The first church of modern Turkey to be built in Istanbul

Construction of the first Christian (Syrian-Orthodox) place of worship of the Republican era should start at the end of February in Yesilkoy, an Istanbul neighbourhood not far from the international airport. It will serve as a point of reference for the city’s 17,000 Assyrians.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The construction of a Christian church will start in late February in Istanbul, the first since the founding of the modern Turkish republic, said a city official during a meeting with a Syriac Orthodox Church prelate.

Freedom of worship is guaranteed in Turkey, but freedom of religion has been violated on various occasions in the recent past.

The Turkish government has interfered in the selection of Church leaders. Some clerics have been killed, namely Fr Andrea Santoro in 2006 and Mgr Luigi Padovese in 2010. Some churches and Church-owned buildings have been confiscated. A US clergyman, Rev Andrew Brunson, was detained and later released.

Yesterday, Bulent Kerimoglu, the mayor of Istanbul's Bakirkoy municipality, met with Yusuf Cetin, the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan for Istanbul and the capital Ankara. He told reporters that all the paperwork for the new church is done and a permit issued.

Construction is expected to take about two years. Once completed, the church will a point of reference point for 17,000 Assyrians living in the city.

Despite "different religions, ethnic roots ... everyone's hearts beat for our Turkey,” Cetin said. "We're proud of living under the Turkish flag in this land”.

The new church is planned for the Yesilkoy neighbourhood in Bakirkoy, an area close to Istanbul Ataturk Airport, with a capacity for some 700 worshippers, a parking lot and a cafe.

The only Assyrian church available now is the Virgin Mary Syriac (Assyrian) Orthodox Church, also known as Surp Asdvadzadzin, which located in Istanbul's Beyoglu district, too far for many churchgoers.

Around 25,000 Assyrians still live in Turkey, the majority in Istanbul, with others found in the eastern provinces of Mardin, Adiyaman, Diyarbakir, and Elazig.