A residence for the watchman, a room to bathe the bodies of the dead and a place of worship were pulled down when nobody in charge of the cemetery was around on Thursday. The municipality officials said the place of worship was being built without official permission, and argued that there was nothing illegal about the demolishment.
Citing the intolerance towards Armenians as the reason behind the municipality’s move, Turkish media outlets reported on Friday that the municipality had the facilities pulled down because of hundreds of petitions submitted by locals who opposed the construction of a place of worship for Armenians, thinking that a church was being built.
Malatya Mayor Ahmet Çakır gave verbal permission for building the place of worship on orders by Malatya Governor Ulvi Saran. The cost of the building was met by an İstanbul-based philanthropist foundation of Malatya Armenians, HAYDER. The blueprint of the place of worship was drawn up by renowned Turkish-Armenian architect Kevork Özkaragöz.
Garo Paylan, member of the board of directors of HAYDER, said in a statement that both the governor and the municipality were quite warm to the idea of renovating the demolished buildings at the cemetery four months ago.
“However, our cemetery does not belong to us anymore, it belongs to the municipality. Therefore, we asked the municipality for renovation, but they said they can’t do it even though they will allow us to do it,” he said.
The renovation work started in the cemetery in Malatya, where there is only about 100 Armenians left.
“It is important for those people to bury their loved ones according to their religious practices. Since there are no churches left in Malatya, the only place that they can have a religious ceremony is in the cemetery,” he said.
According to Paylan, the reason for the municipality to destroy the cemetery is because of pressure being put on the municipality by some groups to abolish it due to the French Senate’s recent vote for a controversial bill making it a crime to deny the 1915 killings of Armenians was “genocide,” ignoring warnings from Turkey that passing the legislation would lead to new measures.
Mayor Çakır was quoted on the website of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos as saying he is sorry for what happened but the demolition occurred due to miscommunication among officials and that they will compensate for it.