Sassounian: Turkey Returned Some Church Effects after Genocide, and We Demand the Rest

This is the amazing tale of the Turkish government, in the 1920’s, handing over to Istanbul’s Armenian Patriarchate some of the church effects looted during the genocide.

According to attorney Loutfig Kouyoumjian’s book, Hay Hamankayin Antsoutartser: 1927-1950 [Armenian Community Happenings: 1927-1950], published in Istanbul in 1950, the Turkish government had turned over to the Armenian Patriarchate 64 large crates full of church effects. Kouyoumjian was a member of the Patriarchate’s Finance Committee.

The returned items included crowns inlaid with diamonds and pearls; vestments; garments with gold threads and silver crosses; a belt buckle from the famous Abousheikh Church with golden latches decorated by diamonds, emeralds, and rubies; 72 rugs belonging to Sourp Garabed Monastery and Sourp Krikor Lousavorich Church of Gesaria, and churches in Talas and other regions; and a gold box covered with precious stones containing several saints’ relics. Another crate contained the vestments of Gomidas Vartabed, his gold fountain pen, and valuable manuscripts of his musical arrangements of church liturgy. The Locum Tenens Archbishop Kevork Arslanian signed a receipt acknowledging his acceptance of these items and appointed Archpriest Drtad Boyajian as their guardian.

The list of the returned items prepared by the patriarchate included “scrolls, manuscripts, and antique books. In keeping with the laws on antiquities, the books were delivered to the Istanbul Museum.”

What happened to the returned church effects? Our investigation indicates that none of these items are currently in the custody of the Armenian Patriarchate. A few of them were handed to Armenian clergymen of Istanbul, while others were sent to Etchmiadzin in Armenia. The overwhelming majority simply vanished several decades ago, most probably stolen and sold.

Kouyoumjian reported in his book that in the late 1920’s, Judge Haroutioun Mosdichian, chairman of the Patriarchate’s Executive Committee, informed the Finance Committee that he had solid evidence that several of the returned silver pieces were sold at the Istanbul jewelry market. Mosdichian was a highly respected individual who had occupied important positions in the Turkish government. The Finance Committee immediately sealed the room where the returned items were stored. The next day, Archbishop Arslanian broke the seal and left the door of the storage room open. The archbishop then dismissed the committee members.

A special investigative committee, which included Kouyoumjian, then conducted a thorough search and transmitted its findings to the Executive Committee. The latter blamed not only Mosdichian but also Archbishop Arslanian of wrongdoing regarding the returned church effects. Arslanian, in turn, accused Patriarch Mesrob Naroyan of being responsible for the missing items. After Patriarch Naroyan formed a committee to update the list of the remaining church effects, he discovered that almost nothing was left of the contents of the 64 crates delivered earlier to the patriarchate.

In his book, Kouyoumjian relates another strange tale regarding the rugs delivered to the patriarchate by the Turkish government. On March 8, 1924, two Turks—Haje Ismail, the son of Molla Khalil of Gesaria, and Mehmet of Talas—presented a written demand to Arslanian, claiming that nine of the rugs had nothing to do with the Armenian Church and must be returned to them. When the patriarchate rejected their request, the Turks filed a lawsuit against Arslanian, claiming that the nine rugs were worth 1,975 Ottoman gold pieces.

On June 26, 1924, attorney Kouyoumjian defended the patriarchate’s interests in court. Strangely, the patriarchate agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying 500 gold pieces to the two Turks. Several years later, when Kouyoumjian inquired about the disposition of those rugs, he was told that there were no such rugs at the patriarchate.

In light of this newly found reference to the Turkish government’s return of church effects, the Armenian Patriarchate must now conduct a thorough investigation of its archives to review its records of the missing items.

More importantly, by having returned the 64 crates, the Turkish government had, in effect, admitted the theft of Armenian Church properties during the genocide. A lawsuit must be filed not only against the Istanbul Museum for the antique books it improperly received in the 1920’s, but also against museums and libraries throughout Turkey for the return to the Armenian Patriarchate of the vast number of religious effects looted from several thousand Armenian churches!

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Shame on our clergy! Another title could have been “How the Armenian clergy robs its own people!”. Then they wonder why the younger generation has lost faith. Shame!

  2. I am not worried by the fact that, (may be/probably) our clergy had robbed church valuable effects.I could not help questionning myself about this statement :”the Turkish government had turned over to the Armenian Patriarchate 64 large crates full of church effects” This is quite perplexing. Turkish government had no scrupule to massacre 1.5million armenians, but conscientiously/with great care had turned over 64 large crates full of church effects to the Armenian Patriarchate. This point does not raise a question among you all? Your answer will be highly appreciated.

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