Istanbul's last White Russians pray for church's survival

Fri Aug 2, 2013 3:24pm EDT
 
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - About 25 Russian Orthodox celebrated a divine liturgy on Friday for the first time in four decades at their rooftop church they fear may be demolished to make way for a tourism project.

A choir chanted hymns and women wearing scarves bowed their heads at the crumbling 134-year-old St Elijah Church as they marked the prophet's name day according to the Julian calendar.

Istanbul's tiny White Russian community, whose families fled here in the 1920s after losing to the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, worries that St. Elijah and its two sister churches could fall victim to the country's frenetic building boom.

Dubbed Galataport, the redevelopment of Karakoy, a historic district on the European side of the Bosphorus where St. Elijah is located, envisages a cruise-liner port, hotels and a mall.

"Today's service is a first step to attaining the old spirit of the church," said Kazmir Pamir, an ethnic Russian working to save St. Elijah. "Perhaps now we can a hold baptism or a wedding. It is alive again, it has taken its first breath."

Galataport is on a long list of infrastructure projects in Europe's fastest-growing city.

In late May, opposition to government plans to raze a small park to build a replica barracks that could house a mall flared into Turkey's fiercest anti-government protests in decades.

Critics say the building projects, which include bridges, undersea tunnels, an airport, hundreds of mosques and dozens of housing complexes, threaten historic sites and the environment in one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.   Continued...

 
Russian Orthodox worshippers light candles at St. Elijah Church in Istanbul August 2, 2013. About 25 Russian Orthodox celebrated a divine liturgy on Friday for the first time in four decades at their rooftop church they fear may be demolished to make way for a tourism project. A choir chanted hymns and women wearing scarves bowed their heads at the crumbling 134-year-old St. Elijah Church as they marked the prophet's name day according to the Julian calendar. Istanbul's tiny White Russian community, whose families fled here in the 1920s after losing to the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, worries that St. Elijah and its two sister churches could fall victim to the country's frenetic building boom. REUTERS/Murad Sezer