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.
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.