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    Turkey’s Erdoğan lays cornerstone for first new church in modern Turkey

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended a ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday for the construction of the first new church in Turkey since the founding of the republic in 1923.

    The new church in Istanbul’s Yeşilköy district will serve the Syriac Orthodox community, one of Turkey’s Christian minorities.

    Erdoğan granted the Assyrians’ request to build the church on public property as prime minister in 2009. The Assyrians had been sharing places of worship with other Christian denominations, journalist Ragıp Soylu reported for the Middle East Eye.

    “It is the state duty of the Turkish Republic to meet the needs regarding worship and all other matters of our Assyrian community, the ancient children of our geography”, Erdoğan said at the ground-breaking ceremony.

    “We are a nation that has ruled this region for almost 1,000 years, and Istanbul for 566 years. Throughout this long history our region has always been a center of diverse colors, cultures, religions, and ethnicities, and most importantly of human conscience”, he said.

    In democratization reforms over the past decade, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has returned legal ownership of lands belonging to the Assyrian community and Syriac Orthodox Church that had been seized by the state.

    However, some Assyrians say their properties have still not been returned or have been illegally occupied.

    Like other minorities, the Assyrians have faced legal persecution for engaging in political activism that is critical of government policies.

    The construction of a new church is a significant step for the Assyrian community in Istanbul, which is now home to the majority of the country’s estimated 25,000 Assyrians.

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