Municipalities do not provide non-Muslim citizens with free services such as allocation of a funeral car. A graveyard plot costs little money for Muslims in municipal facilities, whereas a plot in minority graveyards that have limited spaces may cost a fortune.
Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, authorities from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Cemeteries Directorate said even though they knew the cost of graves and funeral ceremonies for non-Muslim citizens is very high, they did not intervene. “[Non-Muslims] can afford organizing funerals in accordance with their religions and traditions. We do not interfere with them since we are not used to their traditions and ceremonies. Only if they prove their conversion to Islam with witnesses can we hold their funerals,” an official from the directorate said.
Burgazada Hagia Yanni and Samatya Hagia Nikola Greek Church Foundation head Andon Parisyanos said the Directorate of Religious Affairs must allocate funds to non-Muslim populations as a requirement of equal citizenship.
“Forget about funerals, we even pay the utility bills for the churches by our own means. However, the Directorate of Religious Affairs meets the expenses of mosques,” Parisyanos said, adding that funeral organization companies should also be supervised.
“Aid should be provided [to non-Muslims], but still it would be more convenient if we organized the funerals according to our traditions,” Parisyanos said.
“Last week, an acquaintance of mine passed away at [Istanbul’s] Medipol Hospital. [The officials at the hospital] told me that they had come across a deceased Christian for the first time and did not know what to do,” Parisyanos said.
Likewise, Garo Paylan, who is a member of the Yeşilköy Armenian School’s Executive Board, said the requirements of equal citizenship must be implemented. “The Directorate of Religious Affairs could allocate funds, which would be conveyed to the owners of the funeral homes through the Patriarchate,” Paylan said.
Yeznik Bahçevanoğlu, owner of an organization company that holds funerals for non-Muslims, said the cost of funerals range from 2,000 to 8,000 Turkish Liras, adding that the prices might vary and increase according to the company. When asked about pricing policies, Bahçevanoğlu said the prices were determined according to the classes of the plots.
“There is a standard price given by the Patriarchate; however, that price increases a lot when other expenses such as obituaries and coffins are added. If the Directorate of Religious Affairs could allocate resources, the prices would not be that high,” Bahçevanoğlu said, adding that some organization companies might exploit their clients.
Vasgen Barın, the Armenian deputy mayor of Istanbul’s Şişli district, in which non-Muslims are densely populated, said municipalities were not responsible for holding funerals.
“Some people may want to be buried in their hometowns; when they appeal to us, we provide them a bus in order to transfer the body,” Barın said.