The Sabah daily reported on Monday that during a restoration project for the historic Surp Giragos Armenian Church in 2009, the Diyarbakır Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation discovered a document listing the properties owned by Armenians before they left Diyarbekir between 1910 and 1921. The document reportedly lists 190 properties. After the discovery of the document, the foundation filed a petition with the Diyarbekir Regional Directorate of Foundations demanding the return of these properties after it found the current real estate listings of the properties.
According to the Sabah report, the Diyarbekir Regional Directorate of Foundations recently decided to return 17 properties, with a total area of 15,000 square meters, within the borders of Diyarbekir’s Sur district. The Diyarbekir Regional Directorate of Foundations reportedly refused to return the other 173 properties listed in the document on the grounds that the certificates of ownership provided to the directorate are too old, belonging to the Ottoman era or to the period prior to 1910. The directorate reportedly told the Diyarbekir Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation that its records are too old and insufficient for the return of the 173 properties, asking it to find newer records.
Vartkes Ergün Ayık, the head of the Diyarbekir Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation, told the Sabah daily that they are happy with the Diyarbekir Regional Directorate of Foundations’ initial decision but will continue their efforts until the remaining 173 properties are returned to the foundation.
Regarding the 17 properties that were returned, Ayık said: “Some of the properties that were returned are currently occupied by unlicensed buildings, some by even public buildings,” adding: “The Ottoman-era records of the 173 properties have caused difficulties as the locations of the properties are defined using some vague expressions such as ‘the house next to Kirkor’s house’ or ‘the house behind the field of Sarkisyan and opposite the house of Ahmet.’ The Diyarbakır Regional Directorate of Foundations has asked us to find more reliable and contemporary records for the properties. We have applied to the General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre to help us find contemporary records. If we fail to obtain a favorable result, we will go to court.”
The Surp Giragos Armenian Church was seized by the German army during World War I and in 1918 was converted into a textiles warehouse for Sümerbank. The Armenian population in the area applied for its return in 1952 and the church was subsequently returned to the community. However, due to the lack of a congregation, it remained neglected since 1980. Renovation started at the end of 2009 after the Diyarbekir Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation undertook the restoration project of the 400-year-old church. The church was reopened on Oct. 23, 2011, for a religious ceremony.