The Armenian Apostolic Church filed on Wednesday an unprecedented lawsuit with Turkey’s highest court demanding the return of the former headquarters of its Cilicia Catholicosate that had for centuries been located in what is now southeastern Turkey.
The Catholicosate, the second most important body in the church hierarchy, was based in Kozan, the former capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom also known as Sis, from the 13th century until the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. The church was forced to move it to Antelias, Lebanon after the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians.
The property in question, which included a monastery, is one of more than 2,000 Armenian churches and other religious sites destroyed or confiscated by the Ottoman Turks during the genocide.
The Antelias-based Catholicos Aram I, the number two clergyman in the Armenian Church, announced the legal action in a statement released by his office. The statement said the lawsuit was prepared by “a committee of Turkish and international human rights lawyers” and submitted to Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
“In initiating this effort, His Holiness is setting a precedent for the descendants of the martyrs to reclaim their family belongings,” added the statement.
It is the first time a Turkish court is asked to rule on a lawsuit from the Armenian Apostolic seeking to reclaim its lost property in Turkey. With the Turkish government strongly denying the genocide and ruling out the possibility of any compensation to descendants of genocide victims, few in Armenia expect the Constitutional Court in Ankara to rule in Aram’s favor.
A senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential party that has a strong influence on the Antelias Catholicosate, said Aram’s lawsuit could pave the way for more legal claims against the Turkish state. Giro Manoyan noted in that regard that a commission of senior Armenian state officials and Diaspora leaders is currently looking into the matter.
The commission headed by President Serzh Sarkisian adopted a declaration on behalf of the Armenian people in January. It reaffirmed the Armenian government’s and the Diaspora’s intention to seek greater international recognition of the genocide and said they will also strive to “overcome consequences” of the massacres. Commission experts are now working on a “package of legal demands” to be addressed to modern-day Turkey, added the “pan-Armenian declaration.”