Turkey's Armenian community flocked to the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on Sunday for the first service in Surp Giragos, a church restored and reopened after seven years.
Dubbed the biggest Armenian church in the Middle East, Surp Giragos was one of the victims of the PKK terrorist group's bloody campaign in the province in 2015. Along with other historic sites like an Ottoman-era mosque, it was heavily damaged in attacks. After comprehensive restoration work, it was restored to its old glory and opened in a ceremony attended by Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy on Saturday.
Armenian Patriarch Sahak Maşalyan, who accompanied Ersoy and other dignitaries on Saturday, returned to the church on Sunday, this time, for the first Sunday service in years in the 645-year-old church. Saturday’s guests at the ceremony, who heard church bells ringing for the first time in years, also attended the Sunday service.
Maşalyan led a somber crowd who arrived from Istanbul, where the country’s Armenian community is concentrated, along with Armenian faithful from other cities including the capital Ankara and the western city of Izmir.
The patriarch told Anadolu Agency (AA) after the Mass that they were pleased to pray “in this beautiful, historic place.” “This is a really impressive church. It is in a place that is a testament to the multi-colored, multi-faith, multi-denominational history of this city. I hope people have a better understanding of this diversity and see it as a wealth, so we can carry on with our lives in peace and happiness under the Turkish flag and together,” he said. Maşalyan expressed his gratitude to the Turkish state, “especially the president who personally oversaw the restoration and gave instructions.”
He pointed out that there were more churches in the region in need of restoration. “Their restoration can also make Diyarbakır a more famous tourist attraction and set an example on friendship of different communities and a culture of coexistence,” he said.
“We are grateful to see it reopened,” Udi Yervant, an Armenian singer who hails from Diyarbakır, told Demirören News Agency (DHA) after the Sunday service. “This is good news for us, for the general community. Places of worship are sacred. Surp Giragos is as sacred as the Great (Ulu) Mosque. We are very emotional today. We hope there will be more masses here. We also want to see Muslims here, to watch the religious services, so they get to know us better,” he said.
Arto Arman traveled from Istanbul for Sunday’s service. “We are so happy to be here and thank the state (for restoration). My wife is from Diyarbakır so I come here every year but it was better for us to see the church reopen after years,” he said.
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