Syriac Christians hail Turkey's initiatives
ISTANBUL- Anadolu Agency
Despite a rising tide of racism and xenophobia across the globe, Turkey remains an exception with its democratic reforms and respect-based policies towards non-Muslim minorities in the country, particularly since the early 2000s.
The latest example of Turkey’s positive approach in this regard was visible last Saturday, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Istanbul of St. Ephrem Syriac Orthodox Church.
President Erdoğan was proud that a new church would open and said it would add "new richness" to the cultural mosaic that is Turkey, a land that has been home to scores of civilizations throughout the course of history.
The church- the first to be built since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 - is projected to be completed within two years and was greatly welcomed by the Syriac Christian community.
In recent years, the Turkish government has stepped up efforts to restore and open churches and synagogues and has achieved fruitful results, including many places of worship that have had their doors shut for over a century, according to presidential sources.
The Trabzon Sümela Monastery, Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Akdamar island in eastern Van province, Armenian Church of St. Giragos in the southeastern Diyarbakır, Great Synagogue of the northwestern Edirne- the largest of its kind in Europe-, Stipol Synagogue in Istanbul and St. Aho Monastery in the southeastern Batman province are only the latest restored places of worship in Turkey.
Today, over a dozen of other places of worship are under restoration in every corner of the country, including the St. Giragos and Mar Petyun Chaldean churches in Diyarbakır previously damaged in attacks by the PKK terror group, which over three decades has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000
people in Turkey, including women, children and infants.
Yusuf Çetin, the metropolitan bishop of Istanbul Syriac Church, said the laying of the cornerstone of the new church in Istanbul was a source of pride for the Syriac community.
The construction of the Syriac church “shows the democracy in our country, human rights and religious freedom," Çetin asserted, stressing this was a clear example that people could freely perform their religious duties in Turkey.
"Security forces protect us on our religious holidays [and] on Sunday. I would like to thank everyone, notably the president," he said.
Çetin went on to say that the Syriac community in Turkey had not been able to open schools or university departments studying the Syriac language, but this has also changed in recent years.
"Thanks to our government, following a judicial decision, we were able to open a private kindergarten in 2013 in Yeşilkent [neighborhood of Istanbul]," he said, adding the school belonged to the Syriac Orthodox St. Ephrem Association.
He added that a Syriac literature department was founded at Artuklu University in the southeastern Mardin province, another source of happiness for the Syriac community, which has a history of 5,500 years.
"As a religious leader, we stand with unity and solidarity no matter which country we live in, and we commemorate our statespeople with our prayers during religious ceremonies and pray for every person in the country regardless of their religion or ethnicity. After all, we are on the same ship," he said.