ASIA/TURKEY – Saint Giragos Cathedral in Diyarbakir: the largest Armenian church in the Middle East reopens
Diyarbakir (Agenzia Fides) – The Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of St. Giragos in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir reopens for religious services. It also provides an opportunity to review the state of relations between the Turkish government and the Armenian Apostolic Faith Community, the largest of many small Christian communities in Turkey today.
St Cyriacus Church reopened for worship for the first time in 2012 after decades of neglect. Shortly after reopening, the local Armenian community Christian church was swept away again after being damaged, leading to further clashes between the Turkish military and pro-Kurdish pro-independence paramilitary groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The conflict between the Turkish army and Kurdish militias that began in July 2015 has been the bloodiest in two decades. Like
reported by Agenzia Fides (see Fides 30/3/2016), the government of Ankara had ordered the expropriation of the cathedral and all the other churches of the metropolis on the Tigris in March 2016 within the framework of military operations in southern Turkey against the Kurds Positions of the PKK. The expropriation decision affected a total of five churches in Diyarbakir and more than 6,000 houses, most of which are located in the historic center of the Turkish city.
The official reopening of the church last Saturday afternoon, May 7, took place in the presence of several national and local ecclesiastical and political authorities, including the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahak II Mashalyan and the Turkish Minister of Culture and of Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy.
In his speech, Minister Ersoy underlined that in Diyarbakir “different cultures and beliefs coexist in peace” and that the different communities freely practice the practices and cults linked to their beliefs. The minister expressed the hope that the places of worship “will be a sign of respect and brotherhood among us throughout Anatolia”, stressing the importance of protecting and preserving them. Explaining that he shares the joy of the Armenian community, the Turkish politician recalled the historical significance of the reopened holy site: “We know how important this building is not only for our citizens in the city, but also for world cultural heritage. the largest Armenian church in the Middle East reopens. I think this restoration, which cost about 32 million Turkish liras, is of great importance for the protection of cultural heritage”.
Armenian Patriarch Sahak II also confirmed in his speech that the restoration of the church and its reopening for worship was only possible thanks to the funds made available by the government of Ankara. “There is no doubt, added the Patriarch, that this opening is a day of celebration for the Armenians of Diyarbakir. Even with the numerical decline of the Christian presence in Diyarbakir, the opening of this church can be a lifeline. contains an important and significant message of friendship with a view to improving Turkish-Armenian relations”.
The historic Sumela Marian Monastery in Turkey’s northern province of Trabzon was reopened to visitors in early May after more demanding conservation work was carried out to protect the monastery complex from the risk of landslides. The monastery is particularly dear to Orthodox Christians. According to tradition, the monastery (now Meryemana Manastırı, i.e. Mother Mary Monastery) was founded by the Greek monks Barnabas and Sophronius, who arrived there in 385 AD, during the reign of Emperor Theodosius I, after hearing an apparition received instructions from The Blessed Virgin.
The location and the fortifications built over time made the monastery untouchable for centuries. In 532, after returning from one of his campaigns against the Persians, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian donated to the monastery a silver urn containing the relics of Saint Barnabas. The monastery remained a colony of Christian monastic life during the Ottoman Empire until the last events of the First World War and the Greco-Turkish war: the monks did not leave the monastery definitively until 1923. After decades of looting and neglect, Turkish authorities began restoration work in the 1990s to protect the site as an archaeological and monumental complex of cultural significance, rarely allowing the celebration of liturgies at the important site for monastic tradition byzantine. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 5/9/2022)