An old Armenian cemetery in Turkey’s eastern province of Van was destroyed by bulldozers last week and bones were scattered across the field, sparking outrage in the Armenian community and opposition politicians, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported, citing the Mezopotamya news agency.
Murat Sarısaç from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) submitted a parliamentary question about the incident requesting a thorough investigation. “We have seen that gravestones have been destroyed and bones have been scattered,” he said in a speech in parliament. “There have been previous incidents where churches and cemeteries were desecrated because sufficient security measures were not taken.”
Sarısaç said the authorities need to be more careful when it comes to protecting Armenian religious and cultural heritage sites.
Gayane Gevorgyan, an Armenian living in Van, said cemeteries such as the one destroyed in Van were very important for the Armenian diaspora. “Many descendants of Armenians who were victims of the atrocities and forced deportations carried out in 1915 search for the remains of their families in these cemeteries,” she said. “They commemorate their lost ones in these cemeteries, but they have been robbed of that.”
According to Gevorgyan new apartment complexes will be built on the site of the cemetery. She said this was heartbreaking and urged landowners to stop digging and destroying land that was once used as cemeteries.
This was not the first Armenian cemetery to be damaged, with an old Armenian cemetery destroyed during construction in Ankara’s Ulus district as part of a gentrification project in March.
Concerns about the preservation of Armenian cultural and religious sites in Turkey have been growing. On January 27 the Turkish-Armenian Agos bilingual weekly reported that an ancient Armenian church reported to have been rebuilt after its destruction in a 1603 rebellion in the western province of Kütahya that was on the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s preservation list was demolished after it was acquired by a private party.
Only 10 days before that, Agos had reported that a 19th century Armenian church was put up for sale on a Turkish real estate website. In the ad the church, which is located in Bursa, was described as “perfect for a tourist attraction because it is in a UNESCO protected area.”
The seller, whose name was not disclosed, also said the church was a good investment as it could be “used as a hotel, museum or art gallery.”
The Surp Toros Armenian Church built in 1835 in Turkey’s Kayseri province was vandalized in June by treasure hunters.