#5 Turkey – One-Day Pilgrimage to an Armenian Church in Istanbul.

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.[1]

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Preliminary Reports on the Legal Status of Religious Minorities in the Shadow of the European Court of Human Rights

One of the issue areas studied in common across the four country case studies is that of legal status of religious minority groups, though the legal status-related issues arising in each case study vary significantly. Below are preliminary reports prepared by the researchers on each case study. These informal reports pool together certain background information about each case study, as it is developing in its research on the impact of the European Court of Human Rights case law on relevant actors’ discourse, social and/or legal mobilisations in issues related to the legal status of religious minorities. The reports address the basic questions of: What are the legal status issues investigated thus far for this aspect of our research? What are the strategies pursued by the groups involved in these issues? Which of these issues related to the legal status of religious minorities has a reference point in ECtHR case law (whether in the country in question or against any other state)? To what extent do the actors involved in these legal status issues engage with the ECtHR in their claims-making, what what preliminary assessments can be made regarding the reasons for the latter engagement or non-engagement, as the case may be?

Greece – Preliminary report

Italy – Preliminary report

Romania – Preliminary report

Turkey – Preliminary report


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