TURKEY

Gov't-sponsored restoration of Diyarbakır churches begins

The Surp Gragos Church was repaired in the late 1990s but was heavily damaged in PKK attacks.

Restoration work has begun on an Armenian and a Chaldean church damaged in terror attacks in Diyarbakır after government allocates TL 15 million for the project

Surp Gragos and Mar Petyun churches in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır are being restored by funds from the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization. The government earmarked TL 15 million for the work, which will be overseen by the state-run Directorate General of Foundations. The Armenian church of Surp Gragos and the Chaldean church of Mar Petyun were heavily damaged in attacks by the PKK terrorist group four years ago.

The Surp Gragos Church was built in 1376 and is considered to be the largest Armenian church in the Middle East. It remained open up until World War I before the German army took it over to use as a military quarters. It was reopened in 1960, and by 1980, the church was abandoned by Armenians who had migrated to other areas and had fallen into ruins by 1990. Left dilapidated due to the absence of a congregation, it was repaired again in the late 1990s. In 2012, it even got a new bell which was a replica of its old bell. The church was still standing when it was further damaged in PKK attacks. The Mar Petyun Chaldean Church was built in the 17th century and was used by the local Chaldean community.

Dr. Adnan Ertem, head of the Directorate General of Foundations, told Anadolu Agency (AA) as he visited the churches yesterday that PKK attacks plaguing the city in 2015 damaged Diyarbakır's "historical texture," from churches to mosques, ancient city walls, bazaars and houses. Ertem said they are committed to restoring those buildings to their original state and have already undertook restoration of an Armenian Protestant Church as well as Ottoman-era mosques. He said a company would handle the restoration work on behalf of the directorate and they would spend TL 15 million in total, adding that a historic school and a house in the vicinity will also be restored.Diyarbakır, particularly its historic Sur district where the churches are located, was the scene of clashes in 2015 between security forces and the PKK terrorist group, whose campaign of violence plagued southeastern Turkey for decades. Counterterrorism operations in the district came to an end in March 2016 as the region was cleared of PKK terrorists. Though the city had its peace back, the damage from the conflict was significant with major demographic changes as buildings were destroyed and people forced to leave. Today, the city is set to rise from its ashes as reconstruction work continues with several plans for the terror-stricken people to get their homes back. Thousands of houses damaged in the violence are being renovated while more than 26,000 houses were rebuilt from scratch.

François Yakan, acting patriarch of the Chaldean community, said Sur has long been a place where people of different faiths, cultures and languages lived together peacefully with the "sound of the adhan (Muslim call to prayer) mingled with the ringing bells of churches. "It is important to convey this coexistence to future generations and historic buildings like those churches play a significant role in this. Mar Petyun is the only church of the Chaldean community in Diyarbakır. We restored it in 2003 but it was greatly damaged in incidents four years ago. We are grateful that the state backed us for this restoration and thank the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization and the Directorate of Foundations," he said. Chaldeans are an ethnic minority concentrated in southeastern Turkey and Iraq and are mainly members of the Catholic faith.

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