February 1, 2014 - 17:50 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A priest from a local Armenian church in Istanbul’s Sariyer district has asked the Turkish government’s Department of Religious Affairs to cover the wages of the church’s staff.
Admitting that he is no longer able to pay the salaries, Boyacikoy Church head Nazaret Ozsahakyan requested the state’s religious affair department (Diyanet) to take over the responsibility. The Diyanet, however replied that they were already paying the electricity bill of the church and had no authority to pay the priests’ wages.
Upon receiving this reply, Nazaret Ozsahakyan complained to Turkey’s first ombudsman Mehmet Nihat Omeroglu, appealing for the wages of all church and synagogue staff to be paid for by the state.
The parliament’s former Human Rights Council leader Mehmet Elkatmis later met with Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Syriac church representatives to discuss the issue.
Elkatmis said that Turkey does not pay of the wages of the employees of an individual church, and that should the government decide to accept the responsibility, it would cover the wages of all employees of all churches.
Should such a decision be made, it will be likely to include Turkey’s Jewish and Alevi communities as well.
Ozsahakyan reportedly said that having lived on Turkey’s soil for thousands of years, this was the first time his congregation was seeking this assistance, adding that just like everyone else in the country they have been paying their taxes and should therefore be entitled to the same rights.
“Imams and priests should be treated equally,” he said, adding that he was willing to take the case as far as the constitutional court.
The spiritual leader of the Syriac Orthodox church Yusuf Cetin said that his congregation had 40 employees who had all done their military service, were paying their taxes and wanted to be given the same rights and wages as imams.
“We love this country and we have no other land,” the Syriac patriarch added.
Armenian Church patriarch Aram Atesyan said that after meeting with Mehmet Elkamis, the representatives had been asked to prepare a report including all the technical details of their demands.