Evolving Armenian Realities And The Surp Giragos Dikranagerd Church

EVOLVING ARMENIAN REALITIES AND THE SURP GIRAGOS DIKRANAGERD CHURCH
By: Raffi Bedrosyan

Fri, Jul 1 2011

I would like to share my thoughts about Armenian realities-evolving
ones, forgotten ones, and new ones.

This church had more than 200 deeds showing that a significant
portion of the Diyarbakir city center belonged to the church prior to
1915. At present, several apartment buildings, state schools, offices,
and shops are on these lands. So, the long and difficult process has
begun, to reclaim these lands and properties by their rightful owner,
the Surp Giragos Church.

Until 20 years ago, the Armenian reality was mainly Soviet Armenia
and the diaspora. Then, a double miracle happened and we had a free
and independent Armenia and Karabagh, creating a new reality, which
became the triangle of Armenia, Karabagh, and the diaspora. And yet,
throughout the past century, there’s been an often forgotten or
dismissed reality-the Armenians remaining in Turkey. This is a tiny
community of about 60,000, generally called Bolsahays as they live
mostly in Istanbul, which was the intellectual, cultural, political,
industrial, and social center for Armenians before 1915. Although they
are called Bolsahays, they come mostly from the historic homeland,
where they lived continuously for more than 3,000 years. These people
are not exactly diasporan or Hayasdantsi. So, how do you define them?

Where do we place them in the Hayasdan-Artsakh-Spyurk triangle? I
suggest placing them in the middle, in the heart of the triangle. Let
me explain.

For almost a century now, despite the hardships, pain, and grief
caused by the Turkish state, despite the discrimination, harassment,
and insults hurled at them by the general Turkish population, these
Armenians have continued to preserve their identity and carry the
heavy burden of protecting the legacy and heritage left behind by
their ancestors, at least in Istanbul, keeping an open and active the
Armenian Patriarchate, more than 30 churches, nearly 20 schools, and 2
hospitals. Until recently their efforts were all managed defensively,
in a survival mode, until one Armenian, originally from Malatya,
stood up in Istanbul and called upon the Turks and Turkish state to
face their past, stop falsifying historical facts, and talk about
the remaining Armenians. He stood up as an advocate of dialogue and
a bridge between Turks and Armenians. Unfortunately, the enormous
impact of Hrant Dink’s critical message and the new reality was only
understood after his murder.

Around the same time, another Armenian in Istanbul, this time from
Dikranagerd/Diyarbakir, stood up and declared that the historic Surp
Giragos Church had to be reconstructed. This church, with its seven
altars and capacity of 3,000 people-the biggest Armenian church in the
Middle East-was partially destroyed by cannon fire in 1915 and left
in ruins, on its last legs after its roof collapsed. Until recently,
the Turkish state had not allowed even minor repairs to the Armenian
schools and churches in Istanbul, let alone the full reconstruction of
a historic church in Anatolia. And yet, Vartkes Ergun Ayik persevered;
he hired expert architects, historians, and builders, obtained
all the required permits and approvals, and even more incredibly,
convinced the Diyarbakir municipal government to pay for one third of
the church’s reconstruction. The construction is now underway, with
two thirds completed, and more than half of the financing also secured.

This church had more than 200 deeds showing that a significant
portion of the Diyarbakir city center belonged to the church prior to
1915. At present, several apartment buildings, state schools, offices,
and shops are on these lands. So, the long and difficult process has
begun, to reclaim these lands and properties by their rightful owner,
the Surp Giragos Church.

This is the first time Armenians have begun to reconstruct a building
in their ancestral homeland. It is the first time they have claimed
the land and properties from their ancestral homeland, after losing
them in 1915. This is a new reality.

Another new reality is how this church is helping shape public opinion
in Turkey. Whoever sees the Surp Giragos Church, whether in person or
through the media, keeps asking, “Where are the people that belonged
to this church?” “Where are they now?” “Where did they go, and why?”

The ever-changing and most recent version of the official Turkish
state history claims that Armenians revolted on the eastern front
during World War I to join the Russians and that, as a result, the
Ottoman state temporarily deported them from only the “eastern war
zones” to the south toward the Syrian desert. But Diyarbakir was not
in the eastern front, nor in the war zone; nor was there any Armenian
revolt. As these facts become evident, Turkish citizens-both Turks
and Kurds-have started to question the falsified history. Still a
tiny percentage, there is nevertheless an ever-increasing number
of Turkish citizens, especially of the younger generations, who
have started “seeking the truth” and demanding that the state face
its past and stop its denialist policies. There are also Turkish
citizens who are fully aware of the truth, and have developed a
guilty conscience about their ancestor’s past evil deeds. This year,
the April 24, 1915 events were commemorated in five Turkish cities,
including Diyarbakir. This is another new reality.

The church, when reconstruction is completed, will become a historic
destination of pilgrimage for all Armenians-a memorial and reminder
of the past Armenian presence in Anatolia, and a hope for the future.

Armenians are few in number, and Bolsahays are even fewer, but by
engaging in a dialogue with liberal-minded Turks and Kurds eager
for the democratization of Turkey, and through cooperation with
their colleagues in the media, academia, law, construction, finance,
and political fields, these few Armenians remaining in Turkey are
learning how to undo past wrongs much more effectively than the
diaspora. No matter how often Diaspora Armenians gather together to
hear their leaders give speeches demanding the return of their lands
or to stop the denial, the deeds and results achieved inside Turkey
are much louder than the words outside. The diaspora’s efforts surely
serve a useful purpose in helping younger Armenian generations keep
their identity, or even in reminding foreign politicians of the past
injustices, but in terms of reversing these injustices, the Armenians
remaining in Turkey are starting to play a vital role through dialogue
and cooperation with their fellow Turkish citizens.

The Armenians in Turkey, therefore, deserve the maximum support of
their fellow Armenians in the diaspora and Armenia. And this is the
most important new Armenian reality.

***

If you are interested in supporting this project, you can send your
tax deductible donations, payable to Toronto Holy Trinity Armenian
Church, at the following address:

Surp Giragos Dikranagerd Church Reconstruction Committee c/o Raffi
Bedrosyan, 40 Strathearn Blvd. Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5P 1T1

From: A. Papazian

http://www.armenianweekly.com/2011/07/01/evolving-armenian-realities-and-surp-giragos-dikranagerd-church/

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