Analysis: Turkey - churches sue government, government shuts down press

Turkey

One of the six churches which had their buildings confiscated on the direct orders of President Erdogan’s cabinet, as Barnabas Aid reported last year, is suing the Turkish government. The Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, the largest Armenian Church in the Middle East, was seized by the Turkish government last year and is currently being used as an army base. The church has enormous emotional and historical significance because the area was at the centre of the Armenian genocide, during which the church’s bell tower was destroyed by artillery fire when the Ottoman Turkish army fired on the Christians in 1915. The church was then seized by the Turkish government and remained in ruins until it was restored and reopened for worship in 2011, with the support of the Kurdish-administered Diyarbakir municipality.

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CC BY-SA 3.0 by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

This support was significant, as much of the Armenian genocide was carried out by Kurdish irregular forces acting on the orders of the Turkish government. However, while the Kurdish local government has begun to address the past and live in peace with Christians, the Turkish government still threatens to prosecute anyone who even mentions the Armenian genocide. The Turkish government now seems to be taking the same approach to anyone who reports on its seizure of churches. A few weeks ago, the Turkish government issued a decree shutting down a local newspaper that had reported on the seizure of property and treatment of Christians in the areas.

The Turkish government must decide whether it wants to be part of the world that respects the rule of law, freedom of religion and other human rights. At the moment, its actions are awakening fear and uncomfortable echoes of the past for Turkey’s Christians, who prior to the Armenian genocide constituted 22% of its population and now make up a mere 0.2%.