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Turkish Adventist church regains ownership of historic property in Istanbul

After 54 years of disputed ownership, the Taksim Adventist Church in Istanbul celebrates its reopening.

Turkish Adventist church regains ownership of historic property in Istanbul

[Photo courtesy of the Middle East and North African Union]

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Visitors often remember the Taksim Seventh-day Adventist Church in Istanbul, Turkey as a place with panoramic views over the Bosphorus Strait and magnificent metropolitan area.

For Adventists in Turkey, the Taksim Adventist Church property, situated near the bustling center of Taksim square, has been a symbolic place because it represents the history of the Adventist church in the country.

General Counsel of the Office of General Counsel of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, Karnik Doukmetzian, explains that the property including a four-story complex was bought in 1927 and the church was built in 1958 and recognized by the City of Istanbul as a house of prayer.

However, the church members almost lost this valuable place.

The property was registered under a foreign gospel worker’s name because the denomination was not recognized by Turkey at that time.

The church employee returned to his home country due to illness which eventually took his life before he was able to transfer the property from his name to his successor. 

After the worker’s death, the dispute over the property between the family and the church began with the family claiming that the property belonged to their father rather than the church. 

Over the next 50 years the church tried unsuccessfully transfer the property and to reason and negotiate with the family to relinquish title even though the church had been in continuous possession and use of the property since 1927. 

By 2015 the remaining family members of the church employee decided rather than transfer the property to the church as had been agreed to, sold the property to a local buyer.

The same day that church regional office leaders were celebrating the success of the establishment of the legal foundation in Turkey, a visitor came and told them that he was the owner of the property and had in fact bought the property from the inheritors some months before.

“It was the most troubled day in my ministry,” said HyoSu Jung, president of the West-Asia Field, regional office of the Adventist Church in Turkey under the Middle East and North Africa Union. “I couldn’t even think about what we needed to do next.”

Rick McEdward, president of the Middle East and North Africa Union, felt the same as Jung.

“We thought we might even lose the building and the property and lose one of our only lighthouses in the entire Middle East; this caused us great concern,” said McEdward.

The General Counsel of the General Conference acted quickly to solve the issue by commencing litigation against the parties concerned, and at the same time, the new buyer put the property on the market to avoid a legal dispute with the Adventist Church.

Realtors started coming to look at the property and taking pictures, and they also asked a nearby Catholic church about the Adventist church property and building.

Denny Rumambi, treasurer of the West-Asia Field, expressed his appreciation for the neighboring church’s kindness as they always told realtors that the property and building belonged to the Adventists, not to anyone else. 

“We owe our thanks to our neighbor who discouraged realtors,” said Rumambi.

This dispiriting situation led leaders and church members in the Middle East and North Africa to pray more fervently than before, and Jung finally found his peace in God.

“As I saw many sincere prayers, I gave up all my anxiety and trusted God because He is the one Who owns the entire universe.”

While the members and leaders were praying for the property and still going forward with the gospel work, Doukmetzian with the consent and financial assistance of the General Conference was able to arrange a transaction to secure the property back for the Adventist Church. He informed the church leadership of the good news that the Seventh-day Adventist Church once again became the lawful registered owner of the property as of October 9, 2018.

Doukmetzian and his colleagues knew the significance of their diligent work to regain this property.

“On the maps of the city of Istanbul, the property is listed as a house of prayer,” said Doukmetzian who was in charge of the whole process of regaining ownership. “To have the freedom to worship in this place is important for members and the gospel work.”

McEdward expressed his gratefulness for the many people who wholeheartedly worked and prayed for this property.

“Around the world people started praying, the General Conference gave its support and provided consultation with legal issues,” McEdward recalls. “Little by little with prayer, with hard work, with people partnering together, with consultation, with doing things that were needed, it became clear that there was a way forward in reestablishing our presence on the Taksim property.”

After a little renovation, the Taksim Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrated its reopening with church members, workers and guests on February 16, 2019, and two new believers were baptized that day.

Magdiel Perez, assistant to the president of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church and chairman of the General Conference Oversight Committee of the Middle East and North Africa Union, was present and delivered the inaugural sermon, encouraging the attendees.

“I always heard that we had a few Adventist members in Turkey, but today this church was full of 300 people together,” said Perez. “You are God’s people working for the Lord, so God will continue to bless you.”

McEdward prays that this reopened church will be the center of God’s work in the community and the country.

“This property offers us a place to gather, to pray, to train our members and to increase the knowledge of our people from around Turkey, so that they can show God’s love to their neighbors and their fellow countrymen.”