Turkey’s White Russians concerned for churches’ fate

Turkey’s White Russians concerned for churches’ fate

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey’s White Russians concerned for churches’ fate

There are three Russian churches in Istanbul, including the Hagia Andrea, which is seen in this picture. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Only months after reopening their churches after decades closed, Turkey’s Russian community says the Fener Greek Patriarchate has asked them to hand back the keys.

Russians have three churches in Istanbul – Hagia Andrea, Hagia Pantalameon and Hagia Elia – which were recently reopened for their first rituals in 41 years.

The properties belong to the Russian Monastery at the Ayanaroz Monastery Complex in Greece, and the Fener Greek Patriarchate in Istanbul is in charge of the churches.

Turkey’s Russian community is largely made up of White Russians who settled in Turkey after fleeing the Bolshevik government in 1921. While many moved on to various Western countries, a considerable number stayed in Istanbul. According to data by the PAE Fukaraperver Association, which represents the Russian émigrés, the total number of Russians in Turkey is approximately 100,000.

The latest plans for the Galataport project in the Karaköy neighborhood of Istanbul have stirred the city's Russian community to take legal action to preserve the historical Hagia Elia church, which is at risk of being demolished as part of the project.

PAE Fukaraperver Association Deputy President Kazmir Pamir spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News, and said they were very concerned about their churches’ future.

“The Fener Greek Patriarchate said they wanted the keys back because restoration will start in the church, but if we give back the keys, it means that we will lose our churches forever,” Pamir said.

“We would like to restore our church to suit Russian church traditions. We found sponsors for the restoration, but we want to take back the property rights,” he added.

The Patriarchate did not respond to the Daily News’ questions, saying there was no spokesman available.

Pamir said a group from the PAE Fukaraperver Association would go to the Ayanaroz Monastery to request the properties' rights from the Patriarchate. “We would like to establish a Russian Church Foundation here in Istanbul. We would like to gather our churches under the one roof,” he added.