Christian Churches seized for the restoration of Turkish city

The Turkish government has seized all its last remaining Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Churches in accordance with the expropriation order issued last month. The expropriation, according to the government, aims to rebuild and restore the historical center of Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeastern Turkey.

(Reuters/Fatih Saribas)The hand of the statue of Pope Benedict XV is seen under the cross of the St. Esprit Cathedral in Istanbul.

The government declared the "urgent expropriation" of 6,300 plots of land in the Sur district in March. The expropriation order came from a council of ministers led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President.

Six Diyarbakir Christian Churches are now made state property of Turkey and under state control. These Churches are the following: the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church, the Surp (Armenian for "Saint") Sarkis Chaldean Catholic Church, the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, the Apostolic Armenian Surp Giragos Church, an Armenian Catholic church, and the Mar Petyun Chaldean Catholic Church.

Reports by the Turkish-American Daily note that concerns by the Armenian, Syriac, and Chaldean communities regarding the ruling have greatly increased.

About 330 structures in the Sur neighborhood were demolished for an urban renewal program. The decision, which was based on Turkey's Expropriation Law Article 27, was claimed to be the "last resort" in keeping and protecting the area and the Churches.

"The government didn't take over these pieces of property in order to protect them. They did so to acquire them," Pastor Ahmet Guvener tells the World Watch Monitor. Guvener is a pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church. He considers the expropriation as the government's way of taking over the city's Church buildings.

Aram Ateshian, Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church, asks the cabinet to reconsider and correct the decision made. Multiple Church foundations are planning to appeal against the order.

Despite the ongoing fight, some Churches are having Sunday services again but the Churches could still be closed down any time by the government. Fr. Yusuf Akbulut, a Syriac Orthodox priest, is currently making agreements to have the Church properties returned.