Lawmaker embarked on expeditions to save a crumbling heritage
Garo Paylan, a member of the Armenian community in Turkey and Diyarbakir deputy for the Peoples' Democratic Pary (HDP), recently visited several churches and monasteries in Southeastern Turkey in the context of a survey to assess the situation surrounding abandoned non-Muslim places of worship.
Paylan already visited about 20 churches and monasteries in the Kurdish-majority provinces of Van, Mus and Bitlis, and now plans to visit further sites in Diyarbakir, Mardin, Ardahan and Artvin.
He explained the motives behind the survey to Duvar's Serkan Alan:
"Anatolia is a place where civilizations were born. It has its autochthonous peoples. Most of them were either forced out of these lands or wiped out within the last century. These peoples had their cultural properties. Now only a small minority is left of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and Jews, who constituted half of the population in Anatolia until a hundred years ago. But they have a very important cultural heritage. They had built thousands of churches, monasteries, schools, hospitals alongside residences of historical significance. This cultural heritage has essentially been destroyed in great extent."
"Now what is left is mostly remains, a cultural heritage that barely survives (...) These lands have not known a true peace for a hundred years. There are constant tensions with Greeks and Armenians. These tensions can be resolved through respect, by showing that Anatolia is the land of all these peoples. You can show this by making peace with the others, but what is even more important is showing respect to their cultural heritage, ensuring that this heritage continues to live. I have tried to demonstrate [by my visits] that these cultural properties are destroyed, and a few hundred out of thousands can still be saved. I have begun to visit sites with the objective of saving these edifices, and I will continue to visit similar sites."
Paylan went on to tell that he observed no security guards in any of the sites he visited, but that there were "valiant people" in some places who acted in protection.
"In Van's Monastery of Seven Churches, I met the village's imam. If the church there could partially survive, it could, thanks to uncle Mehmet (Coban). In an act of valiance, he's covered the roof of the church with canvas every year. He tries to protect the site against treasure hunters, but they continue to come back."
He added that in all the sites he visited, he saw that the ground beneath the foundations were carved out, the columns hollowed out.
"I believe that these things are done by some state administrators who want to see churches destroyed. Rumors are spread, saying that 'there is gold inside a column.' When that column is smashed, the whole church collapses. How can one imagine that there may be gold inside a column anyway? The church stands on that column. I believe that the objective here is the destruction of the church by deliberately spreading such rumors. The real treasure, on the other hand, are these monasteries and churches."