Diplomatic delay in historic church’s restoration
ERZURUM – Anadolu Agency
AA PhotosThe Osvank Church, which was built nearly 1,000 years ago in the eastern province of Erzurum, is ready for restoration but still waiting for steps to be taken by Georgian officials before work can begin.
The largest church in the region, Osvank was built by the sons of a Georgian king, Bagrat and Davit, in the second half of the 10th century. The church hosts a large number of local and foreign tourists every year.
For the restoration of the church, which is at risk of collapsing, Turkey and Georgia signed a protocol and reached a verbal agreement. In accordance with the protocol, the Georgian side should start the restoration of a Turkish mosque in their country.
Erzurum Provincial Culture and Tourism Deputy Director Hasan Mazlumoğlu said everything was ready for the start of restoration on the Turkish side, but they were waiting for the Georgian officials to say “we are ready, too.”
He said in such international circumstances reciprocity was taken as a basis but Georgian officials had not taken the initiative yet.
“This is not only related to our Culture and Tourism Ministry but also the Foreign Ministry. We were supposed to restore this church on condition that the other side should restore one of our historical artifacts there which is as important as this church. The restoration project waits here because Georgia has not made an initiative to do that. This place will be restored to its original. We don’t know what its function will be after that,” he said.
Mazlumoğlu said the church’s structure would not change during the restoration, and added, “Its figures, aesthetic and architectural structures will be the same. This is a church. We want one of our places of worship in Georgia to be restored, too. If this is a place of worship for them, we want a mosque to be restored there.”
Local administrators concerned
The church was visited by Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili last year on Jan. 21 and the Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilıia II on May 3. Local administrators of the Uzundere district, which has significant tourism potential in Erzurum, are concerned about the current situation of the church.
Uzundere Mayor Halis Özsoy said the Culture and Tourism Ministry had completed projects for the restoration, reinforcement and restitution of the church. Within the scope of the works, he said, in order to find proper building materials, they took samples from a stone pit three kilometers away from the church.
“Although these works [were undertaken], the Georgian side has not abided with the reciprocity principle, but the church should be restored as soon as possible because it is under a big risk of collapse. The demands of Turkey have not been met by the Georgian government,” said Özsoy.
He said that they were still waiting, and continued:
“International relations have reciprocity principles. This is why we are waiting. We will talk with the Foreign Ministry to solve this problem. There are problems but this historic structure cannot carry itself and some parts of it [have already] collapsed. In the smallest earthquake or wind and rain the structure may collapse. There is such a risk. We will do our best to solve this problem and start the restoration process.”