Turkey: Easter celebrated at historic Armenian church after 8-year interval
Easter was celebrated on Sunday at Surp Giragos Church in Turkey's Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir, after an interval of eight years.
The Armenian church, which dates as far back as early 16th century, was expropriated by the Turkish government in 2016 as part of a wider expropriation campaign following clashes in the historic district of Sur between state forces and Kurdish militants. The church was re-opened to the public on 7 May 2022.
Religious officials appointed by the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul led the ceremony, which included hymns, prayers, and the lighting of candles. People who attended the ceremony were offered buns and painted eggs for Easter.
Ohannes Gafur Ohanyan, the vice president of the Surp Giragos Foundation, told state news agency AA:
"We opened the church last year. It fills us with excitement and happiness that we are celebrating the first Easter in eight years (...) Today, there are not only Armenians here, we have friends from all faith groups. We celebrate our holiday together in fellowship."
Surp Giragos is known to be one of the largest Armenian churches in the Middle East and is spread out over 3,000 square meters.
After the large Armenian population in Diyarbakir was massacred in the 1915 Armenian Genocide, the church was not used for religious services till 2011. Its bell tower was destroyed by artillery fire in 1915, and the building was used as an army barracks during World War 1, then as a warehouse, and later a textile factory, by the state.
In 1960, it was returned to the care of the remaining small Armenian community in Turkey, but it remained in a derelict state till 2000s, when its restoration began. It was reopened on 23 October 2011, and in 2013 was attracting hundreds of people daily, according to Surp Giragos Foundation.