Deteriorating Church in Diyarbakir Wary of Turkey’s Offer of Help

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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Hurriyet)–The foundation overseeing the Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Southeast Turkey has welcomed an offer by Turkey’s culture minister to help with restoration efforts, but only if the building can remain as a place of worship.

The church is currently in a decrepit state and in urgent need of restoration.

Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay, speaking to Hurriyet last week, said if Turkey’s Armenian community asked, then he was willing to help with restoration of the church. The head of the Diyarbakir Surp Giragos Church Foundation, Ergun Ayik, in response told Hurriyet that the community “would be honored to get help from the ministry. However, we are against it if it is going to be transformed into a museum like the Van Akhdamar Church.”

Ayik said their restoration project prepared with the help of the Protecting Environmental and Cultural Treasures Foundation, or CEKUL, was rejected by the state Foundations Institute.

“The Foundations Institute said they would not contribute to the project. The Diyarbakir Municipality will help with part of the restoration project within the old city walls. Sisli Mayor Mustafa Sarogul will also help,” he said.

Ayik said the church covered an area of 3,020 square meters and the restoration would cost 3.2 million Turkish Liras.

The Turkish Armenian community had dug deep into their pockets and donated 800,000 liras, he said. “I am calling on all who call Diyarbakir their home, irrespective of religion. Let’s protect the city’s heritage,” said Ayik.

He said the church was used as a command center for German officers during World War I and afterwards used as a cloth depot for state-owned Sumerbank until 1950. “The church was bought back by the community in 1950 and served as a house of worship until 1980,” he said.

After 1980, Diyarbakir’s Armenian community shrunk to five families, he said. “According to the Foundations Law, those who took positions in foundations in Anatolia were obligated to reside in the cities where the buildings were. However, there was no community left in Diyarbakir. The church was left with no protection and it was stripped bare by treasure hunters.”

When the Foundations Law was amended 18 months ago, their research yielded many official documents belonging to the building, including directives from Ottoman sultans.

He said once the restoration was complete, they wanted to use the church as a cultural center that would serve as a house of worship a few times a year. The church building was very original, said Ayik, who is also an engineer, noting that it also carried certain characteristics of the region.

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