Discrimination of minorities does not end with their demise: the matter of small graves

Minority cemeteries in Turkey continue to be a scene of expropriation and discrimination to this day

Article 6 of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality's Funeral and Burial Services Directive, which specifies the size of graves, states that the size of the grave for all cemeteries is a maximum of 2.64 m², while the maximum size for "minority" graves is 2 m².

Why is that?

About a year ago, the Commission against Racism and Discrimination of the Human Rights Association (IHD) issued a statement drawing attention to the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality's (IMM) regulations regarding cemeteries. Article 6 of the IMM Funeral and Burial Services Directive, which specifies the size of graves, states that the size of the grave for all cemeteries is a maximum of 2.64 m², while the maximum size for "minority" graves is 2 m².

In other words, minority graves are 0.64 square meters smaller than Muslim graves. Now, if you are going to argue that this may be because minority cemeteries are smaller, I suggest you stop and think about that for a moment.

Istanbul, and in fact the whole country, is dotted with Armenian and Greek cemeteries, most of which have been built over with state buildings in the last 100 years. But even on the remaining plots there should be enough space for burying the dead.

What is the mortality rate of minorities in Turkey at less than a 100,000 people, so that they should be given a smaller space in the cemetery? Every regulation issued in Turkey contains some form of discrimination. In fact, it may even be the case that those issuing the regulations are not aware that discrimination exists. Nor do they feel the need to look to themselves for a conclusive explanation.

Therefore, all discriminatory content over the years, from the time of the Ottoman Empire to the present day, can still be found between the lines. Who knows when this regulation was drafted…

Who decided how many square meters of space would be allocated to whom, and when? Were Armenians, Jews, Assyrians and Greeks consulted about this? I doubt it. The last modification of the said regulation was made in 2013, i.e. when the AKP held the mayor's office. And now the IHD is asking the IMM to correct this discrimination.

In fact, graves can be built in different forms with special permissions from the cemetery directorate. For example, in our Armenian cemetery in Sisli there is a magnificent pantheon of literary figures. Cemeteries are a place of worship for us, a place of remembrance of our being and identity. That is why they are so important.

When I visit cemeteries in Istanbul, I feel "major" as opposed to the "minority" that is attributed to me. In the same way, when I visit Armenian cemeteries around Turkey and I am shown Armenian cemeteries in ruins, my heart aches.

The cemeteries that could make me feel how numerous we are in reality are often destroyed precisely because they want us to forget that this is the truth.

Let us return to our topic. Another interesting point in this directive is that "non-Muslims" cannot be buried in "Muslim" cemeteries and "Muslims" cannot be buried in "non-Muslim" cemeteries. This is a common practice not only in Istanbul but also in many other places. However, this rule was not applied when Levon Ekmekciyan was executed in the 1980s, nor was it applied to the graves of Armenians who had been murdered in the past.

Levon was buried in an anonymous place in Edirnekapi Cemetery. Likewise, the graves of those murdered during the genocide were roads and fields. Therefore, we Armenians today occupy much more space than the two square meters of land we were granted... As the number of people decreased, so did the number of cemeteries...

We used to have as many cemeteries as churches and schools. The cemeteries in Alemdag, Besiktas, Beykoz, Davutpasa, Kartal, Pangalti and Eyup have completely disappeared. Those who have plundered them built mansions, multi-story parking lots and even military buildings in their places...

You did not read it wrong, military buildings stand in their places...

The Harbiye Military Academy is one of those buildings built on the site of the Pangalti Armenian Catholic Cemetery. The Pangalti Armenian Cemetery was granted to the use of Armenians around 1560. The cemetery was closed in the 1930s due to epidemics during that time, as it was considered that the presence of cemeteries in the city center was considered unsanitary. It is told that some of the graves in here were moved to the Sisli Armenian Cemetery...

The site of the cemetery, which was demolished in the 1930s, is now home to the Divan Hotel, the Hilton Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Taksim Gezi Park, the Istanbul Radio House and part of the Military Museum, as well as various other buildings.

Many articles on this subject were published in Agos by authors such as Armaveni Miroglu, Tamar Nalci-Emre Can Daglioglu, Kubra Uygur, and Zakarya Mildanoglu, who have done research on the subject; still, let us briefly review the information here... The plot of the land where the cemetery is located was transferred to the Armenian community through a certain Manuk Karaseferyan, a cook to Suleyman the Magnificent.

The cemetery, where the deceased of the Surp Agop Hospital were buried during the plague epidemic, was closed from 1865 onwards as it was considered a danger to public health. Thanks to the efforts of Istepan Pasha Aslanyan, Surp Krikor Lusavorich Church was built on the unused land. The municipality encroached on the cemetery land in 1912 under the pretext of widening the road. It paid 15,000 gold coins for the reburial of the bones in return for the cost of the land and went ahead with the business.

The cemetery was the subject of numerous legal proceedings before 1939, and the Armenian Patriarchate's complaint was countered with "there are neither Armenians nor a patriarchate in Turkey." The affirmation that the Patriarchate had been deported to Jerusalem in 1915 was like a confirmation of the genocide.

In '39, the seizure was completed, and the stones taken from the cemetery became the stones of Prost's Eminonu Square and the steps of Gezi Park...

Therefore, the 0.64 square meters per death amount to almost nothing compared to the thousands of acres that have been appropriated to date.

As they have penned us in Kurtulus, Yesilkoy, Bakirkoy and Adalar while we live, they can cram us into two square meters when we die. And that's only to remove our bones, sooner or later, for either the construction of a housing estate or excavations for a park. What are the graves that were destroyed next to the gifting a copy of the findings in Gobeklitepe to the UN garden in the US...

Soldiers keep the candle of Surp Agop lit.

Since we are talking about cemeteries, I would like to tell you the following story concerning the religious and superstitious beliefs of people of Turkey.

This is a summary of the story of a young Sarkis Seropyan on his way to work and to Eminonu on foot, as told to me by himself. Young Seropyan's walk passes through Cumhuriyet Street, which fronts the Harbiye Military Museum, formerly part of the Surp Agop Cemetery. The wind always blows so hard here that he keeps his head bowed so that the wall of the Military Museum (the Cemetery) keeps away the wind coming from below.

One day he raises his head. He looks over and sees a soldier lighting a candle. Then he looks in every time he passes by. The candle is always lit. It is not until later in his life that he realizes what is happening. Although the cemetery was vacated in 1939, some graves and monuments remained inside. The soldiers used them as training grounds. It is very likely that the Surp Agop mausoleum was the place where the candle was lit. As Seropyan commented:

"Let's say a soldier was hit by friendly fire and the bullet lodged in a tree nearby. You can see soldiers standing guard in front of that tree once a day in commemoration of the dead soldier. The Surp Agop candle should have been something like that. Probably on the order of a commander, every day a soldier would light that candle in that windy weather so that the Surp Agop's candle would not go out..."

A world that is more just is possible, Mr. Mayor...

I do not care if it is the mayor of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality or the president of the country who will lend an ear. To me, one bureaucrat or politician is no different from the next when it comes to the business of plundering. Leave alone what is today nothing more than the remnants of the Armenian, Greek, Assyrian community.

You do not give them peace as long as they live, we got it. We are slowly dwindling anyway. You get what you want. Our bodies are going from being above ground to below ground in fewer numbers, as we are getting fewer in number.

But can we not have the breathing space below ground that is not given above ground? 0.64 square meters will not save the country. Turn back from this mistake.

The world is no doubt bigger than five [refers to Turkish President Erdogan’s comments], as your vision should be able to see beyond 0.64 square meters.

Previus and Next Posts