The Gezi Park of Taksim Square Was the Place of the Surp Hagop Armenian Cemetery

Hakob Chakerian
Translated by Vartan Matiossian

Yesterday morning the demonstrators clashed again with the police in the Gezi Park of Taksim Square, in Istanbul. The inflamed passions do not and will not calm, even when today Prime Minister Erdogan meets with the leaders of the "Taksim Platform," the group that coordinates the protests. The problem are not the trees of the park, namely, it is not ecological, but the reaction of the secular Kemalists against the Islamist government, which is being expressed in Prime Minister Erdogan's project to rebuild Taksim Square. 
The demonstrators do not come to terms with the idea of destroying the "Ataturk" Culture Palace in the square and restoring the historical "Selimieh" military quarters, a mosque included. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Erdogan insists. It is worth of mention that the Kemalists who today are opposed to Erdogan with regards to the Ataturk Palace in the 1930s destroyed the Surp Hagop Armenian Cemetery and the adjacent church of Khor Virap to build Gezi Park, and used tombstones as building material for the renovation.
That cemetery of the sixteenth century occupied an area of 56,000 square meters, and the adjacent structures, 5,000 square meters. The cemetery was declared "abandoned property" in 1915. Later, after the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, it was returned to the community, but in 1926 the municipality of Pera [nowadays Beyoglu] closed the cemetery and decided to move it elsewhere. The resolution became the factor to confiscate the Surp Hagop cemetery. In 1931 the municipality of Pera, together with the cemetery, confiscated the cemetery together with the adjacent constructions belonging to the Surp Hagop Foundation [Vaqf], including stores and parking places. The court motions of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Parish Council, and the Foundation were ineffective. In 1934 the Court of Istanbul resolved to deliver the cemetery to the municipality, which razed it in 1938 and turned it into a desert lot. The church of Khor Virap suffered the same fate in 1939. The tombstones were used for the construction of Gezi Park and Eminonu Square.  
We have extracted this data from Armaveni Miroglu's article in the journal Toplumsal Tarih, which was reprinted by the online site "Hyetert" of Istanbul. The Kurdish Firat news agency published on June 9 the declarations of Cengiz Algan, speaker of the initiative "Not to Racism and Chauvinism," in Gezi Park.
Algan noted that this space ceded by Sultan Suleyman I in 1560 as cemetery for the Armenian community was plundered, and that in 1940 Armenians were already deprived of any right to the area. He continues: "Those stairs of Gezi Park, over which they jump today, are the tombstones of the Armenians buried here."
Algan also calls attention on the fact that the first monument of the Medz Yeghern was built in 1919, namely, four years after the genocide, in the area of the park, noting that it was destroyed later. Afterwards, Algan underscores: "These facts are not known by the wide public. We wanted to note the facts in the Gezi Park, which has become the symbol of freedom struggle. While resistance continues in the park, the demonstrators apologize to the Kurds, in a way unusual for us. And they almost do not know the Armenians, because they have exterminated the latter. Regardless of the extermination, there are still tens of thousands of Armenians. They try to prove the extermination of their ancestors in these lands. We will also try that people remember the genocide, confront the genocide, and become aware of the fact. We want the visitors of Gezi Park to go away being aware of the genocide monument built here in 1919. Let's hope that one day a new monument to the genocide will be built in the same place."

"Azg," June 12, 2013

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