Armenian cemetery damaged

An under-construction chapel in a historic Armenian cemetery in Malatya that houses the remains of journalist Hrant Dink’s family was demolished Feb. 3 by municipal teams, causing incredulity in the Armenian community.

“If this is deemed suitable for us, what can we do? They are knocking down our place of last prayer [the chapel]. This is very unfortunate for Malatya,” Hosrof Köletavitoğlu of the Philanthropist Armenians from Malatya Association (HAYDER) told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Only a few burials a year are still made on the cemetery’s remaining 0.2 hectares, Köletavitoğlu said, adding that funerals were processed at a tent they had named the “place of last prayers.” The demolished chapel was being built through money raised by Armenians who live in Istanbul but are originally from Malatya.

“We consulted the office of the governor and the municipality to build us a small chapel in place of the tent. We asked them to build it for us. When they said they could not build it, we said, ‘Then allow us to build it.’ We started the construction as soon as we got the building permit; we were about to finish it,” Köletavitoğlu said.

“Heavy construction equipment is going over the graves of my ancestors,” Köletavitoğlu said, adding that this situation pained him. “We are not building this tiny chapel for the 50 Armenians living here. It is our fathers, our ancestors that are buried here.”

Meanwhile, officials from Malatya Municipality told the Daily News that several complaints and reports had been lodged with the municipality and that they had determined that a guard’s cabin was also being built separately to the chapel, leading them to order the demolition of the cabin.

“Our target was only to knock down the guard’s house, but a misunderstanding caused the whole construction to be knocked down,” an official said.

However, Köletavitoğlu said they had earlier declared that they were going to build a building for the guard and that a misunderstanding was impossible.

Former HAYDER head Garo Paylan agreed with Köletavitoğlu and said he was also very sad that earthmovers were operating on top of his family’s graves.

“The demolished chapel was over my grandfather’s grave,” Paylan said. “I think it was because of the ‘genocide denial motion’ in France. Because when the motion was in question, the municipality first asked us to lower the roof of the chapel even though the project had been approved before.”

Last year the Malatya Governor’s Office had discussed plans to restore a historic Armenian Church in Malatya located in the neighborhood where Dink was born, Köletavitoğlu said.

“On one hand, a tiny chapel is being knocked down; on the other hand talks on a historic church being restored are continuing. These contrasts confuse us,” he said.

This article was published: February/06/2012

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