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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid