Turkey’s Justice Ministry Urges Court to Reject Sis Catholicosate Lawsuit

The former headquarters of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Sis
The historic Seat of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Sis (present-day Kozan, Turkey). The church complex was seized by Ottoman authorities in 1921.

The historic Seat of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Sis (present-day Kozan, Turkey). The church complex was seized by Ottoman authorities in 1921.

Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia calls the decision ‘baseless’

ANTELLIAS, Lebanon—A lawsuit filed last year by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of seeking the return of the historic Sis Catholicosate has been rejected by Turkey’s Justice Ministry, the Cilician Catholicosate press service reported Thursday.

The lawsuit, which was filed on April 27, 2015, in Turkey’s Constitutional Court detailed, with relevant documentation and archival materials, the critical role the Sis Catholicosate played in the lived of Armenians living under Ottoman rule, the forced deportation and exile of the His Holiness Sahag II, the Sis Catholicos and the entire clergy, as well as the eventual seizure of the property, whose ruins still stand in that city now renamed Kozan.

In August of last year, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear the case. However it decided to send the docket to Turkey’s Justice Ministry, which after reviewing the case urged the court to reject the lawsuit.

In a May 11 letter, the Turkish Justice Ministry, through rationalizations and other justifications, urged the court to drop the case, at which time the court gave the Catholicosate 15 days to present an appeal.

The Catholicosate legal team, on May 26, presented its appeal, in which it deemed the Justice Ministry’s reasoning and rationale baseless and reasserted the demand to return to the Sis Catholicosate to its rightful heir, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia.

Catholicos Aram I and the Catholicosate are awaiting a final verdict on the status of the lawsuit from Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

Aram I reported in March that in order to expedite the case, the lawyer representing the Cilician Catholicosate in Turkey submitted a petition requesting a prompt hearing. If the Government of Turkey does not voluntarily return the Monastery, or if the Constitutional Court does not order its return, the Catholicos has previously indicated that the case will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which has the jurisdiction to issue a legally binding decision against Turkey.

In August of last year, a delegation representing the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia held a Requiem Mass at the site of the historic Sis Catholicosate in memory of the deceased Catholicoi who lived and served at the Sis Catholicosate from 1293-1915. The service included the reading of a message from Catholicos Aram I, marking the first time in a century that that a pontifical message was delivered from the site of the Catholicosate.

Members of the congregation from the Holy See of Cilicia perform a requiem mass at the ruins of the Catholicosate of Sis (Source: Armenian Church, Holy See of Cilicia/Facebook)

Members of the congregation from the Holy See of Cilicia perform a requiem mass at the ruins of the Catholicosate of Sis (Source: Armenian Church, Holy See of Cilicia/Facebook)

In his message, Aram I talked about the Armenian Genocide, and the demanded that the Sis Catholicosate be returned to its rightful owner, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia. His Holiness also reaffirmed the commitment of the church to the sacred legacy of the Armenian martyrs.

The lawsuit gained international attention, and, for the time in decades, brought the issue of Armenian reparations for the Genocide into the forefront.

At the stake in the lawsuit is the historic headquarters of the Armenian Church, which includes the Catholicosate, the monastery and cathedral of St. Sophia, a major Armenian Christian holy site located in the Sis (currently Kozan), in south-central Turkey.

The Catholicosate of Cilicia settled in Sis, the former capital of the Cilician Kindgom, in1295, after moving from several places due to the political uncertainties in the region. In 1921, following the 1915 Genocide, the Ottoman authorities ordered Catholicos Sahak II Khabayan and the clergy to vacate the location within two days. The Catholicos and the clergy left the monastery in Sis, taking with them very few objects, such as the basin pot for the preparation of holy chrism (muron), some manuscripts and liturgical items. After moving between Jerusalem, Aleppo, Damascus and Cyprus, in 1930 the Catholicosate settled in Antelias.

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