On Tues. April 28, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia filed a lawsuit in the Turkish Constitutional Court to regain ownership of the historic headquarters of the Church, which includes the Catholicosate, the monastery, and cathedral of St. Sophia, a major Armenian Christian holy site located in Sis (currently Kozan), in south-central Turkey. This site was confiscated by the Turkish Government following the genocide of 1915 in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed or deported by the Ottoman Empire.
The Catholicosate’s press statement regarding the lawsuit is available here.
This lawsuit reflects the determination of Armenians worldwide, on the Centenary of the genocide, to reclaim their sacred religious property and Christian heritage in lands where they lived peacefully for centuries.
A press conference is scheduled to take place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on April 29 with the participation of Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern U.S.; Payam Akhavan, former UN prosecutor at the Hague and lead international counsel in this case; Cem Sofuogleu, Turkish human rights lawyer and local counsel in this case; Teny Pirri-Simonian, senior advisor to the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia; and Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
The Catholicosate, which is the administrative center of the Church, was moved from Armenia to Cilicia in the 10th century, and after changing a few locations it was finally established in Sis in the year 1295, where it remained until 1921. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Catholicosate of Cilicia was recognized as an independent church. During the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23, the Armenian population of Sis was massacred and deported, and its Christian holy sites were pillaged and confiscated.
In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion. Armenians have had a long historical presence in what is present-day Turkey.
According to Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor and lead international counsel in this legal action, the return of the historical Seat of the Catholicosate of Cilicia “is a litmus test for the Turkish Government’s respect for the human rights of its Christian minorities, their freedom of worship in a culture of tolerance and dignity. This is a unique opportunity to do justice, to help heal the wounds of the past, to move towards Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, a better future for both nations.”
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian noted that “The restoration of the Catholicosate would represent an act of justice, a first step toward the legal return of the Armenian Church and its faithful to their lawful place in their rightful homeland, and a meaningful milestone in the Armenian nation’s journey toward a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide.”