White Russians in Turkey demand return of church

White Russians in Turkey demand return of church

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
White Russians in Turkey demand return of church

Plans for the Galataport project have stirred Istanbul’s Russian community to take legal action to preserve their historical Hagia Elia church. Courtesy of PAE Fukaraperver Association

The latest plans for the Galataport project have stirred Istanbul’s Russian community to take legal action to preserve their historical Hagia Elia church, which faces the risk of being demolished.

The Istanbul Salıpazarı Port, known as Galataport, which is located in Karaköy and owned by Turkey’s Maritime Organization, is set to be privatized. The current port and its surrounding area are expected to be improved after the privatization. Construction has already been underway for the last two years on many new hotels in the area, due to high expectations about the Galataport project. As part of these construction activities, the Hagia Elia Church located in Karaköy is currently at risk of demolition.

Turkey’s Russian community settled in Turkey after having fled from the Bolshevik regime in 1921. While some of them migrated to various Western countries, a considerable number of them stayed in Istanbul. According to data by the PAE Fukaraperver Association, which represents the Russian émigrés, the total number of Russians in Turkey is about 100,000. Russians own three churches and a monk’s house, which is currently used as a commercial building in Istanbul. Hagia Elia Church is situated on the roof of a structure where monks used to reside, a style of architecture rarely seen in Anatolia.

Seeking support from Greek church

Also, the PAE Fukaraperver Association recently paid a visit to Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew to request his support for the preservation of the church.

The authorities of the association will meet the Russian consul in Istanbul today and then meet Laki Vingas, who is in charge of minority foundations at the Foundations Directorate General on May 22. The association authorities said they would continue their struggle to preserve the church, which has been closed since 1972.

Turkey’s Doğuş Holding placed the highest offer on May 16 for the privatization of Galataport, with a $702 million bid, winning the right to operate the port area for 30 years, PAE Fukaraperver Association head Vasilisa Denisenko said they were closely following the Galataport tender and would struggle to prevent this project’s plans with regard to their buildings and church.

“So far we have led invisible lives and have not told our problems since we did not want to come into prominence; we have tried to stand on our own feet,” Denisenko said. When asked about their expectations from Ankara within this period, when ways for a solution to problems regarding minorities are sought, Denisenko said their only expectation was the preservation of their church. The PAE Fukaraperver Association’s deputy head, Kazmir Pamir, said the three churches and the monk’s house belonged to the Russian Monastery at Ayanaroz Monastery Complex in Greece, adding that they were only representing the church and the Fener Greek Patriarchate was the one in charge of the churches.

“As the association, we send a part of the income we obtain from the buildings’ rents to Ayanoroz, while we are providing financial aid for those in need with the rest,” Pamir said.

Pamir said their problems were not only related to the demolition of the church, they were also facing difficulties regarding religious officials who perform their rituals. “We have only one priest, who has been serving for 65 years.