Rising again in Turkey

30 November 2012

THE bell was destroyed in 1915, because it hung higher than the minarets of all the mosques in the area. In 1980, the church was closed during the destructive era of nationalist politics. Now, at last, after 32 years, the Armenian church Surp Giragos, in the south-eastern province of Diyarbakir, in Turkey (which falls in the Anglican diocese in Europe), has been reopened.

A bell, similar to the previous one, has rung out after 97 years of silence. Canon John Higgins was among the hundreds who attended the first liturgy to be celebrated for the Armenian community by the Acting Patriarch, Archbishop Aram Atesyan (right). "I felt like an onlooker at Bethany as Lazarus emerged from his tomb," Canon Higgins says. "It is astonishing, in the light of their history, that an Armenian community of any kind still exists in Diyarbakir, even such a small and elderly remnant."

The church was once one of the largest in the Middle East, and attracted hundreds of worshippers every Sunday, besides having a school of nearly 1000 pupils. "The miracle is that the architects of the restoration are jointly the Armenian com­munities of Diyarbakir, Istanbul, and beyond," Canon Higgins says, "and the Muslim mayor of the city, whose astonishing espousal of a shared identity and corporate vision brought his audience at the evening celebratory meal to its feet."

How good it would have been, he says, if some of the international media cameras, encamped a few miles away on the Syrian border, had been able to record that.

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