Armenian Church Leader Speaks on Suit to Reclaim Seized Property

ICC Note: Christians who make up just a tiny fraction of modern day Turkey just a century ago were nearly 20 percent of the country. Much of their property has been confiscated, but now they are trying to get some of it back. The government has returned some, but many of the requests have been denied and never returned.

05/18/2015 Turkey (New York Times) lawsuit in Turkey filed by the Armenian Church to recover its ancient headquarters, seized a century ago during the Armenian genocide, is the “first legal step” of a goal to reclaim all Armenian property seized by the Turks, a worldwide leader of the church said Monday.

The leader, Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, also said that if the Turkish legal authorities rejected the lawsuit, it would “deepen the divide” between Turkey and the 10-million-member Armenian diaspora.

Aram I spoke in an interview at The New York Times while on a visit to diaspora communities in the Northeast after having participated in genocide centennial events in Washington.

He is a leading advocate of the effort to increase global recognition of the 1915-23 killings of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a genocide, a description embraced by Pope Francis, the European Parliament and legislatures of more than 20 nations but angrily rejected by Turkey’s government, which calls it a distortion of history.

Legislatures of many American states also have called the killings a genocide. The White House has yet to do so, but Aram I said, “I am sure President Obama, in his heart, knows that this was genocide.”

On April 27, lawyers for the church filed a suit with the Constitutional Court of Turkey asserting that the headquarters of the Catholicosate in Sis, part of the Kozan district in southern Turkey’s Adana Province, was wrongly seized and should be returned.

The headquarters, which dates to 1293 and included a cathedral and monastery, was once the epicenter of Armenian Christian life. It was among the tens of thousands of Armenian properties commandeered and plundered during the last days of the Ottoman Empire and the scattering of Armenian survivors. The headquarters was re-established in 1930, in Antelias, Lebanon.

Aram I, who at 68 is the first Lebanese-born leader of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, said he had decided to proceed with a lawsuit after having consulted with 30 legal experts, including some from Turkey. While the church’s efforts to achieve an international acknowledgment of the genocide were important, “after 100 years, I thought it was high time that we put the emphasis on reparation,” he said.

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