Lawyer Sofuoglu: ‘This is a lawsuit for freedom of worship’

As Armenians have stepped up efforts toward global recognition of the mass killings and forced relocations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as “genocide” on the centenary of the events, Sofuoglu submitted a brief to the Constitutional Court on April 27, requesting the return of land where the monastery of St. Sophia was located in the town of Kozan, Adana.

Aram Keshishian, the head of the Lebanon-based Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, one of the two largest Armenian religious institutions in the world, has personally applied to the Constitutional Court for the return of the land on which the historic headquarters of the Catholicosate of Cilicia once stood. The monastery was reportedly seized by Ottoman authorities in 1921.

Reverend Housig Mardirossian, a representative of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, and Sofuoglu spoke to the Cumhuriyet daily on Friday. Elaborating on the current situation of the land, Sofuoglu said: “It’s now a protected area. Construction is forbidden there, so it has been turned [by the municipality] into a children’s playground. The walls of the monastery have tumbled down.”

Reverend Mardirossian spoke of photos from 100-120 years ago which show that there was an immense monastery built upon the land. “All that remains of the monastery are two towers,” he says.

When asked whether the TL 100 million that is requested as compensation will be used to rebuild the monastery, Sofuglu stated that it was a legal obligation. “It’s a part of the Constitutional Court’s lawsuit format. I was hesitant [to claim compensation] because the reverend is sensitive about money issues. But I had to do my duty, and so I put forward an arbitrary amount, although I wasn’t ordered to do that. ‘We only want our monastery back’ he told me,” Sofuglu added.

After so many years spent seeking international acknowledgment of the events of 1915 as genocide, attempting to recover land is a new step for Armenia, which is expected to begin a new global campaign focused on finding support for reparative action.

100 years after the alleged genocide of 1915, the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution calling on all EU members to recognize the Armenian genocide, following Pope Francis’ description of the events as “the first genocide of 20th century,” during a Sunday Mass in the beginning of April. The same month witnessed a number of states, such as Germany, Austria, Russia and Bulgaria, recognizing the events as genocide. As of 2015, the governments of 29 countries have recognized the events as genocide.

Turkish officials have always denied the use of the term genocide to describe the events and have responded to other nations embracing the term by summoning the ambassadors of the countries that have used it for an explanation.

Turkey’s official standpoint on the events of 1915 is that both Turks and Armenians died during civil strife that resulted in the forced deportation of Armenians. Turkish officials also maintain that the number of Armenians said to have died before and during the deportations is inflated.

If Turkey were to accept the claims of genocide, it would be expected to pay reparations worth tens of billions of dollars to the families who lost their loved ones as well as their properties in Turkey during the events.