Turkey’s Ministry of Environment has ordered the demolition of a church dating back to the 14th century that was severely damaged in two massive earthquakes that struck the country’s south on Feb. 6, Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service (DW Türkçe) reported.
Last month’s major earthquakes, which killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, have left a trail of destruction in their wake, with several historic buildings and landmarks suffering significant damage.
In the southern province of Hatay, the quakes destroyed or damaged several historic churches.
The Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in a village called Sarılar is one of the severely damaged houses of worship.
According to the church’s pastor, Yohanna Papazoğlu, who spoke to DW Türkçe, the building, which was destroyed in a quake in 1872 and rebuilt in 1897, serves a congregation of Orthodox Christians that numbers about 1,900.
Since the church does not have the necessary paperwork from the Ministry of Culture recognizing it as a historic building, it fell to the Ministry of Environment to decide its fate as Turkish authorities clear damaged structures to allow for reconstruction.
Deputy Secretary General of the İstanbul Municipality Mahir Polat called on the authorities to reverse the decision and register the building with the Ministry of Culture as a historic landmark.
In response to Polat, Birol İnceciköz, deputy director of the General Directorate of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said the building in question had already been registered and that they were currently examining the site.
However, the church İnceciköz was referring to was the St. Nicholas Church in İskenderun and not St. George’s Church.
Polat pointed out the mistake and stressed the urgency of preserving St. George’s Church, which has already suffered significant damage despite two years of restoration. He criticized İnceciköz’s incorrect information and called for a proper examination of the historical value of the building.
Church pastor Papazoğlu called on the authorities to preserve the church. The people’s need for spirituality is more urgent than ever, especially after the disaster, he told DW Türkçe.