Armenian religious heritage sites in Turkey remain under threat, US report says

Armenian religious heritage sites in Turkey remain under threat, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a new report on Turkey.

“In early 2021 the Surp Toros Armenian church in Kutahya was demolished after coming into the possession of an unknown individual—despite holding protected status. In August bulldozers destroyed an Armenian cemetery in Van Province, the same month an Armenian church and cultural center in Malatya hosted its first mass following a restoration,” the report reminded.

“Although many attacks on cemeteries in Turkey appear to be the work of non-state actors, the Turkish government has also been implicated in the destruction of religious minority burial sites. Moreover, authorities often fail to catch or prosecute non-state actors responsible for these crimes, creating an environment of impunity,” the Commission said.

Similarly, it noted “the Turkish government frequently fails to halt construction projects that threaten cemeteries; for example, in March 2021 the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Member of Parliament (MP) Garo Paylan submitted a parliamentary inquiry to ask why the government had not halted the construction of a state-owned bank over an Armenian and Catholic cemetery in historic downtown Ankara.”

“In April 2021, in response to Turkish-Armenian MP Garo Paylan’s statements on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, nationalist MP Ümit Özdağ threatened: “you’ll also have a Talat Pasha experience and you should have it.” Talat Pasha was the principal architect of the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic and the November 2020 conflict
in Nagorno-Karabakh has fueled anti-Armenian conspiracies and intimidating, anti-Armenian protests,” the report reads.

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