By Ceren Ozgul
The seven week Lent season (Medz Bahk, in Armenian) that precedes Easter is an important time for the native Christian communities of Turkey. For my research in the context of Grassrootsmobilise, it also created a unique opportunity for me as a researcher to observe the human aspect of the legal battle (which partially took place in the ECtHR) to keep the places of worship and other properties belonging to these diminishing populations in the hands of the non-Muslim communities.
Every year, women from quietly yet densely Armenian populated neighborhoods of Istanbul come together to make a one-day pilgrimage, seven times for the seven weeks of Medz Bahk. The goal is to visit seven churches during this fasting period and attend lunchtime prayers, Arevakal, a local tradition that transforms fasting into a communal event for these women.
Armenian women gather in pre-arranged corners in their neighborhoods to wait for the small buses that will take them to the designated church of the week (The list of churches conducting Arevakal services for the Medz Bakh period is announced on the Armenian Patriarchate’s website). Early one morning last year, I joined a group of mostly middle-aged Armenian women on one such journey to attend the prayers at the Surp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Church in Eyüp as a participant observer.
Today, Eyüp is a historic and predominantly Muslim neighborhood. The neighborhood was named after a Muslim saint, Eyüp Sultan, whose nearby shrine is the most famous and revered in the city. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is also located in this neighborhood, in a small corner of this locality called Fener. Also in the vicinity, there is a high school that belongs to the Greek Orthodox community, Fener Greek Orthodox High School, which was the subject of a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against Turkey regarding the confiscated properties of the non-Muslim minority foundations.Read more