News / Middle East

Russian Orthodox Church Threatened by Istanbul Redevelopment

Russian Orthodox visitors take souvenir pictures following services at St. Elijah Church, Istanbul, Aug. 2, 2013.
Russian Orthodox visitors take souvenir pictures following services at St. Elijah Church, Istanbul, Aug. 2, 2013.
Dorian Jones
A few months ago, the Turkish government's plans to redevelop a park in Istanbul provoked the worst civil unrest in decades. But now an historic Russian Orthodox church once used by refugees of the Bolshevik Revolution is at the center of a new controversy over development.
 
Istanbul's 134-year-old St. Elijah Church is something of a novelty. Built atop a five-story building in the city's central Karakoy neighborhood, the 19th century architectural rarity reopened its doors on August 2 to offer services for the first time since 1972.
 
According to Hürriyet Daily News, the church, property of Turkey's White Russians, is in a state of significant disrepair and cannot host regular services until it has a permanent priest.
 
Nonetheless, many people attended the reopening services, which followed the commemoration day of the church's namesake, to recognize the structure's symbolic value in Russia's turbulent history.
 
But according to Ivan Denizenko, who heads a local Russia church charity, the timing of the reopening has to do an imminent threat facing the church.
 
"There was an idea to destroy this building to build a hotel," says Denizenko. "If you destroy this building and make a hotel, you can easily make $5 or $10 million. We went to see [Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I] to say we have to reopen the church, and the Patriarch said okay. We reopened the church and now we have it. The local authorities have to write down [that] it's a church and an historical building. Before it was a trade building. As a trade building you can demolish it. But if it's an historical building ... Turkish laws [say] you cannot destroy it."
 
While a view from church affords a magnificent vista of the old Karakoy neighborhood, it also reveals the danger facing St. Elijah. Just a few hundred meters away, some of the world's largest cruise ships are moored at port. Karakoy is no longer a hub for religious pilgrims heading to Jerusalem, but rather the point of arrival for tens of thousands of tourists, and government officials have already cut a $700 million deal to redevelop Karakoy as a high-end tourism hub replete with shopping malls, restaurants, boutiques and five-star hotels.
 
Analysts say that even though the St. Elijah Church has reopened, it may have limited legal protection. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is backing the redevelopment plans, arguing that sale of development rights means jobs and national prosperity.
 
But for Father Visarion, it's important to save St. Elijah not only for the small Christian population, but for everyone living in the city.
 
"It's a very basic part of the multicultural part of Constantinople, of Istanbul," he says. "I can say the majority of people who came today for service, they were the sons of people who got married here, baptized here, refugees from the White Russians from the '20's and '30's. And it's a very nice, emotional moment. But the nicest thing — again, the prayer, the voice of the church, came again to the church."
 
It's far from clear for how long the sounds of Orthodox hymns will resonate across Karakoy, as tenants have already received legal notices to vacate their premises.
 
For now,  St. Elijah Church has yet to receive an eviction order.

You May Like

Sambisa Forest Stands Between Nigeria, Victory Over Boko Haram

Military takes back nearly all towns, villages in northeast, except for massive expanse of forest that spreads thousands of square kilometers over several states More

Islamic State Recruiting Stokes Fears for Parents in Georgia

Chechens are a notable part of Islamic State's gains in Syria and Iraq, and analysts fear what might happen if those fighters return to the Caucasus More

Yarmouk Camp Becomes Distant Memory for Palestinian Diaspora

Once thriving capital of Palestinian diaspora, after siege by Syrian government forces and Islamic State group, camp becomes 'deepest circle of hell' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Aydin from: Australia
August 29, 2013 11:33 PM
There is no eviction order and it is not scheduled to be demolished...

Where is the threat ?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'i
X
Sharon Behn
April 21, 2015 9:18 PM
A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten. Sharon Behn reports on the politics of the word genocide on the 100th anniversary of the events.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video German Program Helps Migrants Overcome Traumatic Experience at Sea

Migrants fleeing poverty and violence in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia risk life and limb to reach safety in Europe. Those who have made it to European shores are traumatized by the experience. A program in Germany helps survivors overcome the trauma by giving a new perspective to their catastrophic experience. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs