The Mideast’s largest Armenian church reopens in Diyarbakir

Mass is celebrated in the Church of St Cyriacus for the first time in seven years. The Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople and the Turkish Minister of Culture were present at the event. Turkish authorities contributed to the church’s restoration. The building was closed after it was seized in 2015-2016 during clashes between the military and the PKK.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Yesterday was a historic day for the Armenian Christian community in Diyarbakır, a city in southeastern Turkey with a Kurdish majority, as they celebrated Sunday Mass in the Church of St Cyriacus (Surp Giragos), the largest Armenian church in the Middle East.

The 85th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahak II Mashalian and the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy were present at the service, the first time in seven years.

The Church of St Cyriacus is one of Turkey’s most important Armenian Christian placed of worship, in fact the only one of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Asian part of ​​the country, outside of Istanbul.

The building, of exceptional historical and artistic value, dates back to the 14th century and is characterised by a front facing seven aligned altars.

Reopened for worship after several decades of inactivity on 23 October 2011, it is one of the largest Armenian religious buildings in the whole Middle East.

Like many other Christian religious buildings in Turkey (including Chora and Hagia Sophia), it ceased being used as a church during the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish republic. In 1913 the German Imperial army used it as its headquarters.

At the end of World War One, it became a fabric warehouse, until the 1960s, when the Turkish government returned it to the local Armenian community, by then just a few dozen members. However, the building had largely become unusable due to numerous fires and long periods of inactivity.

In 2009, some Armenians from Istanbul set up a committee to restore the building with the support of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.

After obtaining the green light from the Turkish government and raising funds from Istanbul and diaspora Armenians, plus support from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Diyarbakır, restoration work began, starting with the roof covered using Armenian soil from the surrounding area.

Exceptionally, unlike other abandoned churches that were turned into museums in post-Ottoman Turkey, St Cyriacus became a place of worship again. Today it covers an area of ​​3,200 square metres, with presbytery, other chapels and a school.

In 2015 the Church received the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award in 2015.

However, in 2015-2016 the city was caught up in clashes between the Turkish military and armed members of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey deems a terrorist organisation.

As a result, the Church of Cyriacus suffered major damages and was shut down. What is more, as part of its military offensive, the Turkish government seized it and all the other churches in city, which lays by the banks of the Tigris River.

Thanks to the commitment and dedication of the local community, as well as funding from the central government, the building was restored once again, and renewed its purpose yesterday with a solemn Mass.