Until recently, the deconsecrated place of worship was used as a film set and a wedding hall. The destruction violates President Erdoğan’s statement on the protection of sacred places. Meanwhile, abuses against Christians continue.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Armenian Christians in Turkey have suffered another blow to their religious and cultural heritage.
A few days ago, the 17th century Church of Surp Toros (San Toros) in Kütahya, Western Turkey, was demolished by its owner. The place of worship had been deconsecrated and abandoned for some time.
Garo Paylan, an Armenian Christian member of Turkey’s parliament for the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), strongly condemned the act. In a parliamentary question to the Minister of Tourism and Culture he asked why authorities allowed this to happen.
Although used as a film set and a wedding hall, the centuries-old former Armenian church had been classified as an “immovable requiring protection” by the Kütahya Regional Board of Cultural Heritage Protection.
“Dating back to 1603, the church had an important place in the city's memory,” said MP Paylan in his question to the minister. “The church was considered to be an important site of memory as it was the church where musicologist Gomidas was baptised.”
Sadly, “the authorities remained indifferent to the Armenian community's calls for its restoration or, at least, its use as a cultural centre.”
Lasty, the lawmaker cited President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said, “We did not, do not and will not interfere with the belief, worship or the sacred [sic] of anyone.” Thus, “this demolition, despite Erdoğan's remarks, has deeply saddened and hurt all Christians, especially the Armenian citizens.”
From the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Paylan wants to know if an investigation has started on the church demolition, why the ministry was silent while this outrage by a private citizen was taking place, and whether any action has been taken “to ensure that the Church will be rebuilt to its original”.
According to the Armenian scholar Arşag Alboyacıyan, the church was famous for a rock kept inside, on which the imprint of the horse of San Toros was imprinted. According to tradition, sick women sat on the stone and, through the reading of the Bible, invoked healing.
Before 1915, about 4,000 Armenians lived in Kütahya, served by three local Armenian churches; after the genocide, only 61 were left by 1931 and, over time, the few who remained moved to Istanbul or emigrated abroad.
Recently, another ancient Armenian church went on sale on the Internet, another example of a series of controversial episodes showing disrespect, if not contempt for the country’s Christian religious and cultural heritage.
The list includes a barbecue held at the historic Sourp Asdvadzadzi Armenian church and the conversions of the ancient Christian basilicas of Hagia Sophia and Chora into mosques. The latter were turned into museums under the founder of modern Turkey Atatürk.
Such actions have been controversial but they fit in the “nationalism and Islam“ policy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a way to hide the country’s economic woes and help him stay in power.