First Syriac metropolitan building opened since Ottoman times

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey’s ancient Syriac Christian community celebrated on Sunday the opening of the first new metropolitan services and cultural center in many decades and the re-opening of a long-unused church.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of Syriacs both from Turkey and from abroad in the eastern province of Adıyaman. They gathered to mark the opening of the first metropolitan building since the end of the Ottoman era. The ceremony also marked the opening of a historical Syriac church that was shut in Adıyaman for a long period of time has been re-opened for liturgy after restoration work was completed.

“Lots of Christians live in Turkey’s eastern provinces. This metropolitan building will serve their needs first. Moreover, [the building] will also act as a cultural bridge,” said Laki Vingas, a Greek member of the Foundations General Directorate Council, who traveled to Adıyaman from Istanbul to attend the ceremony.

A consecration ritual was also enacted prior to the liturgy on Saturday for the Mor Petrus and Mor Paulus Church in accordance with the laws of the ancient Syriac church. The liturgy that took place between 10 a.m. and noon on Sunday was administered by Adıyaman Metropolitan Melki Ürek and Istanbul Metropolitan Yusuf Çetin.

The previous Adıyaman Metropolitan building, with 800 years of history, was already defunct when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923.

“There are also Armenians besides Syriacs who are members of our metropolitan church. It was quite difficult for us to provide services to locations many kilometers away from the Mardin metropolitan center,” Melki Ürek told Hürriyet Daily News by e-mail shortly before the liturgy was held.

The Syriac community appealed to authorities nine years ago for the metropolitan building to be opened, but they were only able to achieve results after fighting a long and uphill legal battle about 1.5 years ago, Metropolitan Ürek said. Some 150 Syriacs and Armenians live in Adıyaman and its vicinity, while small numbers of Syriacs live in the city center, he added.

The Syriac community has four autonomous metropolitan centers across Turkey: the Mardin Deyrulumur (Mor Gabriel Monastery) and the Deyr-ul Zafaran in the southeastern province of Mardin, with two more centers in Adıyaman and Istanbul.

The metropolitan centers act as a sort of higher institution for the church.

“Our churches and property which were registered on the records of the Ancient Syriac Community until the 1990s were then registered upon the proprietorship of the Foundations General Directorate. Is this an irony, or is it a sign that our citizenship rights are not quite where they are supposed to be? I believe that our new government is aware of these flaws and will bring about firm and lasting solutions with radical decisions based on the law for Syriac citizens who have been wronged,” Ürek said.

Ãœrek also drew attention to the ongoing lawsuit regarding the historical Mor Gabriel Church in Mardin and said the monastery belongs not only to Syriacs but also to Arameans as well.

“The injustice here was incurred directly against us, not toward Mor Gabriel. Whatever the expectations of all our country’s people are from a free and prosperous country, our expectations are no different,” Ürek added.

A lawsuit was filed in 2008 regarding the Mor Gabriel Monastery, whereby the adjacent villages of Yayvantepe, Çandarlı and Eğlence claimed theird property was being occupied by the 1700-year-old monastery. The case is still ongoing.

“I do not approve of governments that implement such measures because of suggestions emanating from abroad. A country’s government passes favorable legislation with the happiness of her citizens in mind, [and] not because somebody else wants it,” said Ürek, adding that it was a major shortcoming that laws to relieve Turkey’s Christians had not been passed yet.