TORONTO — The Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd, Turkey, is the largest Armenian Church in the Middle East and one of the most important examples of Armenian architecture. Since 1915, it has been subjected to both willful destruction and neglect, as a result of which it was in ruins and in danger of complete collapse. However, in 2009, a reconstruction project was launched by the Surp Giragos Foundation Board in Istanbul, under the auspices of the Istanbul Patriarchate. The board was successful in legalizing the deed and title for the Surp Giragos Church property, then obtaining authorization and all required permits for the reconstruction, followed by worldwide fundraising activities.
The Surp Giragos Church, originally dating from 1515, with seven altars and a huge footprint of 15,000 square feet, had a 100-foot-high bell tower, with a bell molded by the famed Zildjian family and a large golden cross at the top. The bell toward was bombarded and destroyed by German/Ottoman cannon fire in 1915, as it was deemed unacceptable to have a church tower higher than the mosque minarets. Unlike the other Armenian architectural masterpiece, the Holy Cross Armenian Church at Akhtamar Island near Van, which was renovated by the Turkish government but converted to a state museum, the Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir, is officially recognized as an Armenian church under the control of the Armenian Patriarchate. When reconstruction is completed, it will be not only an outstanding Armenian architectural masterpiece, but also a historic evidence to past Armenian presence in the region, as well as a future pilgrimage destination for all Armenians.
The total reconstruction budget is $2.5 million. The project is well underway, the first phase of the project already completed, on time and within budget. The worldwide fundraising efforts have successfully raised the funds needed for the first phase from the Armenian communities within Turkey, the Middle East and Europe, with the focus now shifting to North American Armenian communities in New York and Toronto.
After the church restoration is completed, the legal claims phase will be launched to pursue the transfer of deeds for all the properties to purse the transfer of deeds for all the properties originally owned by the church prior to 1915. The Foundation Board has already successfully reclaimed a few of these properties, which will secure a steady income toward maintenance of the church building, but there are almost 200 other properties which will go through the legal channels for reclaim.
This is a project of interest not only for Dikranagerdtsi Armenians, but for all Armenians everywhere, with historic and future implications. It is the first Armenian church being reconstructed as an Armenian church in Turkey after its destruction in 1915. It is the first Armenian church to reclaim its land and properties, after losing them in 1915.
All Canadian Armenians are invited to attend the benefit banquet on May 21 at the Magaros Artinian Hall, Holy Trinity Armenian Church, at 7:30 p.m. The program will feature Udi Yervant (on oud), who originally hails from Dikranagerd, soprano Lynn Anoush Isnar and pianist Raffi Bedrosyan. There will be a traditional Armenian and Dikranagerd-style entertainment and food.