St. Mary Church Diyarbakir 1
The World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) has just received alarming messages from the final remaining Arameans in the Sur district of Diyarbakir in Southeast Turkey, that this unique heritage site is in great danger of being destroyed soon. The last Aramean family in the city, which once was inhabited by thousands of Arameans, was barely able to find a safe place.
24 May 2012: In front of the Syriac Orthodox St. Mary Church. H.E. Mor Gregorius Melki Ürek, the Bishop of Adiyaman and Urfa (Edessa); Fr. Yusuf Akbulut, the priest of the Church; the Sur District Mayor, Mr. Abdullah Demirbas; Aramean Committee Members in charge of the Church; the WCA Delegation, headed by Mr. Johny Messo.
Our local sources inform us that the area surrounding the ancient-old Syriac Orthodox St. Mary Church in the Sur district has been destroyed. One of its walls may possibly have been damaged. The WCA President, Johny Messo, spoke to the last remaining family and became extremely concerned about the ongoing developments in this part of the city. While speaking over the phone, one could even hear explosions and gunfire in the background.
Fr. Yusuf and his wife are the last Aramean family who could barely escape the fighting. With a traumatized voice, he explained: “My wife and I managed to escape the Church just moments ago with great difficulty. Even the police could not help us when we contacted them, because they were not allowed to enter this part of the town. A few days ago, we already sent our children away in order to put them in safety. My wife and I, however, could not leave this ancient-old Church,” which symbolizes the last living presence of the Arameans in this once flourishing Aramean city.
He continued to explain that they were left no choice anymore, but to escape at once: “We heard the fighting coming closer to us and we felt the ground shaking more and more. Especially my wife got terribly afraid and then we both decided that we had to run for our lives. We ran outside with white flags in our hands and, thank God, we could barely find a safe place. Not even at home or church we were safe. Our psychology has been greatly impacted by what we have experienced lately.”
24 May 2012: The Sur District Mayor, Mr. Abdullah Demirbas, speaking about why his Council decided to accept the WCA’s request to rename a street after an Aramean street. Here he is also seen wearing his medal of honor, which the WCA gave him for his efforts to promote the ethno-religious diversity of the town.
Asked about the conditions of the ancient church, whether or not it is still intact, Fr. Yusuf answered: “When we escaped, we saw so many streets completely destroyed. Our hometown was unrecognizable and it looked like a war zone. We don’t know what has happened to our Church, because we didn’t dare to look while we were running for our lives. Now we have little hope left that there can be a future for us, Aramean Christians, to stay in the land of our forefathers.”
The WCA has immediately informed various Turkish Government officials, requesting its urgent intervention. The fighting between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK has seen a resurgence lately in many towns and cities across Southeast Turkey. The WCA has asked to immediately instruct the army units operative in Diyarbakir to spare innocent civilians and ancient heritage sites.
The WCA has visited the Arameans, the church, the governor, mayor and the mayor of the Sur district more than once in the recent years. On 24 May 2012, the WCA was able to get the street of the church respectfully renamed after one of the saints and scholars of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Jacob (Dionysius) Bar-Salibi (†1171). The council of the Sur district approved the request and the then mayor, Mr. Abdullah Demirbas, and the WCA President both attached the Turkish street name sign to the wall of the St. Mary Church that has now become under siege. A few months later, again upon the request of the WCA, the same sign was added in the Aramaic language.
24 May 2012: The courtyard of the St. Mary Church, filled with Aramean Christians from Istanbul and the WCA Delegation.
24 May 2012: The WCA President, Mr. Johny Messo, is seen here confirming the street name sign to the Church Wall.
24 May 2012: Fr. Yusuf Akbulut of the St. Mary Church, right behind the Church posing with the WCA Delegation, consisting of (right to left): Mr. Philip Hanna (WCA Legal Counsel), Mr. Sabo Hanna (WCA Cultural Heritage Director), Mr. Johny Messo (WCA President), Mr. Melki Toprak (Chairman of the Federation of Arameans in Switzerland), Mr. Nail Can (Vice-Chairman of the Aramaic satellite channel Suryoyo Sat). The sign above is written in Latin characters, but is Aramaic for: WELCOME.