Syriacs to build new church in Istanbul

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Vercihan Ziflio?lu
Turkey’s Syriac community is granted land in Istanbul on which to construct its first official church in the city, but the move has become the subject of controversy after Catholics said the parcel in question legally belongs to them. Father Simonelli says they will take the issue to the court
Send to friend » Share on linkedin Some criticize the government and say they delivered the land to Syriac people in order to silence them on the matter of controvesial Mor Gabriel Monastery (above). Hürriyet photo

Latin Catholics are claiming ownership of land recently given to Turkey’s Syriac community for the establishment of their first official church in Istanbul.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality fulfilled the Syriac community’s request last week to approve the construction of a new church, for the first time both in its history and in the Republican period.

However, speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News on behalf of the Latin Catholic Church, FatherBruno Gregorio Simonelli said the Latin Catholic community would take legal action against the decision, claiming property rights to the land. “How could they take away our property and hand it to another community?” Simonelli asked.

Latin Catholic Foundation member and lawyer Nail Karaka? said the land was registered in the 1936 Declaration. “Before 1950, Latin Catholics used to bury their dead in this cemetery but the authorities of that time banned burials. After that, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality took over the possession of the land. Last summer, we appealed to the Municipality for the reopening of the cemetery and were expecting a result,” Karaka? said.

Following the Lausanne Treaty, a law was passed in 1936 that recommended the recording of all minority foundations. Apart from the property recorded in the declaration, the foundations were prevented from obtaining new properties.

‘The government tries to silence us’

Leaders of the Syriac community were surprised by the developments, with some arguing that the land was only given in return for the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery in the southeastern province of Mardin, over which there is an ongoing conflict regarding ownership of the land.

Syriac intellectual Sabo Boyac? harshly criticized the government for the latest developments. “I don’t believe the government’s sincerity. They delivered this land to us in order to silence us on the matter of Mor Gabriel Monastery. It is clear that they want to cause conflict between the minority communities. The government simply aims to make a good impression on the European and Turkish public,” Boyac? said.

Syriacs have struggled to obtain land in Istanbul’s Ye?ilköy district for three years. The Istanbul Syriac community – amounting to 25,000, according to church records – used to worship in the churches they rented from Latin Catholics.

Bak?rköy deputy mayor Yervant Özuzun told the Hürriyet Daily News that a part of the land was delivered to the Syriac community. Özuzun said the land was a protected area with a chapel and graveyards, adding that they received required authorization from the Monuments Board and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

“Only a part of the cemetery was allocated [to the Syriac community]. And the conditions of protecting the chapel and gathering the graveyards in one specific point were achieved. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has possessed the land since 1951,” Özuzun said.