ANCA Urges US Action Regarding Turkish Government’s Confiscation of Surp Giragos Church

WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has communicated the Armenian American community’s profound concern to the U.S. government regarding reports that the Turkish government has confiscated the recently restored St. Giragos (Surp Giragos) Armenian Church and a range of other religious sites in the Diyarbakir region of present-day Turkey, as part of a broader “emergency expropriation” decision of over 6,000 properties in the area.

The Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church (Photo: Nanore Barsoumian)
The Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church (Photo: Nanore Barsoumian)

In response to ANCA inquiries, a senior Obama Administration official, speaking on background, noted that the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and consulates in Adana and Istanbul are closely tracking the recent cabinet decree and have, in recent days, raised the matter with both the central government and local authorities.  The Turkish government has informed U.S. officials that the decree is “a bureaucratic measure” to facilitate the restoration of structures damaged during fighting in recent months. This official noted that legal challenges have already been filed against this action in local courts.

“We welcome this initial U.S. engagement with the Turkish government regarding the confiscation of Surp Giragos and encourage a strong, public American response to this most recent Turkish attack on religious freedom,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the ANCA.  “In light of Turkey’s brutal record of destroying and desecrating Armenian religious and cultural heritage, it is clear that this latest action represents a renewed attack by Erdogan on Christian communities, a continuation of Ankara’s efforts to erase the ancient Christian legacy within its present-day borders, and, ultimately—more than a century after 1915—a further consolidation by Turkey of the fruits of the Armenian Genocide.”

Alarm bells regarding the confiscation were first raised by the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, citing the March 25 issue of the Official Gazette of the Republic of Turkey (T.C. Resmi Gazete), the country’s official journal that publishes new legislation and official announcements.  In addition to Surp Giragos, the Surp Sarkis Chaldean Church, the Virgin Mary Ancient Assyrian Church, and the city’s Protestant church have also reportedly been expropriated, according to Agos.

Armenians from around the world flocked to Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir on Oct. 22, 2011, to attend both the reconsecration of the largest Armenian church in the Middle East and the Badarak held the following day. The church was renovated by the Surp Giragos Armenian Foundation, with the support of the local Kurdish-controlled municipality of the time.  Following news of the expropriation, Raffi Bedrosyan, a member of the Surp Giragos Church reconstruction project told “The Armenian Weekly” that there will be a strong effort to reclaim the lands. “All legal and political channels will be mobilized within Turkey and internationally to stop this legalized robbery,” said Bedrosyan.

Civil society groups, local authorities and elected officials, including Turkish Parliament member of Armenian descent Garo Paylan have already registered official inquiries with authorities, with additional court cases expected.

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4 Comments

  1. The ruling AKP is engaged in expropriating many of Turkey’s prime properties, environmentally sensitive buildings, land and cultural treasures in the name of ‘bureaucratic measures.’ Others have used lawyers and spent large amounts of money to try to stop the building of airports and expropriation of areas of natural beauty to no avail. The rule of law is so severely lacking in Turkey that one can see that local AKP mayors and valiliks either choose not to look at evidence, don’t want to and dismiss any legal claims. And building and expropriation goes ahead. Time for concerted global action, not just local complaints.

  2. Why is everyone so surprised that the Turkish government did this? If you want to know how the story ends… Just read ‘The Spirit of the Laws’ by Akcam and Kurt. I’m certain history will repeat itself. My grandmother’s family home and farm was confiscated 100 years ago in Yalova, Turkey. She was never able to reclaim that property. I suppose the Armenians will have to practice their religion in an open air forum as Jesus did. I must say, it would be foolish of the United States to intervene in this matter. Remember, the Turks are NOT expropriating the Christian religion.

  3. Dear Staff of Armenian Weekly and readers,
    Like the CUP the AKP knows a great deal about looting the property of others. Kindly check out the NY Times INTERNATIONAL section for Friday, April1, 2016. Found this on page A8: “Round the clock curfews have been instituted in parts of the southeast, where the economy has been devastated by the fighting. One of the hardest hit areas has been Diyarbakir’s historic Sur district which is encircled by Unesco-listed Roman-era walls. Development Minister Cevdet Yilmaz, in the area ahead of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit, said the government wanted to rebuild the region.”
    I hope all of us see why the church of Surp Giragos was confiscated. Soon if we Armenians don’t act, one will see a huge Turkish flag flying from the facade of the church.
    I agree with Suzanne Swan, it is time for concerted global action.
    Best,
    Ellen Sarkisian Chesnut

  4. Erdogan and the ak party continue their criminal ways. Fortunately, turkish citizens are becoming wise to their schemes, recep and the ak party’s days are numbered…

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