After years of tussling and hairsplitting, Turkey’s Syriac Christian community has secured approval from both the prime minister and the president for the construction of its first church in the Yeşilköy neighborhood on the European side of Istanbul.
“Half of our community lives in and around Yeşilköy. We rent churches for Sunday rites, but we can only start morning mass at 11:30, whereas we are supposed to finish our Sunday rites before 10:30 in accordance with our tradition,” Kenan Altınışık, a prominent Syriac community leader, told the Hürriyet Daily News via e-mail.
The church site will be allocated to the ancient community by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, while construction expenses will be paid for by the Syriacs. An official from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Hürriyet Daily News that they are searching for a suitable location for the new church.
The church architecture is planned to bear traces of the Syriac’s thousands-of-years-old culture, while the construction is set to begin as soon as suitable lands are allotted.
Community representatives held a series of talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President Abdullah Gül and EU Minister Egemen Bağış regarding their problems concerning the new church, including the allocation of land for its construction, Altınışık said.
“Afterward, we also met with the head of the Istanbul Metropolitan Construction Affairs Committee upon a directive issued by the Istanbul metropolitan mayor,” he said, adding they have no communication problems.
“We presented several files to the head of the construction affairs committee and he offered a few places, but they were not suitable for us,” said Altınışık, a businessman and head of the Syriac community’s Foundation for the Church of Mother Mary, which is located in the Tarlabaşı neighborhood in central Istanbul.
The community holds the title deed to the Church of Mother Mary and the metropolitan center that houses it, Altınışık said, adding that about 17,000 Syriacs live in Istanbul with scant numbers still living in the southeast as well.
A metropolitan center acts as a higher institution for an orthodox church. Many of Turkey’s Syriacs migrated to Europe during the mid-1980s, when there was political turmoil in the southeast.