01/09/2023, 12.04
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Istanbul: Syrian Orthodox Church to be inaugurated within two months

St Ephrem's will be the first in modern Turkey. The structure will have a bell tower, five floors with rooms for ceremonies and meetings, as well as guest rooms at a total cost of four million euro. A work in line with Syriac tradition, capable of responding to the demands of modernity. 

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Within the next two months the first Syrian Orthodox church in modern Turkey will be inaugurated, and opened to the faithful for services and celebrations. Construction work on the church began three years ago in the Yesilkoy district, in the European part of Istanbul.

The confirmation comes from Sait Susin, president of the local branch of the Syriac Kadim Foundation, who adds that the total expenditure for the construction of the place of worship is around four million euro. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also present at the inauguration ceremony of the St Efrem's Church (pictured) in 2019. Susin explains that the place of worship represents a novelty - as well as being unique - because a number of churches in the republican era have undergone restoration work or restoration to use, but none of them 'has ever been built from scratch'.

Other places of worship, he added in an interview with Anadolu Agency, "were built without official permission. It is the first time that a church has been officially built (in the history of the Turkish Republic). This gives us great pride'.

The only Syrian Orthodox church was built in 1844 in the suburb of Tarlabasi, in the district of Beyoglu, but it was not enough for the worship needs of the entire Assyrian community of Turkey's economic and commercial metropolis. In recent years, the worshippers were divided among six churches belonging to other congregations for worship, but these did not fully meet the needs of the rituals and presented problems with regard to the time of use. Hence the need for a new church, with almost exclusive use.

Susin continued, "we asked our government to give us a place" and, preferably, in the Bakirkoy district "where most of our community lives", meeting with the go-ahead of then Prime Minister Erdogan and former mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbas. The Assyrian leader also emphasised that the church had been built in line with the demands of modernity, while maintaining the examples of historical places of worship "in the Syriac tradition" as a basis.

The church tower, built on a 700 square metre space next to the Latin Catholic cemetery, is inspired by the historical monasteries of Mardin in south-east Turkey. One floor of the five is used as a cultural centre for the community to gather after mass or ceremonies. On the ground floor are the bishop's quarters, guest rooms and a car park.

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. 

 In recent months, there have also been cases of land disputes, desecration of cemeteries and expropriation of places of worship. 

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