The Turkish government 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 New York Times said.
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.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the government’s urban renewal plans for Diyarbakir in 2011, saying they would “make the city into an international tourism destination,” the New York Times said.
The local governor’s office defended the decision to expropriate the property in Diyarbakir, saying in a written statement that the main aim was to bring Sur’s potential as a historic quarter to light by restoring registered buildings and replacing irregular structures with new ones that fit the city’s historical fabric. Local officials have said the properties will be returned once they are restored.
A video distributed by the Prime Minister’s office to illustrate the government’s vision for the project has also been criticized for its focus on mosques and residential areas over other prominent religious establishments in the area.
The Diyarbakir Bar Association has sued the government, claiming that the project is a work of “military and security reconstruction” and that it will not benefit Sur. The Surp Giragos Church is also preparing to take legal action against the order.