Controversy has risen over plots of land that Turkey’s Syriac community has claimed were offered to them for the establishment of their first church in Istanbul. Two alternative spaces also offered to the Syriac community by the Istanbul municipality belong to the Armenian and Greek foundations respectively, it has emerged.
One of the land plots offered is allegedly a historical cemetery belonging to the Armenian community and the only property belonging to the Surp Stephanos Church Foundation in Istanbul’s Yeşilköy district. The other piece of land belongs to the Greek Hagios Stephanos Foundation.
The land options were proposed to the Syriac community 10 days ago, according to K.H., one of the leading figures of the Syrian community.
“They present us lands belonging to other minority communities,” K.H said. “They aim to create polemics by giving us land which belongs to another minority community. This is a scandal in its true sense.”
Officials from the Surp Stephanos Church Foundation expressed disapproval at the municipality’s recent offering. “This is the only property belonging to our foundation. We have difficulties in meeting our needs, so how could we give this land to someone else?” Arev Cebeci, one of the administrators of Yeşilköy Surp Stephanos Church Foundation, said.
The Surp Stephanos Church Foundation is currently involved in a legal case against the municipality over the return of property. “Just after the approval of the new foundation law to return properties, we opened a legal case against the municipality and won. However, the Metropolitan Municipality brought the case to the Court of Appeal. We believe that the court’s decision will be in our favor,” Cebeci said.
The foundation would consider releasing the land on only one condition, Cebeci said. “If the Syriac community wants to buy the land, we could consider delivering it.”
Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality refused to comment on questions from the Hürriyet Daily News.
“As an individual, I believe in the importance of cooperation between the different minority groups in Turkey,” said Greek-origin Laki Vingas, who is in charge of minority foundations in the Foundations Directorate General.
“The Syriacs have been struggling to establish their own church for a long time. Their struggle should be supported, but I insist on the fact that my individual opinion does not interest my community,” he said.