After 10 months of urban conflict in Turkey’s war-torn southeast, the government has expropriated huge sections of property, apparently to rebuild and restore the historical centre of the region’s largest city, Diyarbakir.
But to the dismay of the city’s handful of Christian congregations, this includes all its Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches. Unlike the state-funded mosques, Turkey’s ancient church buildings – some of which pre-date Islam – have been managed, historically, by church foundations.
The new decision has effectively made the Diyarbakir churches – one 1,700 years old, another built only in 2003 – state property of Turkey, an Islamic country of 75 million.
Turkey’s southeast is heavily populated by Kurds – an ethnic Muslim group also extending across Turkey’s borders into Iran, Syria and Iraq, where Kurdish militias are prominent in all the regional fighting.
Fierce fighting, centring heavily on Diyarbakir, has escalated since the end of a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish armed forces and the militants of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (the PKK) in June 2015.
Last autumn, the PKK youth declared self-rule over large parts of the Diyarbakir district of Sur, digging trenches and building barricades to keep authorities out. Blanket curfews left the populace under siege for weeks at a time, causing more than 30,000 to flee the city.
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