BY KHATCHIG MOURADIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
DIYARBAKIR—Armenians from around the world flocked to Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir on Oct. 22 to attend both the consecration of the largest Armenian church in the Middle East and the Mass held the following day.
They were greeted with welcome signs written in Armenian, and with Armenian music playing on the streets, cafes, and hotels in the city.
Renovated by the Surp Giragos Armenian Foundation, with the support of the local Kurdish-controlled municipality, the church, which had witnessed a century of destruction, neglect, and denial, now stood as defiant as ever to the forces suppressing freedom in Turkey. And as the faithful of different religions prayed in unison, the political message wasn’t lost on anyone.
Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir underlined the importance of confronting the past and seeking justice as part of the process of reconciliation and democratization. In an interview with the Weekly, the Kurdish politician said many view the renovation as an act asking for forgiveness. “You are not our guests. We are your guests,” stressed Baydemir, who heads the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality.
“It’s a bittersweet return for the Armenian nation,” Raffi Hovannisian, the chairman of Armenia’s Heritage Party, told the Weekly. “Here, in this courtyard, you see the great potential and the depth of the loss we as a nation have registered.”
Scott Avedisian, the mayor of Warwick, R.I., who was invited by the Diyarbakir Municipality to attend the opening, concurred. “The faces of people who once worshipped here, were forced out, survived, and have now returned to their church, attest to the fact that they never lost hope and never lost faith,” he said. The renovation constitutes a “powerful message,” he added, as the church is finally “being used for the very purpose it was originally intended.”
Osman Kavala, the president of “Anadolu Kultur,” an organization that promotes the art and culture of the region, said that “both the state and metropolitan municipalities provided full support for this project.”
“They are open to confronting the past and the responsibilities of the local population,” he said, and expressed his hope that one day the initiatives in Diyarbakir “will have an impact beyond the city, on the national policy.”
“Our grandparents, incited by others, committed wrongs,” Abdullah Demirbas, the mayor of the Sur Municipality in Diyarbakir, told the Weekly in an exclusive interview after the Badarak in Surp Giragos. “But we, their grandchildren, will not repeat them. Not only that, but we will also not allow others to repeat them.”
The challenge in Turkey, he added, is not only to renovate churches, but to renovate mentalities.
The Armenian Weekly, our sister publication on the East Coast, will continue to publish in-depth coverage and interviews from Diyarbakir and Mush throughout the week. Asbarez will provide additional coverage
Khatchig Mouradian is the editor of The Armenian Weekly