The construction of a new Syriac Orthodox Church in the metropolis of Istanbul will add “new richness” to the city, Turkey’s president said on Saturday.
At the groundbreaking ceremony of the Syriac Orthodox St. Ephrem (Mor Efrem) Church, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said construction of the new church would take two years.
“Like all their other issues, meeting the worship needs of the Assyrian community, the ancient children of our geography, is the duty of the state of the Republic of Turkey,” Erdogan said.
“We are a nation which has been ruling over this region for almost a millennium, and Istanbul for 566 years. Throughout this long history, our region has always been the heart of religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity, and most importantly of the conscience of humanity,” he added.
“Although suffering in our region over the last 150 years has caused many troubles and much destruction, we have never wavered even an iota in our will to coexist. To us, anyone who has affection and loyalty for Turkey and contributes to [the country] is a first-class citizen,” Erdogan stressed.
He added that Turkey currently hosts nearly 4 million Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens as well as Muslims, Assyrians, Ezidis and other groups from Syria and Iraq.
From Spain to North Africa, Turkey’s gates and hearts have been open to all the oppressed, said Erdogan, stressing: “There never was and never will be room for discrimination in our hearts and minds.
“The real target of terror groups and their allies is our common homeland, and the best way to disappoint them is to see our differences as our most important richness,” Erdogan said.
Gratitude to president
Yusuf Cetin, metropolitan bishop of the Istanbul-Syriac Church, thanked Erdogan for his generosity, and said the country’s Syriac community is proud of the president.
“The history of the ancient Syriac Church dates back 2,000 years. This is the first time we have seen such a gesture in 2,000 years,” he said. “May God protect him.”
Cetin went on to say the Syriac people have always lived in harmony with other ethnic groups and underlined they are “loyal” to the states where they live.
Sait Susin, head of the Istanbul Syriac Ancient Foundation, told the opening that believers from various faiths in Turkey have witnessed many firsts over the past 17 years, under the rule of the Justice and Development (AK) Party.
Susin said in 2013 Assyrians were able to open a school operating in their mother tongue, the first since 1928, and that 55 of their churches, monasteries, and cemeteries in Turkey’s Mardin province were returned to them.
He said the new church would be built over an area of 4,400 square meters (47,360 square feet) with five floors, most of them underground.
“If it wasn’t for [Erdogan’s] will and support, it would be impossible for us to realize this project,” he said, expressing his gratitude to the president.