For the first time in modern Turkey’s 96-year history, a Christian minority is poised to begin construction of a new church with permission from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. As a result of the efforts of the Syriac community, a plot in Istanbul’s Yesilkoy district has been allocated to the Virgin Mary Ancient Syriac Church Foundation in the city for the project. The excitement ahead of the groundbreaking in March, however, is mixed with gloom among Syriacs over ongoing grievances in their ancestral lands in Mardin in Turkey’s southeast.
The church project reflects the century-old migration that scattered Syriacs across the world. Their exodus from Mardin began in 1915 after massacres under Ottoman rule and still continues today. Istanbul — the ancient home of Greeks, Armenians and Jews — is today also the home of a Syriac community that numbers about 18,000 people, according to Sait Susin, the head of the Virgin Mary Ancient Syriac Church Foundation.