By Mehmet Yusuf Melikoglu
ISTANBUL (AA) — The first-ever church built during the Republic is ready to open after a brief delay due to the deadly earthquakes that hit Türkiye last month.
In a 2019 ceremony attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the foundation was laid for the St. Ephrem Syriac Orthodox Church in Yesilkoy on the European side of Istanbul.
The church, designed as a five-story project in an empty area of the Latin Catholic Cemetery, is located in Yesilkoy. One floor of the five-story church was reserved as a cultural hall for the community to meet after mass or ceremonies such as baptisms, funerals, and weddings, as well as for meetings and conferences. On the ground floor are the bishop's quarters, guest rooms, and a parking lot.
Anadolu visited the completed building, which will be the second church for about 17,000 Syriac residents in the city, after it opens following a delay due to earthquakes.
Sait Susin, president of the Istanbul Syriac Kadim Foundation, told Anadolu that an opening ceremony was planned for the church on Sunday, with the Turkish president attending. However, he added that the opening was postponed due to the quakes.
"Our President would also attend the opening as the (building's) foundation was laid by him," Susin said. "We have decided to postpone it (opening)," he said, adding that holding a ceremony was "out of the question" due to the situation following the earthquakes, which has claimed over 48,000 lives in Türkiye.
"We are currently waiting for news from our president. We aim to open at a time when it will be convenient for him," he said. "Of course, they have a very busy schedule due to the upcoming elections and earthquake disaster."
- Syriac church long needed in Yesilkoy
Noting that the new church was the first to be built from scratch in the country since the Republic of Türkiye was founded in 1923, Susin said: "We came to Istanbul after the 1950s. Except for the church in Tarlabasi, which was established in Istanbul in 1844, we don't have a church on our property."
"We hold services in seven different churches. None of these churches are ours, they are the churches of the fellow congregations," he added. "We thank them all very much, but we do not fit within any church," he said, explaining the differences in the rituals and timing.
For this reason, he explained, the Syriac community has "always needed to build a church" around Istanbul's Bakirkoy and Yesilkoy areas, where the Syriac community is most-densely populated.
Susin said the church was built on area of 2,700 square meters (about 29,000 sq feet) with 1,100 square meters empty, and the rest comprising of graves. "We have protected all those graves. We registered all the graves and built our church in the vacant lot of the site," he said. "Our government has given us great support in this regard."
Explaining that they went to the earthquake zone with the Syriac patriarch, who had come to Türkiye, Susin said that their churches in Antakya had not been damaged in the powerful tremors, unlike those in Adiyaman and many other churches and historical buildings in Antakya.
He underlined that they wanted to open their church and said: "Syriac churches have certain characteristics. There aren't many paintings, no sculptures in our churches."
"The most important feature of our churches is the stone carving and the writings on it," he said. "These are the characteristics of the churches built in Mardin, in the southeast (Türkiye). We built our church using today's technologies and exhibiting some of the concepts that are characteristic of Syriac churches."
Pointing out that the church would meet the needs of the congregation in Istanbul to a large extent, he said that 700 people would "be able to sit and watch the ritual and pray."
"We have cultural halls that we use for some events, such as condolence meals at funerals, where the congregation comes together after worship and mass," he added.
The community was able to build their church thanks to the will and support of President Erdogan, he said, voicing gratitude. Susin said: "Our community is very excited. Everyone who sees it asks when it will open."
"It will soon be inaugurated with the presence of our president and our honorable patriarch. Our church will be consecrated and made open to worship."