“Expropriation Means Closing Down of Surp Giragos”
DIYARBAKIR (Agos)— Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation filed an annulment action against the expropriation in Sur province of Diyarbakir. In the petition for annulment, it is pointed out that the expropriation is against the law.
The Council of State decided for an “urgent expropriation” in Sur, where curfews continue. According to the decision published in the Official Journal on March 25, 6,300 plots of land in Sur are expropriated.
Surp Giragos Church, the largest Armenian church in Middle East, Surp Sarkis Chaldean Church, Armenian Catholic Church, St. Mary Syriac Church and Protestant Church are among the places that are expropriated. Syriac and Protestant churches had filed annulment actions before. Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation appealed to Council of State for stay of execution and annulment of the expropriation.
In his petition, lawyer of the church foundation Ali Elbeyoğlu, stated that, in addition to the church and other immovable properties belonging to the church foundation, 80% of Sur province is in the scope of the expropriation and the reasons for “urgent expropriation” are not clearly stated, even though the law requires it.
“Against the law”
In the petition, it is noted that Surp Giragos Armenian Church is one of the expropriated immovable properties of Surp Giragos Foundation. “Churches, monasteries are cultural properties that must be protected. In expropriation of such immovable properties, Law on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property should be enforced. The decision that was taken by cabinet is against this law.”
It is also pointed that Sur province is added to World Cultural Heritage List.
“Against the Treaty of Lausanne”
In the petition, it is stated that the urgent expropriation is also contrary to the international conventions and the Treaty of Lausanne is referred.
“In the Treaty of Lausanne, minorities are given equal rights for founding, administrating and controlling religious, charitable and social institutions. Especially in Article 42, Turkish government guaranteed that it will protect the churches and religious institutions belonging to the minorities. Urgent expropriation is against the Treaty of Lausanne and Article 90 to the Turkish Constitutional Law.
This Means Closing Down of the Church
It is also noted that Surp Giragos Church is open to worship and hosts religious ceremonies. “Surp Giragos church is the largest Armenian church in Middle East. Restored rather recently, the church is golden for the Armenian people. By virtue of its importance, Armenians from all around the world visit the church and hold ceremonies. The church is maintained by the foundation.”
“Taking over the church from the foundation means closing down. The restoration was financed by the millions donated to our foundation. The Ministry of Culture made a nominal contribution. It is impossible to keep the church open only by the contributions of the state.”
There have been some statements about the “urgent expropriation” indicating that the province will be brought down completely and a whole new city will be built. Such statements caused people worry that the church might also be brought down. “In case the high court permits the urgent expropriation, the demolition of the church will be at the disposal of the government. Even if the church isn’t demolished, and since it is legally impossible for state to pay the salaries of the religious officials and priests and covering other expenses of the church, the church would become virtually dysfunctional. A church is not a museum; it is a living place of worship that is open all the time. This expropriation is against the Treaty of Lausanne, the Constitutional Law and regulations and would have on people’s conscience.”
Legal Action for Lots
The expropriation includes almost 80% of Sur. Along with the Diyarbakir Bar Association, Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality and Chamber of Architects, locals of Sur also filed annulment actions against the expropriation. A platform consisting of various institutions follows the annulment actions.
Member of the Law Committee of the platform, Devrim Barış Baran, informed Agos about the actions. Stating that almost 600 people initiated legal actions through their committee, Baran said: “There are almost 20 files for annulment only by us. Besides that, the title owners also filed actions. There is a legal action for almost each lot. We primarily demanded stay of execution. We wait for the decision of the Council of State.”
The curfew and clashes have been going on in Sur since December 2. The photos revealed that many structures, including Kurşunlu Mosque and Armenian Catholic Church, are damaged. It is said that Surp Giragos Church, which is caught between the clashes, is not severely damaged.