News / Europe

    Armenian Church Aims to Heal Past in Kurdish Region of Turkey

    Dorian Jones
    A recently restored church has become a focal point for ethnic Armenians seeking to rediscover their cultural identity and faith in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. The region was once home to a large Armenian population. Most perished during mass expulsions and pogroms during World War I by Turkey’s Ottoman rulers.

    The St. Giragos Armenian Orthodox Church is located in the back streets of Diyarbakır’s ancient Sur quarter. It was derelict and abandoned for decades until restored to its full splendor two years ago.

    Hundreds attended the celebration of the church’s saint’s day in September. Even though the church is awaiting an appointment of a priest, Armin Demirciyan, who looks after the church, claims it has already become an important symbol of ethnic Armenian identity.

    "It means everything to me. It’s our history. It’s our culture and it’s our legacy,” he said. “It’s the gift of our ancestors to us. As an Armenian I can see myself here. I was raised as a Kurd, I knew nothing of my Armenian identity.”

    Tragic history

    Demirciyan's family history is a familiar one. His father was only a child when his parents were killed in mass pogroms against ethnic Armenians during World War I, by then-Turkey’s Ottoman rulers. Demirciyan’s father, like many other Armenian children, was taken in by local families, and brought up as a Muslim.

    Some ethnic Armenians are now converting to Christianity, like Melike Gunal, who regularly visits the church. For years, she said she hid her identity, but that the re-opening of the church helped her to publicly embrace her identity and faith.

    “I come here three or four  times a week to light a candle. It’s a Christmas miracle for me to find Christianity and this church,” she said. “Even before, when there was no roof, I would come here and sit and cry. But now there is a roof and it's restored; it’s so special for me.”

    Gunal’s father - a political activist - was killed in the 1990s during the Turkish state’s war against the Kurdish rebel group the PKK. Gunal said it was that fight by Kurds for greater minority rights, though, that gave the chance for Armenians to assert their identity

    "It all came out with the Kurdish struggle for there identify, that opened the door to us," she said. "How could they deny our identity when fighting for theirs? Before we could only utter our grandparent’s Armenian names at home, from a very early age we understood to hide our identity."

    The local mayor, Abdullah Demirtas of the pro-Kurdish BDP, contributed $600,000 of municipal funds to the church’s restoration. He said it was part of a policy of encouraging diversity.

    “In past years, the state wanted to turn this region, this area, into a single Turkish Muslim identity, by not only suppressing Kurds, but all these communities, all these religions and languages,” he said. “We want to show this diversity can live together.”

    Symbol of ethnic heritage

    But St. Giragos church, as a symbol of the region’s ethnic Armenian heritage, raises difficult questions for Kurds. That's because some Kurds then played a prominent role in the killings of Armenians.

    Armenia says 1.5 million Armenians were killed during World War I by troops of Turkey's Ottoman Empire. Turkey says Armenians were killed as part of a civil war and maintains the death toll is exaggerated. It says the deaths do not constitute genocide.

    At St. Giragos there is a small photo exhibition recording the once vibrant Armenian community. It includes family portraits and photos of people drinking wine and smoking water pipes. A group of Kurdish and ethnic Armenian teenagers is looking at the images, aware most of those pictured probably perished in a mass killing.

    For Baran Dogan, a Kurd, the church is a place to face up to the past. “We are very much aware what happened to the Armenians by Kurds under the order of the Ottoman state,” he said. “I did not know my close friend was Armenian, and he did not know either until recently. When I come to this church I feel it as a small apology, although it never can compensate for what they’ve been through.”

    By 2015, a full time priest will be appointed to St. Giragos. That's another small step in helping to re-establish the city’s once diverse society.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    The Complicated Math of AIDS

    A lot, and then some: the huge - and complicated - cost of the AIDS epidemic

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora