DIARBEKIR, Turkey — Last week Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), led a group of Diocesan leaders on a pilgrimage to the city of Diarbekir (Dikranakert), where they took part in the October 22 re-consecration of the historic St. Giragos Armenian Church.
The group, which included the Diocese’s ecumenical director, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, was scheduled to travel to the historic Armenian region of Van as well, but the earthquake in that region on Sunday afternoon caused a cancellation of those plans.
As reported shortly after news of the disaster broke, the pilgrims from the Eastern Diocese are safe and were unaffected by the earthquake. But in a telephone interview Sunday, Barsamian said, “After such a splendid [reconsecration] ceremony, our hearts were heavy when we learned of the earthquake, and our prayers go out to the victims and their families.”
The restoration and re-consecration of the St. Giragos Armenian Church was a major event in the region, with dignitaries and pilgrims from around the world participating. Constructed in the 16th century, St. Giragos is arguably one of the great sanctuaries of the worldwide Armenian Church. After years of abuse, the recent renovation project — to which a number of diaspora Armenians contributed — has restored it to its former glory.
The group of pilgrims from the Eastern Diocese arrived in Istanbul on Friday, October 21, and had dinner that evening with Archbishop Aram Ateshian, patriarchal vicar of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, who warmly welcomed the group. Barsamian extended his thanks to Ateshian. On Saturday morning, the pilgrims traveled to Diarbekir (Dikranakert), and on their arrival at the local airport they were welcomed by members of the St. Giragos Armenian Church Parish Council. They proceeded to tour the Old City of Dikranakert — including the ancient St. Sarkis Armenian Church, located in the historic district.
Streets throughout Diarbekir were festooned with flags in Armenian, Turkish and Kurdish reading “Welcome home.” The sentiment throughout the city was festive, warm and welcoming.