August 26, 2016 - 14:16 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Efforts to turn the Bird’s Nest – a historic cemetery where bodies of Armenian Genocide survivors rest – into a beach resort are ongoing… silently, the Armenian Weekly reports.
More than a year ago, the Bird’s Nest (Trchnots Pooyn) Orphanage Board of Trustees announced in a radio interview to Voice of Van that plans to move the graves of the orphans’ cemetery have been indefinitely suspended.
The Armenian Church that manages the cemetery– The Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia– in particular, is planning to exhume the individual remains of thirty-three genocide survivors and relocate them into a collective grave.
In an interview, Seta Khedeshian, chair of the Board stated that His Holiness Catholicos Aram I has ordered the suspension of the project “to provide a more comprehensive explanation to the public, and to create a calmer atmosphere so that the issue is analyzed in a broader way.” This last interview came as a result of a public uproar and an online campaign which articulated several reasons for its objection, stressing the exhuming of bodies of genocide survivors and the conversion of Nicol Hall (a 1921 building) with its St. Kayaneh Church to a restaurant.
The decision to halt the destruction of the cemetery was significant for two reasons. First, regardless of the controversial nature of the proposed project, the danger of destruction of the graves had been postponed. Second, the Catholicosate showed willingness to engage the public by creating an opportunity for dialogue between the different stakeholders.
Unfortunately, a year later, there has been no effort to provide an explanation regarding the decisions taken by the Board, organize a public meeting clarifying the full scope of the project, and meet with professionals who have been critical of the project. Instead, leaked architectural documents of the planned beach resort called “The Diplomatic Club” have been circulating. In addition, a section of the proposed project was posted on an architectural website.
Though the developers have not obtained the building permit necessary to proceed with the project, they have recently emptied St. Kayaneh Church, dismantling the altar and stripping the building down to its basic structure. Illegal by Lebanese law, the developers initiated a change in the use of a building, terminating its religious function and clearing the space for future non-religious leisure activities.
The Bird’s Nest cemetery occupies roughly 300 square-meter and lies within the 4000 square-meter buffer zone of the historic city of Byblos, a UNESCO world heritage site. Recent archaeological findings by Lebanese marine archaeologist Martine Francis-Allouche reveal that the lost Phoenician port of Byblos lies under the coastal section of the Bird’s Nest plot.