“To find something that is lost is always a happy occasion!” So said Patriarch Sahak II Maşalyan of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, during his sermon at the first Divine Liturgy to be celebrated at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Malatya, Turkey, in over one hundred years. Reconstructed through joint efforts of the “Malatya Hayırsever Ermeniler Kültür ve Dayanışma Derneği” (Malatya Armenian Culture and Solidarity Philanthropic Association, known as “HayDer”) and the Malatya Municipality, the reconsecration of the Սուրբ Երրորդութիւն/Surp Yerrortutiun (Holy Trinity) Church on Saturday, August 28, and the celebration of the Divine Liturgy the day after was a momentous, historic, and, indeed, happy occasion. Patriarch Sahak II deftly connected Christ’s famous parables from Luke 15 and the weekend’s “Feast of the Finding of the Holy Belt of Saint Mary” with the historic occasion. He emphasized the monumental event of restoring an Armenian Apostolic Church that had been abandoned during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and left to ruin not only being renovated by a Turkish municipality, but again hosting Armenian Christian liturgical life. Joy at recovering something lost and the promise of new life, the themes of the Lukan parables, were palpable in the videos and news from the weekend.
Malatya, an ancient central Anatolian city known historically as Melitene, had a notable Armenian presence since at least the time it served as a Roman provincial capital. While the church, known colloquially in Turkish as Taşhoran, was left to ruin after the 1915 Genocide, Malatya was one of the few urban centers that maintained an Armenian presence throughout the twentieth century. Today, Malatya is famous among Armenians as the birthplace of Hrant Dink, the journalist and intellectual who founded the influential paper Agos and was assassinated outside of its offices in 2007. Several of the articles about the reconsecration mention the proximity of the church to the neighborhood where Hrant Dink was born.
Born and raised in the United States, it was a blessing never to have experienced war firsthand. War was something that happened “over there”—not at home.
Certain liturgical prayers were thankfully not immediately relevant, such as, “For the freeing of our captive brothers,” following the diptychs in the Armenian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. From the perspective of peaceful Central California, who were these people for whom we offered such weekly prayers?
This changed dramatically for many when the 2020 Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) War broke out on 27 September. All of a sudden, Armenians were drawn into a conflict in which they had no interest in beginning, merely desiring to live peaceably where they had for many centuries. If only that were possible . . . .
Last month, the Court of Cassation in Turkey ruled that the historic and contested Sanasaryan Han will be the property of the Turkish state. Built in 1895, the Han (“Inn”) was bought by the foundation established by the philanthropist Mkrtich Sanasaryan to support the Sanasaryan College in the city of Erzurum in eastern Anatolia. It was put under the administration of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920. In 1928, the Turkish State confiscated the building and maintained its revenue and rights until the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey filed a lawsuit for its return with the Istanbul 13th Civil Court of First Instance in 2014. After a circuitous legal route, the Court of Cassation—the court of last instance for civil and criminal cases—ruled last February (2018) for the admissibility of the lawsuit and filed for the return of the title deed to the Armenian Patriarchate. Widely seen to be a major victory for the Armenian Patriarchate and the question of religious minority properties in the Republic of Turkey, it seemed the Armenian Patriarchate would assume the deed within a couple years. Last month, however, the same Court of Cassation ruled that the title deed will remain with the Turkish state. The lawyer in the case, Ali Elbeyoğlu, plans to appeal the case to the Constitutional Court.
The case of the Sanasaryan Han is just one case—albeit a very high-profile case—regarding the properties of religious minority groups in the Republic of Turkey. Continue reading →