The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet recently reported that the historic Surp Asdvadzadzin (Mother Mary/Meryem Ana) Armenian church in the city of Kayseri will be turned into a library and “book café.” According to the report, the project has a budget of six-million Turkish liras.
“The church became deserted years ago as there was no longer an Armenian congregation,” according to Hurriyet. The church was then used as an exhibition center, a municipal police station, and a sports center.
The 2015 Human Rights Violations Report by Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches stated: “The Istanbul Protestant Church has officially requested that the Meryem Ana Church in the hands of the City of Kayseri and in the past used as a sports center, to be assigned to Christians living in Kayseri to meet their needs for a place for worship. No written response to this request has been given. However, meetings with the City have indicated that, although not official, the church will be turned into a mosque or used as a museum.”
Sadly, the calls of the Protestant community have been ignored by Turkish officials. The church will not be given to Christians as a place of worship. It will be open as a library in the autumn of 2017.
The 2013 book Armenian Kesaria/Kayseri and Cappadocia edited by Richard G. Hovannisian, elaborates on the Armenian presence in the region from early antiquity. “During the centuries of Ottoman rule, the Armenians of Kesaria were noted as goldsmiths and skilled craftsmen, professionals and producers of carpets, linens, textiles, leather goods, pottery, and cured beef… With their tightly-knit communities, strong religious faith, schools and churches, the Armenians of the Kesaria region managed to preserve their distinct identity down through the centuries,” Hovannisian writes
According to official Ottoman statistics released in 1914, Kayseri district’s total Armenian population was 52,192. In 1915, like in all provinces in the Ottoman Empire with an Armenian population, Armenians in Kayseri were exposed to a systematic campaign of extermination organized by the Ottoman Turkish government of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). Armenians were subjected to torture and massacre and deported toward the Syrian Desert. Their homes and lands were plundered and seized by government officials and local Muslims.
Professor Vahakn N. Dadrian has written a comprehensive article entitled “The Agency of ‘Triggering Mechanisms’ as a Factor in the Organization of the Genocide Against the Armenians of Kayseri District”: “The genocidal fate of the Kayseri Armenians emerges as a function of critically disparate power relations… The dominant Turks took full advantage of their overwhelming power position vis-a-vis a near totally defenseless minority. Problems of prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion, compounded by the formal declaration of holy war, jihad, combined to aggravate the plight of the victim population.”
Today, the last traces of the Armenian heritage in Kayseri are about to be extinguished.
Apart from the Armenians who have been Islamized, only one person living in Kayseri today identifies as an Armenian, according to a Bianet News Agency article. The Armenian and Greek populations of the city have been annihilated, but last year, the Hrant Dink Foundation in Turkey reported that some historical buildings—such as schools and churches built by the non-Muslim population—still exist there. The Foundation published a book called Kayseri With the Armenian and Greek Cultural Assets, in hope of calling attention to those buildings that still exist, in order that they can be restored some day.
Sadly, systematic looting, treasure hunting, floods, and the passage of time have taken a heavy toll on these buildings that used to belong to Christian minorities. Zeynep Oguz of the Hrant Dink Foundation visited 181 buildings during her field-research. She said that only 181 of the 377 buildings there could be found. No trace remained of the other 208. Of the surviving 181, 113 are Armenian, and 68 are Greek buildings. Banu Pekol of the Association for Preserving Cultural Heritage stated that among the buildings they examined, they bring forward suggestions for preventing the risks by inventorying 18 buildings that are at high risk of vanishing, in spite of their high architectural value.
Even when there is only one Armenian or Greek left in a city in Turkey, the extermination of Christian heritage continues. It seems as though cultural genocide is a never-ending process in Turkey.