Historic Syriac church in Turkey’s southeast for sale

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Hakk? Özdal – MARD?N
A Syriac church dating back to the 4th century in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin, has been put for sale on a real estate website for 12.5 million Turkish Liras, while the institutions responsible ancient sites have remained mum on the situation.

Just a few days after a 700-year-old church with arches in the northwestern province of Bursa’s Mudanya district was put up for sale on the Internet, another advertisement was put up for the sale of Mardin’s Mor Yuhanna Syriac Church.

The Mor Yuhanna Syriac Church, which is located on a narrow street just behind the city’s famous central Kuyumcular Çar??s? (Jewelry Bazaar), has stood in ruins since its construction in the fourth century.

The around 1,700-year-old church, which is currently being used as a warehouse, is awaiting its new owner for 12.5 million liras. The ad states that it has a condominium deed, adding that there are graveyards of some patriarchs inside the premises of the church.

Yusuf Kanak, the official of the intermediary firm that has put up the ad, said he could not share the details of the church’s owner, adding that he is sure the owner has a deed for the structure.

Kanak says there are potential buyers who are interested in the property. However, not one is an official from the Culture Ministry nor any cultural and natural heritage preservation boards, he added.

Meanwhile, Neslihan Özkan from the Diyarbak?r Regional Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board said the structure falls in the General Directorate of Foundations’ area of responsibility, as it has a deed.

“Because the building is a historic structure, the General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre may ask for our opinion when it is sold or the deed is transferred,” Özkan said. “But it does not fall under our responsibility now.”

Diyarbak?r’s regional branch of the General Directorate of Foundations’ has avoided responding to Hurriyet Daily News’ questions, with no respondent found. Instead, a civil servant said “all of the personnel were out; they had gone to an exhibition.”

Gabriel Akyüz, a representative of Mardin’s Syriac community, said the church was very important for the moral and religious fabric of their community and confirmed the existence of graveyards inside the structure.

“We contacted the person who has the deed and we explained the [place’s] importance to us. He advised us to purchase it but we don’t have the power and resources to pay such a high amount of money,” Akyüz said.

“We made some legal applications but to no avail. Because our church is listed as a ‘special property,’ they say there is nothing to do,” Akyüz added.

Meanwhile, officials from the Bursa Regional Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board have made inspections of a 700-year-old church in Mudanya, which was put on sale on the Internet for $1 million.

Acting director of the board Serpil Ar?k said they would prepare a report about the structure together with other members of the board, which will build upon their inspection findings.

A document written by a Dr. J. Covel in 1676 states that the church was dedicated to Panagia Pantobasillissa (“The Queen of All” or the Virgin Mary). The church’s dome and bell tower collapsed during an earthquake in 1855 and was restored in 1883.

After the Greeks who had lived in the area for centuries emigrated to Trilye in the 20th century during the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the church became privately owned.