Christians in Turkey fear losing their ancient churches after government seizes church properties

The Turkish government has seized six ancient churches in the predominantly Muslim country, causing Christians to fear losing their places of worship.

(Reuters/Stringer/Turkey/Sertac Kayar)Armenian Christians pray during an Easter mass at Surp Giragos church in Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern Turkey, April 5, 2015.

Turkey has just taken over the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church, the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, the Surp Sarkis Chaldean Catholic Church, the Apostolic Surp Giragos Church, the Mar Petyun Chaldean Catholic Church, and an Armenian Catholic Church. The government's seizure of the six ancient Christian churches last month is part of its expropriation of 6,300 plots of land in the war-torn southeast region, according to the World Watch Monitor.

Minister of Environment and Urban Planning Fatmagul Sari explained that the move was the government's "last resort" to protect and rebuild the region, including the historical center in the city of Diyarbakir. The said site has become the center of an armed conflict between the government troops and the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) in the last 10 months, causing more than 30,000 residents to flee.

However, the government did not say when the takeover of the property and the churches will end, arousing concern among the Christian community. Gafur Turkay of the Surp Giragos Foundation has reportedly consulted lawyers about possible legal action they could take to ensure that the churches will still be under their care.

In addition, the Diyarbakir Bar Association has also filed a complaint against the government's expropriation of the area. In a statement, the group said the seized structures belong to public institutions, making the move unjustifiable.

"This decision, which seems to be made by the request of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning without any reason or justification, is unacceptable within the limits of constitutional order," the association said, according to World Watch Monitor.

Diyarbakir Protestant Church minister Ahmet Guvener has accused the government of taking over the property to acquire them and not to protect them. Because of the fear of losing their place of worship, Pastor Guvener said he is also planning to file a lawsuit against the government.

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