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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid