in the midst of an ongoing Greek Cypriot and Turkish
    Cypriot conflict they literally abandoned an Armenian Institution, and no one
    has guts to bring them to justice!


  3. The only people Mr.Hamparian speaks to are the same people he speaks for. Everyone knows this is all about revenge not justice, and that is not very moral at all. And finally, existentially speaking, Turkey is here to stay. Get used to it.

  4. Hello, “Secular Turk” who is speaking for himself…  And what IS moral: mass murdering innocent women, children, and the elders? Forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands indigenous people who lived on their native lands for millennia? Torturing, mutilating, burning and burying people alive? Raping girls in front of their fathers and families? Stealing other people’s hard-earned wealth, houses, pastures, properties, and bank accounts? Or denying all these genocidal crimes for decades and avoiding responsibility for them is moral? Or demanding justice for all these barbarian crimes is immoral?

  5. “Turkey is here to stay. Get used to it”, says a secular Turk. And since he is a Turk, I bet he never is or will be capable of asking himself: just how Turkey positioned itself “there to stay”? He would never look deeper and acknowledge that Turkey is there as a result of Seljuk nomadic intrusions into the area and Ottoman barbarians’ colonization and consequent annihilation of all native inhabitants of those lands. I’d be ashamed if my ancestors mass exterminated people and stole their cultural achievements and wealth. But “secular Turks” appear to take pride of their predecessors’ barbarism. That’s why they are called simply: Turks. Even without elaborating on the word, we know what it essentially means.

    • i can assure you are living in a different planet.turks aren’t ashamed of their nation.but even our voices aren’t allowed to be heard in this thiny paper unless it serves your benefit.this is the armenian american type of freedom of speech.of course you should carry on speaking about freedom of speech in turkey.then you say shut your mouth, end of the story. If this is the case i can only wish you a tough luck

  6. Good point Gerard. The Armenian community in Canada should also devise a similar Bill as H. Res 306. After all PM Harper has recognized the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian community helped secure his much coveted majority in parliament a few months ago. Its time to reciprocate with an easy want on behalf of the Canadian Armenian community.

  7. I think it is only fair that secilar Turk that started an interesting dialogue should defines a bit more elaborately his statement

    “Everyone knows this is all about revenge not justice, and that is not very moral at all.”

    Who is everbody??? The world, all Turks without exception or all Armenians without exception?

    Second the dialoguer should explain in his words what is Justice ?  Is it his justice? Is it American Justice? Is it Turkish or ottoman Justice? Is it the International Court of  Human rights Justice?

    When one is ready to really dialogue, they should first realize that Truth cannot be subjective but only Objective.

  8. Secular Turk,

    Why don’t you take look at yourself in the mirror?  If you see someone with asiatic features then you can claim as “Secular Turk”.  If you don’t then you should ask yourself how you came to be like that??  Could it be that one of your ancestors was raped during the Genocide?? 

    re.  Turkey is here to stay. 
    You seem a little worried about turkey not being around for long. 

  9.  I am appreciative with the ANCAs breath of activism. Many of you have commented on the importance of the return of our stolen church properties on this site as we witnessed the Akhtamar incident, the Turkish nationalists praying at Ani and the disgrace of the Elle walkway in the Holy Virgin Cathedral. This initiative has several benefits:

            1. It is a clear reminder of the failure of Turkey to live up to it’s obligations according to the Treaty of Lausanne.
            2. This failure is a post genocide, post Ottoman, “modern” Turkey responsibility.
            3. It is a pure example of the continuing cultural genocide of the Armenian
                historic rights in eastern Turkey
            4. It is another example to validate our rights in Western Armenia to the world, to
                the Turks and to the legal entitites
            5. It provides a valuable mechanism to keep our young generation connected in a 
                real way to the importance of our stolen property  and land in western Armenia
            6. It gives the Gencode reolution additional fuel with flank support on related issues by showing the disingenuous nature of Turkey.
            7. It is focused on returning our holy sites where Armenian Chrsitians can visit and pray in these sacred edices.

                    Let’s get behind this. 

  10. Zaven, today, all the world over, our diasporans need to connect as never before.
    Today.  Today, since a Turkey has divulged/shown their true nature to the world – their true nature of muslim Turks – for all the world to know, to recognize – their inhumanity to humans – all their continued efforts to erase all that was of the ancient and advanced sites of the  Armenian nation ongoing/unending.  Attempting to distract from the fact that they committed the Genocides, slaughterings, rapings, kidnappings, and more – too,  still lying to themselves, to their own students/citizens, and all the civilized nations – but their guilt speaks cannot be denied – even today, as  all the whitened bones of the slaughtered… unburied – still.

  11. Gerard, yes, our Armenian communities in Canada and the USA united… Too, are not all the diasporan Armenians not to be included – today – united, miaseen!!

  12. Stepan:   On the other hand, there’s a risk of being betrayed again by the US policymakers after we get behind this. This happened in many instances in the past, Pelosi’s reluctance to introduce the genocide bill being the most recent. The US needs such legislative processes in order to keep up pressure on Turkey, while giving Armenians nothing in the end. Why do we buy this so cheaply?

  13. Merhaba Secular Turk;

    No you are sorely wrong, Mr.Hamparian speaks for all people who want Human Rights and Freedom to express their religion or belief.

    I am sorry you don’t understand that the land that is now known as ROT Republic of Turkey est. 1923 was in fact a Christian country some 11 centuries before the arrival and subsequent invasion and destruction of the Mongolian Ottoman Turks from Central Asia.  Just take a peak at the ancient structures still left in ROT, whose hands built these?

    No one said Turkey was not “here to stay”  but our religious structures have the right to be maintained and owned by the people who built them.  Very sorry your country keeps this important part of history from you.  However, Pontus Greeks, Greeks, Alevis, Armenians, Assryians, Kurds, Yedzkis, etc., all have a right to our buildings and beliefs.

    What do you want to do, invade all our buildings change them to Mosques or museums like our great St. Hagia Sophia?  then continue changing the names like Constaniople to Istanbul?  You can keep denying, kept trying to change the names or history but the truth remains.

    Mr. Hamparian speaks for many secular Turks who don’t like their governmental controls over the indigenous people.   Get use to it.

    Hopefully this decision will turn Turkey’s reputation around in the eyes of the world and you may gain entry into the civilized world of the EU.  But till ROT can correct their numerous human rights violations it is unlikely Turkey or the good people of Turkey will gain respect from the educated world.

  14. to:  armenian4life
    well put my friend.  you deserve an answer from merhaba secular turk, but he is probably so illiterate that he would not know where to start.  i hear the schools in turkey are not so good thus explaining the ignorance of these weirdos.

  15. Gerard, schools in Turkey teach students to hate the Armenians ongoing… blaming Armenians as the murderers (whereas Turkeys involvement in WWI – which a Turkey was losing together with its allies – Turks were attacked by their WWI enemies – not the unarmed Armenians. Their youth, at the last  two April 24ths observances (in Washington DC) were absolutely wild.  This year Armenians, in mourning,  wore tapes across their mouths – gagged themselves.  Still, the Turks behaved as though they were at a joyous event as they shouted, danced to music, pointed vile fingers, truly pleased and enjoying themselves – Then welcomed back into their Embassy building – believing that they had made a great advance for a Turkey – in the capital city of the USA!!
    They must not realize stupidty of their acts, by their youth by their Embassy.
    Their inhumanity knows no ends… is still mentality of the Turk hordes of Asia.
    Imagine, in a Turkey they honor and revere the trio who planned and perpetrated the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation via slaughters, rapes, kidnappings and all the tortures that the Turk mentality could devised, such as, hammering horse’s hooves into the soles of the feet of the victims,, raping the Armenian women before all their families – then slaughtered them – Turkish style.

  16. @Secular Turks
    Forget the label of “sick man of Europe”? It was labeled to your people for a reason. Also, its just a matter of time before the US also calls it a genocide which means COMPENSATION…. You know for all the theft that your people are good at needs to be accounted for. Your Zionist masters can’t protect you for ever.

  17. john and manooshag-  yes someone on this blog explained that the turks of today are OK !  when i went to turkey a few years ago,  i saw a people that always seem to be upset or mad at somthing,  their eyes were dark.  i went to see the people that murdered my great granparents.
    we are gettig closer and closer.
       john- right on, but we still need obama, he does not seem to hold much importance on promises.  we should spend a lot of time on the legal side.  that usually works well .


  18. It is rare that Turkish authorities spend money on renovation of the monuments that belong to the  indigenous people of the land, but when the issue is related in preserving the Ottoman era relics, Turkish government can dump Billions of Dollars to keep them alive.
    This is a short list of renovated and restored buildings:
    Mostar Bridge Restoration (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
    Belgrade Sheikh Mustafa Tomb (Serbia)
    Prizren Sinan Pasha Mosque (Kosovo)
    Parruce Mosque (Albania)
    Osmanbasiç Mosque (Montenegro)
    Mustafa Pasha Mosque (Macedonia)
    Budapest Gül Baba Tomb (Hungary)
    Razgrad Makbul İbrahim Pasha (Bulgaria)
    Hafeez Ahmed Pasha Library (Greece)
    Haji Giray Khan Tomb (Ukraine)
    Sarı Saltuk Tomb (Romania)
    Damascus Süleymaniye Complex (Syria)
    Eastern Tripoli Mawlawi Shrine (Lebanon)
    Al-Aqsa Springs (Palestine)
    Ottoman works (Sudan)
    Ottoman Ghar al Melh Castle (Tunisia)

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