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The Catholicosate of Cilicia Reiterates and Clarifies Its Demand for the Return of Its Historical Seat from Turkey

15 June 2015

The Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia issues this statement to clarify any misconceptions as to the nature and purpose of its claim for the return of its historical Seat in Sis (present-day Kozan in Turkey), currently pending before the Turkish Constitutional Court.

The lawsuit claims the right of ownership and religious worship with regard to the Monastery and Cathedral of St. Sophia, the Seat of the Catholicosate from 1293 until at least 1921. To comply with the procedures for filing of property claims before the Turkish Constitutional Court, the application indicated a provisional estimated value for the property.  The demand however is clearly and emphatically for return of the property and its restoration and use for religious worship, and this demand cannot be satisfied by the payment of monetary compensation.

The claim therefore is for restitution of the property and not for compensation.

The decision of the Catholicosate to initiate this lawsuit was motivated by the historical and religious significance of this property for the Armenian Church and Nation.  There are two separate legal grounds for the claim; namely (1) the property rights of the Catholicosate; and (2) the religious rights of the Catholicosate. While the ownership rights of the Catholicosate may raise issues of compensation under Turkish laws and procedures, the rights of religious worship are a separate matter and can only be remedied by return of the property, its restoration and use for worship.  This is a non-negotiable demand that will not be withdrawn under any circumstances.

The lawsuit has been submitted to the Turkish Constitutional Court to satisfy the requirement of the exhaustion of domestic remedies as a precondition for any appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.  If the Turkish court ruling is not favourable, or if the Turkish Government does not otherwise return the property, the Catholicosate will appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights, and seek to enforce its rights under international law.

The lawsuit is a matter of great complexity and sensitivity and the legal process will unfold over the coming months and years.  It is unfortunately not possible to reveal all details and aspects of the case while it is still pending before the courts, as this will prejudice the claim of the Catholicosate.  During this period, uninformed comments and speculation in the media will not contribute to the success of this historical initiative against the many obstacles it will invariably encounter.

The Catholicosate will pursue every possible means within the law to assert its property and religious rights, to reclaim its historical Seat, and to reclaim the historical heritage of Armenian Church and Nation.

Legal Team Representing

The Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia