The article first appeared in our partner site, Independent Turkish
The St. Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir has opened its doors after seven years. The historic church has just held its first Sunday service in almost a decade. The Armenian community, within Turkey and abroad, gathered in Diyarbakır in anticipation of the re-opening.
St. Giragos Armenian Church in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir suffered heavy damage during warfare in 2015/16, duting the Turkish–Kurdish conflict.
The Church of St. Giragos
The Church of St. Giragos, which is known as the Church of Surp Giragos in Armenian, was damaged by conflict. In 2016, the government began restoration.
The church, considered the largest of the Armenian community in region, was built in the sixteenth century according to some sources. It was destroyed in a fire in 1881 and rebuilt in 1883.
German forces used the church as their headquarters in the First World War. The old bell tower of the church was destroyed in 1913 because of a lightning strike. It was replaced by a grand tower, built for 2000 gold coins in 1914. This was demolished by the state in 1916, because it was taller than the minaret near the church.
Until 1960, the church was used for various purposes. It was a military warehouse, and a fabric depot for Sümerbank. It was eventually returned to the Armenian community of Diyarbakir.
“We will ask for a clergyman”
Ohannes Gafur Ohanyan, a board member of the church’s foundation, said people were happy with the reopening.
“The project was completed with funding from the Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation. We are delighted. We are happy to be participating in [church] activities again,” he said.
“The church is beautiful”
Gayana Gebortiyan travelled to Diyarbakir from Van to attend mass in the church.
“I was the first Armenian to settle in Van after 1915 and have a house there. This is my first time in Diyarbakir. I have never seen any place like it. The church is beautiful. Thank God for Diyarbakir. I am so moved and feel that heaven is in this church. This is the first time I have seen such a beautiful church.”
“I spent my childhood here”
Bülent Mumcu left Diyarbakir in 1963 and moved to Istanbul. He visited to attend the mass and meet relatives and acquaintances he had not seen for years.
“I spent my childhood here. Our houses were near the church. There are both painful and beautiful memories. But still, this place is quite beautiful. We no longer have any reason to return to Diyarbakir. We don’t consider moving back.”
“No trace of the old urban life of Sur”
Pakrat Eskutyan, who came from Istanbul, said that he made the journey to see the church after its restoration.
He said: “Of course, I am happy about the reopening of the church. But what upsets me is the destruction of the area. The district of Sur is on the world cultural heritage list. There is no trace of the old fabric now, and I feel its absence. When I came here in 2012, there was a completely different Sur.
“However, we see new buildings are being built now. It used to be a traditional, old neighbourhood. The area known as Gavur Mahallesi (non-Muslim quarter) or Xançepek used to be protected. There is no trace of that design now. We also feel sorrow for this.”
Travelling from Germany for the ceremony
An Armenian citizen, Amarson Miros, said he came from Germany for the opening.
Mentioning the challenges faced by the Armenian community in the past years, Miros said, “We live as Armenians in Germany. My children are studying in German. Unfortunately, I do not speak Armenian. It makes me happy to be in Diyarbakir and to witness this beautiful moment.”
“There are no Gavurs in the Gavur quarter”
Gabris Kabrillion, who was born in Silvan district of Diyarbakir but was forced to settle in Istanbul, said that it was pleasing that the church was reopened for worship.
“We have suffered a lot here in the past. The area that we are currently in is known as the Gavur Mahallesi (non-Muslim quarter), but there are no Gavurs left here. The restoration of the church is good, but it seems far from its original form,” Mr. Kabrillion said.
Translated by Kerim Çelik. Proofread by Meriç Şenyüz.
Reviewed by Esra Turk, Tooba Ali and Celine Assaf