FRESNO — Christopher Sheklian, director of the Zohrab Information Center (Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, New York) will present a talk on “Liturgy and Property in Istanbul: The Armenian Minority in Turkey Today” at 7:30PM on Friday, February 22, in the University Business Center, Alice Peters Auditorium, at Fresno State.

The presentation is part of the Armenian Studies Program Spring 2019 Lecture Series and is supported by the Leon S. Peters Foundation.

During the Divine Liturgy (Badarak) of the Armenian Church at the small church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in Kuzguncuk, a beautiful neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul, one often hears the Islamic call to prayer being recited from the mosque next door. Like all the churches in Istanbul, St. Gregory is organized as a vakif, a type of endowed charitable foundation developed within Islamic law. In the middle of the twentieth century, the board of the St. Gregory Kuzguncuk vakif happily supported the building of the mosque. In fact, the two courtyards share a wall. Today, the proximity of the properties of the two religious properties results in the auditory mingling of liturgy. The ezan, the call to prayer, wavers with the singing of Armenian hymns.

Of course, things are not always so harmonious. Armenian properties—vakif and otherwise—have been systematically expropriated by the Turkish state since its founding in 1923. The vakif board of the Armenian Hospital of Surp Pirgiç (Holy Savior’s) sued the government in the European Court of Human Rights over some of its properties. Similarly, religious education and liturgical practice has at times been stymied by the Turkish government. This presentation uses these two categories of liturgy and property to trace the status of Armenians in Turkey today. Harmonious or contentious, at hospitals or during church services, Istanbul Armenians lead rich and varied lives in the fabric of the city, proclaiming “Buradayiz Ahparig”—“We are here, brother.”

Dr. Christopher Sheklian was appointed Director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center in September 2018. He is a native of Visalia, California, and earned an MA in Anthropology and then his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2017 after defending his thesis titled “Theology and the Community: The Armenian Minority, Tradition, and Secularism in Turkey.”

He conducted two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Istanbul, living and working with the Armenian community there. He traveled extensively in historic Armenia during his fieldwork. This work was the basis of his doctoral dissertation and much of his current research.

Dr. Sheklian specializes in the Anthropology of religion and secularism, studying the role of liturgy and law on the lives of religious minorities. His published work includes “Promises of Property: Religious Foundations and the Justice and Development Party’s Ambiguous Attitudes towards Religious Minorities” in the journal Turkish Studies and “Venerating the Saints, Remembering the City: Armenian Memorial Practices and Community Formation in Contemporary Istanbul” in the volume Armenian Christianity Today. As an active scholar, he continues to pursue research on secularism, religious minority rights, and the embodied and emotional aspects of religious life.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Free parking is available in Lot P6 or P5 (permits are not required on Friday evenings).

For more information about the lecture please contact the Armenian Studies Program at 278-2669, visit our website at or visit our Facebook page at @ArmenianStudiesFresnoState.

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