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Armenian Church Files Lawsuit for Return of Headquarters From Turkey; 'Not an Iota" Will be Given, Responds Turkish Mayor

Armenian Church Files Lawsuit for Return of Headquarters From Turkey; 'Not an Iota" Will be Given, Responds Turkish Mayor

Leaders and supporters of Armenian Church at a press conference in Washington, D.C. | Armenian Church Catholicosate

Armenian Christians won't get "an iota of land," the mayor of a Turkish city says in response to a lawsuit filed by an Armenian Church in Turkey's Constitutional Court to reclaim its headquarters that existed before the 1915 Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire.

"Not even an iota of land is to be handed over to anyone," as Armenians have no proof of ownership of a monastery that was allegedly the church's headquarters, Musa Ozturk, the mayor of Turkey's Kozan district, said Friday, according to Daily Sabah.

The mayor's statement comes three days after the Lebanon-based Armenian Church Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia filed the lawsuit, which carries telegrams from Talat Pasha and Cemal Pasha, two senior figures of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, as evidence of ownership of the monastery.

April 24 marked the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, which refers to the Ottoman Empire's alleged systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects in their historic homeland within Ottoman Turkey and of those who lived in other parts of the territory constituting the present-day Turkey. About 1.5 million people were killed in the genocide, according to estimates.

As they observe the centenary of the genocide, Armenians want the world to recognize the mass killings and forced relocations as "genocide."

"Armenian churches belong to the Armenian Church," Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said at a press conference at the National Press club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. "In 2011 the U.S. House passed a resolution HR306 calling on the Secretary of State to press Turkey to return the churches. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has also constructively addressed the issue."

"This is a remarkable story of hope and a remarkable story of resilience of human spirit," Payam Akhavan, the church's lead international counsel in the case, added, of the church's efforts to reclaim the monastery. "We hope the Turkish government sees this as an opportunity for reconciliation and returns these properties. However, His Holiness Aram the 1st has made it very clear that we are determined to go all the way to the European court of human rights."

In the genocide, Akhavan sent on to say, "Turkey adopted a series of laws on abandoned properties—and of course, abandoned properties is a euphemism used to confiscate the properties of millions of Armenians that once were inhabitants of Ottoman Turkey." He referred to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which Turkey signed to respect the rights of non-Muslim minorities.

"This ancient and sacred site must be returned to its rightful owners nearly a century after it was pillaged. Armenians are right to pursue all legal avenues to obtain justice and to seek the return of what is rightfully theirs," Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, said in a statement.

"The restoration of the Catholicosate of Sis would represent an act of justice, a first step toward the legal return of the Armenian Church and its faithful to their lawful place in their rightful homeland," Hamparian added. "It would, as well, mark a meaningful milestone in the Armenian nation's journey toward a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide."

Haykaram Nahapetyan contributed reporting to this article.

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