The 646-year-old Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır (Amed) was reopened on Saturday, seven years after its closure due to damage it suffered during clashes in the city between Kurdish fighters and Turkish state forces.
Armenians from Istanbul and also those from the diaspora attended the opening ceremony, alongside officials including the Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister.
Ergün Ayık, the chair of the Surp Giragos Church Foundation, addressed the audience informing them about the history of the church. “We hope to be able to protect this church forever,’ he said.
The Surp Giragos Armenian Church, situated in the old city’s Sur neighbourhoods, was built in 1376, and served the Armenian community until the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Its bell tower, destroyed by a lightning strike in 1913, was rebuilt in 1914, only to be torn down on the orders of Ottoman officials in 1916, because it was taller than the minaret of the Sheikh Matar Mosque. The mosque is known for its minaret, which is raised up on four columns.
After Diyarbakır’s Armenian population was wiped out during the genocide, the church was allocated to the Ottoman army who set up headquarters there. Later it was allocated to a public textile company to be used for the storage of cotton.
The church was reopened in 1960, but was neglected and began to deteriorate particularly after 1980, eventually turning to ruin.
The church was reopened for the second time in 2011 after it was restored by the joint efforts of the Mayor of Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, and the Mayor of Sur, Abdullah Demirbaş, both prominent Kurdish political figures who are currently living as political exiles in Europe.
The church was substantially damaged in clashes between December 2015 and March 2016 as the Turkish military used heavy weapons against besieged young Kurdish fighters in the city.
The church now stands amidst new blocks under construction, which according to many resemble nothing more than prison compounds, that are being erected in place of ancient structures that have been demolished.
See Fréderike Geerdink’s latest article, ‘Sur may be a cheap amusement park’, for further insight into the Turkish administration’s attempts at destroying the cultural identity of Diyarbakır’s ancient centre, Sur.