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Iconic Armenian church survives war but not plunder in Turkey

The Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir enters the Christmas season as a victim of plunder and vandalism, despite its location in a sealed-off area with heavy security presence.
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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — In the 1950s, the Turkish state returned the centuries-old Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir to the city’s Armenian community, after having used it as a warehouse for years. Armenian writer Migirdic Margosyan, a native of Diyarbakir, describes how ironsmiths, carpenters, painters and goldsmiths from the city’s “Infidel Quarter” joined hands to “revive that wreck” and reopen it quickly to worship, keen to preserve “the legacy of their ancestors.”

Little could the volunteers have known then that the ordeal involving the largest Armenian church in the Middle East was far from over. By the early 1980s, Surp Giragos was a church without a congregation as Diyarbakir’s Armenians dwindled away. Abandoned to its fate, the church fell into decay. When a new restoration began in 2008, only its walls were standing, with the windows broken, the roof collapsed and the interiors filled with soil.

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