Armenians take action to protect shrines at risk

Armenians take action to protect shrines at risk

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Armenians take action to protect shrines at risk

Municipal workers demolished a complex located over a centuries-old Armenian cemetery. The complex included the ‘Final Prayer’ Chapel, an annex for the ritual washing of the dead and a guard box. The municipality promised to rebuild the facilities. DHA photo

Malatya Municipality’s recent demolition of the “Final Prayer” chapel at an Armenian cemetery has spurred Armenian-Turks into action about other at-risk sites all around the country.

“[The idea of establishing] a commission could perhaps gain currency, but we first need to take into consideration the situation that Turkey is [embroiled] in. The example of Malatya may not stick well everywhere,” former Malatya Philanthropists Association (HAYDER) head Garo Paylan told the Hürriyet Daily News.

“We used to have graves that are thousands of years old across Anatolia, but they were either paved over with roads or new buildings were erected on top of them. It is no longer possible to retrieve most of them, but we at least need to claim the remainder,” Paylan said.

HAYDER, which first brought the matter of Armenian sites before the public’s attention, continues receiving sporadic phone calls about the status of Armenian remnants elsewhere in the country.

“We are progressively evaluating the requests,” Paylan said but added that they were hesitant in taking any further steps at the moment. Denouncing as insincere the interest shown by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Malatya Municipality in the chapel’s demolition, Paylan also said they had made a retreat for fear of public reaction.

Giving back historic church
“If they are truly sincere, then they ought to give the 300-year-old Church of Surp Yerortutyun [Holy Trinity] in Malatya, which they call ‘Taşhoran,’ back to us, rather than converting it into a cultural center,” Paylan said, adding that they were also going to appeal to the Malatya Governor’s Office with respect to the matter in the coming days.

Workers from the Malatya Municipality demolished a complex located over a centuries-old Armenian cemetery and which involved the “Final Prayer” Chapel, an annex for the ritual washing of the dead and a guard box Feb. 3. Following a public outcry, however, Malatya Municipality soon agreed to rebuild the complex through its own funds.

The cemetery, which is quite large, also contains the burial grounds of the family members of Hrant Dink, the chief editor of the bilingual weekly Agos who was gunned down in front of his office in Istanbul on Jan. 19, 2007.

Authorities had already nationalized the cemetery around the late 1940s, while only two acres are still owned by the Armenian community. Few individuals are still buried in the area in accordance with their wills.

“If such a problem came about a decade ago, the community would fear bringing the matter to the public’s attention. Our people have begun shaking their fears off to a certain degree in recent years. They established lay organizations within the context of commonly shared local origins, and HAYDER is one of them. In this way, we are striving to claim to the best of our capabilities whatever still remains of thousands of cemeteries and churches,” he said.

 Armenians from Malatya who now reside in Istanbul had provided the funds needed to build the complex through their own means.