In the leafy neighborhood of Yesilkoy on European Istanbul sideconstruction workers toil in the middle of the sounds of cranes and hammers on a large piece of land inside a Catholic cemetery. They put the final touches on the Syriac Orthodox Mor Efrem Church, which is set to open in August or September. The church is of both historically significant for the christian community and Turkey: it is the first time a church has been built from zero in almost 100 years since the foundation of The Republic of Turkey.
Although the country has a rich history where Muslims, Christians and other religious communities lived together in peace for centuries, the decreasing number of Christian communities and legal problems ended the practice of church building for decades. Syriac community, with the support of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Embassy of the Vatican, which awarded the land in the catholic cemetery for the church, laid the foundation for the church in 2019, in a ceremony in the presence of Erdoğan.
So far 80% of the construction site is complete. The church will meet the needs of the Syriac community which has few churches in Istanbul despite their high number of about 17,000. the communitywhich has its own churches in southeastern Turkey where son population is concentrated, had to “rent” churches to other religious communities in Istanbul for year. It will be the second church in Istanbul 100% owned by community.
In 2010, the community contacted the government requesting permission to build his own church. Erdoğan and the late mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbaş responded positively. Istanbul Municipality donated land inside the Latin Catholic Cemetery in Yeşilköy, which was kept by the municipality and unused for decades. the community faced legal hurdles when the Catholic Church initially opposed the project, but the Vatican’s envoy to Turkey later reversed the Vatican’s position, paving the way way for construction.
Built in a area of 700 square meters (7,535 square feet) in a corner of the cemetery, the church bell the tower is inspired by Syriac monasteries in Mardin, a hub of Syriac community in southeast of Turkey.
The church has five floors and a separate place for veneration. It will serve as a cultural place where community can get together for meetings, conferences, weddings, etc. A section is dedicated to residential neighborhoods of priests and bed and breakfasts. The ceiling height of the spacious church is around 10 meters and its walls and floors are ornate with marble. its doors and windows are furnished with carved wood.
Yeşilköy is part of of Bakırköy, a neighborhood with a high number of Syriac citizens. Bakırköy and the neighborhood are also home to the Armenian and Catholic churches.
Knows Susin, President of the Syriac Foundation in Istanbul, which oversees the churches of the community says, since the 1950s they have used a church in the district of Tarlabaşı of the Beyoğlu district, but the place could not accommodate the community requiring them to fulfill their religious duties in six other churches originally belonging to other communities. “Our rituals differed from other denominations, and we had little time to using other churches. Thus, a new the church was a crucial element need”, he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Wednesday. He said that they had been looking for a long time to build their own church, and that the first concrete step was taken 10 years ago during the mandate of then Prime Minister Erdoğan. “We finally have found a place in the Latin Catholic Cemetery. This place was not used and no burial was made since 1996,” he said. Susin said the church was built with most grand respect to the cemetery which will be preserved by their community.
Susin said outside of the church is almost finished, and they were working now on interiors.
“We thank the government for green light at our request. It was important that the government enabled this. Building churches can be easy, but you can face bureaucratic obstacles. The President’s efforts have brought us nowadays. He helped both in attribution of the earth and made a great gesture by attending the foundation- laying ceremony. We hope he will also attend the opening ceremony,” he said.
Susin said the architecture of the church was a mixture of modern architecture and designs of ancient Syriac churches and monasteries in Tuesday.