In a parliamentary question posed to the minister of culture and tourism, opposition deputy Garo Paylan asked if an investigation had been launched into the vandalization of the Surp Toros Armenian Church in Turkey’s Kayseri province, Turkish media reported.
Paylan, a member of the pro-Kurdish rights Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), accused the ministry of remaining silent in the face of treasure hunters who are targeting Christian cultural heritage.
The perpetrators dug a two-meter-deep hole and spray-painted words on the interior walls of the abandoned church in Kayseri’s Tavlusun neighborhood.
Paylan said the Surp Toros Armenian Church, which was built in 1835, was neglected for decades despite being a historically and culturally significant structure.
Paylan asked Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy if they had an inventory of monasteries, churches and other structures of cultural significance built by Christians in Kayseri and if they were planning to restore the church.
According to Tavlusun district headman Mehmet Yılmaz, the municipality and police try to protect the structure but treasure hunters are relentless. “The building must be restored for tourism,” he said, adding that a large number of foreign visitors come to their neighborhood to visit the church.
Speaking to DHA, the provincial office of the ministry said the church could not be restored because it is private property.
Concerns about the preservation of Armenian cultural and religious sites in Turkey have been growing. On January 27 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.”