An Armenian Christian cemetery in eastern Turkey has been destroyed by bulldozers, with bones scattered across the field. The incident occurred in mid-August in the district of Tuşba, in the mainly Kurdish province of Van, on the Iranian border.
The neighbourhood of Lezk, renamed Kalecik by the Turkish administration, was a home to many Armenians until 1915, when its residents were forced out during the genocide. Turkish opposition MP Murat Sarısaç, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), called for a parliamentary inquiry into the matter.
“We have seen that gravestones have been destroyed and bones have been scattered,” he said in a speech in parliament on 24 August. “There have been previous incidents where churches and cemeteries were desecrated because sufficient security measures were not taken.”
Local witnesses disclosed that, in recent days, a landowner transported bulldozers to the cemetery and deliberately damaged the graves. Gayane Gevorgyan, an Armenian living in Van, underlined the importance of such cemeteries to 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.”
The desecration of the Armenian cemetery is the latest in a series of episodes in Turkey of disrespect for Christian cultural heritage.
In January 2021, an ancient Armenian church in Bursa was expropriated and put up for sale online. In 2020 the conversions of the ancient Christian basilicas of St Sophia and Chora into mosques, which had been museums in the early 20th century under Ataturk’s rule, were completed.
These decisions follow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “nationalism and Islam” policy. In both basilicas the Islamic authorities have used a white curtain to cover any frescoes and icons which would reveal the buildings’ Christian roots.