HDP lawmaker submits parliamentary question about the neglect of Armenian heritage sites

Garo Paylan

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Garo Paylan has submitted a parliamentary question addressed to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism asking why Armenian churches and monasteries are not better protected, the Bianet news website reported.

Paylan pointed out that Armenian houses of worship in the southeastern provinces of Van, Bitlis and Muş were left to deteriorate. Many buildings that were once central to the religious life of Armenians had become completely run down or vandalized by treasure hunters. Important houses of worship had also been converted to barns by local farmers.

“Why hasn’t the cultural and natural preservation board done anything to protect these monuments?” he asked.

Paylan also demanded to know if the ministry would investigate why these buildings were neglected and how many were at the point of no repair. “Is this a deliberate attempt to wipe out Armenian heritage from these provinces?” he asked.

The Armenian community has expressed concern and anger over the neglect of their cultural and religious heritage sites. An Armenian cemetery in Diyarbakır province is so neglected that visitors can no longer find the graves of their loved ones due to the high grass.

In many places the grass now reaches over two meters, and the cemetery has become a hub for drug users.

The Armenian community said they worry about a possible fire as a result of the high grass and extremely hot summers. They expect the municipality to be more attentive to their needs and to see to the cemetery’s upkeep.

“It just shows they [municipal authorities] have no respect for us [Armenians], living or dead,” said one shopkeeper.

Süleyman Duman, who used to work in the cemetery, said they brought the problem to the attention of the municipality several times but that they were never given a hearing. He explained that other cemeteries were provided with services but the Armenian cemetery had been left to neglect and vandalism.

He said the elected mayors were careful to provide equal services to all minorities and communities in Diyarbakır; however, the previous mayor was removed by the Turkish government and a trustee was appointed in his place in 2019. Unfortunately the trustee mayor had not been so egalitarian in providing services to minorities.

Concerns about the preservation of Armenian cultural and religious sites in Turkey have been growing. On January 27, 2021 Agos reported that an ancient Armenian church reported to have been rebuilt after its destruction in a 1603 rebellion in the western province of Kütahya that was on the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s preservation list was demolished after it was acquired by a private party.

Only 10 days before that, Agos had 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, 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.”

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