Demolition of Armenian Churches in Turkey

Demolition of Armenian Churches in Turkey

Of the more than 2.5 thousand churches, only 6 operational churches and not a single monastery have survived to date. In the territory known since the 13th century as the possession of the Ottomans, Armenians were the indigenous people, especially in the area that is today called Eastern Anatolia.

But even now, after 800 years, the ruins of Armenian churches and monasteries with inscriptions and broken khachkars (cross-stones) have been preserved in some places.

From the once beautiful architectural creations remained only piles of rubble and rare memories of old people who still remembered that Armenians used to live in this land. They have built temples, schools, cities, which later, at best, would simply change owners. This happened with the Kars gymnasium which is still operational.

In 1912-1913, on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire, the Constantinople Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church was to compile a list of the Armenian churches in the territory of the empire.

According to statistics collected by Archbishop Magakia Ormanian, the number of Armenian churches operating in Western Armenia (not counting historical Cilicia, Constantinople, and other regions) at the time was 2,200.

The list did not include ancient Christian churches destroyed in past years throughout the Ottoman Empire, as well as those located in the remote areas of the Armenian Highlands. Of the 2,200 temples described by Ormanian, 2,150 would be looted, damaged, and destroyed during the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Dr. Raymond Gevorgyan in his work “Les Arméniens dans l’Empire Ottoman à la veille du génocide” published in 1992 in Paris and based on unpublished data from the archives of the Constantinople Patriarchate of the Armenian Orthodox Church referenced 2,528 churches, 451 monasteries, and about 2,000 schools.

To date, only 6 existing churches and not a single monastery have been preserved, as we’ve mentioned in the beginning. Of the 6 existing churches, 4 are located in Istanbul itself, one is the Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island on Lake Van which was renovated in 2007, and the last one is the Church of St. Giragos in Diyarbakır (Tigranakert) which was opened 2 years ago.

However, it is a little difficult to call them operational – the temples for liturgy are opened only once a year. Istanbul temples are in a better position in this regard.

After 1928, the process of changing the local Armenian toponyms began in the new Turkey. The Mogk settlement in the province of Vaspurakan was renamed Müküs and then Bahçesaray, Anzay became Görüşlü, Sevan was renamed Ortaca, Aren was renamed Golduzlu.

Hadjn turned into Saimbeyli in honor of the organizer of the Armenian pogroms in Hadjn itself in 1920. Akhtamar Island was renamed Akdamar, Ani city became Ani (which by coincidence means “memory” in Turkish), Mount Ararat Ağrı Dağı, and numerous surviving monuments were presented without reference to their Armenian origin.

According to UNESCO, of 913 temples that remained after the genocide of 1915 in Turkey, by 1974, 464 had been completely destroyed, 252 had been in ruins, and 197 had been subject to immediate restoration under the threat of destruction. Today, Turkey is a member of UNESCO, but there is a huge amount of evidence that the Turkish government is still destroying the Armenian cultural heritage in its territory.

On June 18, 1987, the European Council adopted a resolution on the Armenian Genocide, the paragraph 6 of which reads: “The Turkish government must show fairness to the identity, language, religion, culture, and historical monuments of the Armenian people. The Council of Europe demands that the preserved historical and architectural monuments located in Turkey be restored.”

In fact, the resolution echoed the provisions of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne on the preservation of cultural heritage and the rights of national minorities in Turkey. However, 90 years later, nothing has been done – on the contrary, what could have been saved has been destroyed by the locals with the connivance of the authorities and by the flow of time.

But even today, in inaccessible places, in the mountains, there are ancient Armenian monasteries standing. An example is the recent “discovery” of the Tsarakar complex located in the heart of the royal province of Ayrarat. And who knows how many more of these temple complexes are “hidden” in the Armenian Highlands.

Karine Ter-Sahakyan

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