After seven years, the bell will ring again at Surp Giragos, the largest Armenian Church in the Middle East, in Turkey's Diyarbakır. With restoration works now complete, the church will reopen its doors to worshippers in May, Daily Sabah writes.
The restoration of the Armenian Surp Giragos Church in the Sur district of Diyarbakır has been completed. The first service will be held at the church on May 8 with the participation of the Armenian Patriarch of Turkey Sahak Maşalyan. The church's foundation also submitted a request to the government to appoint a permanent clergyman to the church. The interior and exterior restoration of the church, right behind the Four-Legged Minaret where lawyer and former Diyarbakır Bar Association Chairperson Tahir Elçi was killed, has been restored to its original state.
The 600-year-old church was abandoned to its fate in the early 1990s after villages in the southeast were evacuated due to terrorist activity. An intense migration flow started to the cities, and in parallel, many non-Muslims immigrated to European countries. Anton Zor, who ran an antique shop in Sur, did not abandon the church and claimed to "have a memory of every stone." Zor guarded the church until the end of his life, living in two chambers whose columns were badly damaged, and walls and ceiling had collapsed. When he died in the Surp Pırgiç Hospital in Istanbul, the church was left completely derelict. In 2008, the decision was made to restore the church.
The church's restoration was launched through a project carried out by the Armenian Foundation and the Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality. It was restored over three years and opened its doors to the Armenian community from all over the world in 2011.
The original of the 100-kilogram (220-pound) onion-head bell in its collapsed tower was specially made in Moscow and brought to Diyarbakır. After 35 years of deep silence, the sound of bells rang through the streets every Sunday. However, the chiming stopped again after four years.
Surp Giragos Church was heavily damaged again in 2015 due to terrorist attacks. Some 24 security forces were killed in the neighborhood where the church is located. The church was again left in ruins over the course of three months.
PKK terrorists positioned in the church attacked security forces with rockets and bombs. They dug escape tunnels in the church, where the wounded terrorists were treated and the walls were riddled with holes from heavy weapons. After calm was restored, a tender was made for the church's restoration by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization.
Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, former deputy patriarch of the Armenians of Turkey, who visited the church right after the incidents, said: “This is the Christian Quarter. Churches and mosques, which were God's houses of prayer, were destroyed. We cannot call those who do this human. I saw that they broke it all over with sledgehammers. Those hand-carved features and the places we call Horan were shattered,” he said.
Surp Giragos Armenian Church, which was the headquarters of the German forces during World War I and with a closed area of 3,000 square meters, was also used as a cotton warehouse of textile-oriented former government lender Sümerbank for a while.