Mark Collins – The Sublime Erdogan vs Armenians and Kurds, Urban Redevelopment Section

Further to this 2013 post,

Turkey and the March of Islam(ism?)

Mosque Ado About a Church…

we turn to something perhaps somewhat similar in the southeast of the country–at the NY Times:

Turkey’s Seizure of Churches and Land Alarms Armenians
[note Kurds too]

The Turkish government has seized the historic Armenian Surp Giragos Church, a number of other churches and large swaths of property in the heavily damaged Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, saying it wants to restore the area but alarming residents who fear the government is secretly aiming to drive them out.

The city, in the heart of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, has been the scene of heavy fighting for nearly a year, since the Turkish military began a counterinsurgency campaign against militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which ended a two-year cease-fire in July. Many neighborhoods have been left in ruins, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes. Surp Giragos, one of the largest Armenian churches in the Middle East, was damaged in the fighting and forced to shut its doors.

Both the Armenians, for whom Surp Giragos is an important cultural touchstone, and the Kurds have discerned a hidden agenda in the expropriations. They say the government plans to replace the destroyed neighborhoods they shared with other minorities with luxury rentals and condominiums affordable only to a wealthier, presumably nonminority class of residents…

“Solving ethnic and religious strife through demographic engineering is a policy of the Turkish government that goes back well over a century,” said Taner Akcam, a prominent Turkish historian [with an Armenian leaning]. “The latest developments in Sur,” he added, referring to the historic heart of Diyarbakir, “need to be viewed through this framework.”

Indeed, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party has displayed a predilection for sweeping projects. It was a proposal to build a shopping mall in place of a razed central park in Istanbul that set off mass antigovernment demonstrations in 2013…


A building hit by a car bomb in January in Diyarbakir, Turkey, a Kurdish city that is the home of a historic Armenian church. Credit Ilyas Akengin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu [see “No Turkish Delight…“]) said recently that the government would rebuild Sur to look like the scenic Spanish city of Toledo. “Everyone will want to come and appreciate its architectural texture,” he said…

Diyarbakir is a polyglot city that is home to small Christian congregations of Assyrians, Chaldeans and Turkish converts, as well as to Armenians and Kurds.

Surp Giragos (“Surp” means saint in Armenian), which stands in Sur, closed in the 1960s for lack of parishioners but was renovated and reopened in 2011, part of a reconciliation process begun by the Erdogan government that has returned dozens of properties that the Ottoman Turks confiscated during World War I.

To many Armenians in the area, who lost touch with their family histories after the genocide and were often raised as Muslims by Kurdish families, the church has served as an anchor as they rediscovered their identities.

These “hidden Armenians” emerged as Turkey relaxed its restrictions on minorities, but now they say they again feel threatened…

Too bad this is happening in Canada:

Liberals to close Office of Religious Freedom, [foreign minister] Dion says

The Office’s webpage is here. Big Turkish picture from last November:

Turkey: Erdogan the Magnificent After All?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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