Istanbul protest, dancing on Armenian church

3 arrested in Istanbul for dancing on Armenian church

The event occurred during a protest against coronavirus restrictions. Detainees face up to 4 years in jail.

3 people were arrested on Monday after images of them dancing on an Armenian church located in the Kadıköy district, on the Asian shore of Istanbul, were released on the Internet on Sunday night, sparking outrage among Turkish public opinion.

Images posted on the Internet showed two men standing at the top of the main entrance to the holy site and dancing next to the stone cross of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Surp Takavor in Kadıköy. In other images, it is observed how the protesters, without wearing mask and without keeping safe distance, dance and sing while listening to loud music, even stopping a truck to get on it and dance.

The event would have occurred precisely during an protest organised in the street due to the ban on playing live music after midnight, part of the restrictions in the new phase against the coronavirus that began on July 1. The Istanbul Governor’s Office, a city where an estimated 80,000 Turkish citizens of Armenian origin live, identified the three men who appear dancing next to the cross, and all of them were arrested on Monday at their homes and taken to the police station to testify.

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All three are accused of violating religious sentiments, a crime punishable by the Turkish Penal Code. Many users on social networks criticised the images and expressed their outrage at the “desecration” of the church and the lack of respect from the protesters; several senior Government officials also expressed their strong condemnation of what happened, such as Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who described it as “a lack of respect”.

Strong condemnation from the Government for the desecration of the church

Soylu himself would have telephoned Arman Bükücüyan, the director of the foundation that owns the Armenian church where the incident occurred, to regret what happened. Fahrettin Altun, spokesman for Turkish President Erdoğan, also condemned the events, stressing that freedom of religion and conscience is a fundamental right and that all places of worship are sacred. “Our nation will not listen to these provocations, as it never has,” he said.

Numan Kurtulmuş, vice chairman of the majority AKP party, also harshly condemned the images and expressed confidence that the Turkish legal system will take the necessary measures against those responsible. “Our civilisation never tolerates insults or ridicule in places of worship,” he stressed.

The three detained in Istanbul for dancing on the Armenian church of Surp Takavor could now face a sentence of between 1 and 4 years in prison for what happened. It so happens that in 2018 this church already suffered another act of vandalism, disclosed by the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, when an individual, apparently with mental problems, emptied a garbage container at the entrance of the temple and wrote a racist graffiti on the wall of the building.