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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs