29 December 2012
Armenians ask for return of 142-year-old church in Diyarbakır
The Armenian community in Diyarbakır filed a petition at the Diyarbakır Regional Directorate of Foundations on Wednesday demanding the return of the Armenian Protestant Surp Prgiç Church to the community, the Radikal daily reported on Friday.
The church was built in 1870 in Diyarbakır. The Diyarbakır Regional Directorate of Foundations confiscated the church in 1983 on the grounds that it was “no longer in service.” In 2010 the church was restored by the same office at a cost of TL 339,000 and rented out to the Sur District Governor's Office to be converted into a women's center. Women started to take rug weaving, silk weaving and filigree making classes in the church.
In 2012 the Armenian Protestant community decided to apply for the return of the church following a landmark move by the government in 2011 to return all confiscated immovable property belonging to minority foundations in Turkey.
Promulgating a decree, the government made it possible for non-Muslims to reclaim real property they had declared back in 1936. All property, cemeteries and fountains would be returned to their original title deed holders. Immovable property currently belonging to third parties would also be paid for, according to the decree.
The last president of the church, Ohannes Gülsatar's son, Erol Gülsatar, and Kirkor Ağabaloğlu, the Turkish representative with the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE), initiated the process.
The petition said that although the church building is well maintained, it has been used as a place for hobby classes, which was not compatible with its mission. The petition also demanded the return of the church to the community members in Diyarbakır and nearby provinces. The community is currently awaiting a reply to their petition.
Ağabaloğlu, who initiated the petition process, said Turkey has gone through a great transformation in terms of minorities for they are treated much better in comparison to the past. Ağaloğlu added: “We are not keeping track of the events of a hundred or a thousand years. There is currently a community presence and properties belonging to this Armenian community. There is no Armenian Protestant left in Diyarbakır, but they also did not disappear. The last of the community is in İstanbul. That church was built for the Armenian community and funded by that community. This property should be returned to the Armenian Protestant community.”
Ağabaloğlu recalled that the state could also confiscate the properties of the Islamic foundations, although he added those properties still served the purpose they were built for. Ağabaloğlu said: “The state does not use properties of the Christian communities for the right purposes. The state either sells them or uses them for whatever purpose it needs such as a sports complex, hospital or a center for rug weaving classes.” Stating that there are buildings in similar situations in Kilis, Gaziantep and İstanbul, Ağabaloğlu added: “We do not know where else there are such properties. We demand documents from the state to no avail.” Gülsatar also commented: “Developments in recent years have been a source of hope for us so we wanted to take this opportunity,” and added he was optimistic about that the return of their property.