The sad silence of churches during the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over. Armenian churches in Turkey reopened their doors for weddings over the weekend. Amid strict measures of social distancing and guests wearing masks, Iskender and Melek Kaya had the honor of being the first couple to have their wedding after 90 days of closure. The couple got married at Surp Asdvadzadzin Church in Istanbul’s Ortaköy district on Sunday.
Like other places of worship, churches felt their share of the impact from the pandemic which began bearing down on Turkey in March. Religious services, weddings and baptism ceremonies were postponed, leaving churches a pale shade of their former self. The Armenian Patriarchate decided to join the country’s normalization steps starting on June 14 and allowed weddings.
Reopening, however, comes at a cost. Only next of kin are allowed to attend as guests and all are required to wear masks and adhere to social distancing or keep 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) distance between each other. Thus, a small number of guests showed up for the wedding in the church officiated by Rev. Tatul Anuşyan, head of the Patriarchate’s Spiritual Assembly. “This is the first of religious wedding ceremonies in a while. This couple’s request motivated the patriarchate to reopen the churches for weddings. Under certain rules and Turkish laws, we decided to go ahead with this ceremony. I am grateful to everyone for keeping their social distance and wearing masks. We pray for those days to be left behind,” he said at the ceremony.
Bride Melek Kaya told Demirören News Agency (DHA) that she lamented that most of her relatives could not come to the wedding. “I had so many friends and relatives I wanted to invite. Still, we are happy to have our wedding here,” she said. Bridegroom Iskender Kaya said it was a worrying situation. “Ours was the first wedding. We had people separated from each other, but what matters is coming together,” he said. The bride’s sister Dilek Atak said they felt anxious. “We were undecided whether we should take off masks while taking photos, but there is nothing we can do. We have to be careful for our health."
Regular religious services, like crowded masses, are still far away for the faithful. The patriarchate announced that the first mass would be held on July 19.
Trials to resume
Since late May, Turkey has begun easing restrictions in a cautious way, in line with fluctuations in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Turkey's justice minister on Monday announced that all legal proceedings and trials in the country would continue as of June 16 after having been halted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"We've taken all the precautions in the courthouses," Abdülhamit Gul said, speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA) Editors' Desk.
The country’s number of daily new COVID-19 cases rose to 1,562 Sunday with 15 new deaths, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said. The latest infections raised the tally of COVID-19 cases nationwide to 178,239, Koca said on Twitter, citing the Health Ministry data. The total death toll in the country rose to 4,807, with 151,417 recovered patients. "Our number of healed patients has fallen below the number of new cases. The need for intensive care and respiratory equipment is increasing: We are moving away from the target," Koca said. "Our weakest link is unwary optimism," he said, urging the public to return to a "controlled social life.”
Earlier Sunday, health experts and authorities sounded alarms about a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections in Turkey as the country’s number of daily cases jumped back to the highest in nearly a month. On Saturday, Turkey confirmed 1,459 coronavirus cases in a single day.
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