The Turkish government’s expropriation a year ago of the largest Armenian cathedral in the Middle East has been halted by a Council of State court decision, the Armenian weekly Agos reports.
Located in the historic heart of Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeast Turkey, the Surp (Saint) Giragos Apostolic Armenian Church was one of six churches put under state control in March 2016 by the Turkish cabinet of ministers.
After the city’s Sur district had been heavily damaged in nearly a year of fierce fighting between the Turkish military and militants of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), the government announced a blanket expropriation of huge swathes of property, promising to restore the destroyed neighbourhoods with massive construction projects. The designated district included all the churches in the predominantly Kurdish city.
Appealing the cabinet decision, the Surp Giragos Church Foundation filed a case before the Council of State’s Sixth Chamber, stressing that the confiscation order violated the Law on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property, as well as the 1924 Treaty of Lausanne protecting minority rights.
The Council of State then sent queries to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, asking about the current state and usage of the church, whether it is in fact an immovable cultural property, and how it would be used if expropriated.
But the Council received no response from the ministry. After reviewing the church’s appeal, the Council concluded that the main building and other structures of the church constituted a whole property, and ruled unanimously to halt the confiscation order.
“With this ruling,” Agos reported, “the ministry won’t be able to carry out the expropriation.”
First built in the 1600s, Surp Giragos had been closed in the 1960s but was then renovated by the Armenian diaspora and reopened in 2011.
Similar appeals are being heard by the Council of State to annul the nationalisation of Sur’s other churches: the 1,700-year-old St. Mary Syriac Orthodox Church, the St. Sarkis Chaldean Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Mar Petyun Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Diyarbakir Protestant Church.