17th century Armenian church on preservation list demolished in western Turkey

An Armenian church dating to 1603 in the western province of Kütahya that was on the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s preservation list was demolished after it was acquired by a private party, the Turkish-Armenian bilingual Agos weekly reported.

The old church was an important heritage site for the Armenian community because famous Armenian priest and musicologist Gomidas Vartabed was baptized there. Garo Paylan, a deputy from the Peoples’ Democratic Party, a left-wing party with majority-Kurdish support, submitted a parliamentary question on how a heritage site registered for protection could be demolished.

The church was on private property and was previously used as a theatre and party venue. The Armenian community had called on the authorities to restore the church to its original purpose.

In his question Paylan said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had previously said his government would not interfere with “anyone’s belief, rituals or sacred artifacts.” He pointed out that Vice President Fuat Oktay had also said that churches were as important as mosques in Turkey.

Paylan asked whether the authorities would help rebuild the church in accordance with its original architecture. He requested to know if the officials who allowed the demolition were investigated and why the parliament was silent when Armenian heritage symbols were being eradicated.

Concerns about the preservation of Armenian cultural and religious sites have recently been growing. On January 17, Agos reported that a 19th century Armenian church was put up for sale on a Turkish real estate website. In the ad, the church, which is located in Bursa province, was described as “perfect for a touristic attraction because it is in a UNESCO protected area.”

The seller, whose name was not disclosed, also said the church was a good investment as it could be “used as a hotel, museum or art gallery.”

Paylan criticized the sale of the Armenian church on Twitter, asking how the authorities and the society could allow the sale of a house of worship.

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