Eighteen months after the Turkish government seized control of the largest Armenian cathedral in the Middle East, secretly taken photographs inside Diyarbakir’s Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church reveal considerable damage to the sanctuary and walls of the now desecrated church in southeast Turkey.
Published by The Armenian Weekly, the exclusive photographs taken this past July expose broken and sandbagged windows, one defaced crucifix, a massive hole poking through one outer wall, the removal of pews and worship utensils, empty altars, and some chipped columns. Only a few up-ended wooden pews can be seen, with no worship utensils or sacramental hangings in sight.
“So the church is really naked,” a source in Diyarbakir told World Watch Monitor.
The cathedral is located in the predominantly Kurdish city’s Sur district, which was heavily demolished in nearly a year of fierce fighting that broke out in late 2015 between the Turkish military and militants of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
Along with thousands of other Sur properties expropriated by the state and promised eventual restoration, Surp Giragos has been off-limits to the public since March 2016.
First built in the 1600s, Surp Giragos had been closed in the 1960s but then completely renovated with the support of the Armenian diaspora and the Sur municipality and reopened in 2011. For a few years, visitors from western Turkey and abroad were coming to tour the cathedral and participate in occasional worship services.
Although all six Christian churches in the Sur district were confiscated by order of the Turkish cabinet in March 2016, the Council of State intervened only in the legal status of Surp Giragos this past April, putting an indefinite hold on actual expropriation of the cathedral property.
The other handful of churches located in the Sur district have also opened legal appeals against the confiscation of their properties. In the interim, the congregations of the 1,700-year-old Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church and the Diyarbakir Protestant Church are permitted to continue worshipping in their sanctuaries.