SOLNews - Diyarbakir (9.1.03). During the night of January 7th 2003, the Syrian Orthodox Church of the Mother of God (known as "Meryem Ana" in Turkish) in Diyarbakir was broken into by unknown Muslims and vandalized. According to the information given to Suryoyo Online (www.suryoyo-online.org) by Saliba Açis, the Syriac teacher who belongs to this church, the burglars stole invaluable liturgical items: among these were a large handwritten Gospel-Lectionary from the 18th century with a silver cover placed in the altar room, three silver crosses from the 17th century and a very old icon of the Mother of God, placed above the grave of the famous Syrian Theologian and Metropolitan Dionysios Bar Salibi (+ 1171), as well as two rare 18th century silk and golden liturgical veils covering the chalice and paten. Iconographic pictures of saints were thrown to the floor. The robbers broke into the church after climbing over the outer walls and smashing open a church window with steel barriers. This was all discovered early in the morning when priest Yusuf Akbulut arrived to celebrate the morning service. Immediately, the authorities were notified.
The small Syrian community of Diyarbakir and the Metropolitan of Tur Abdin Timotheos Samuel Aktas from the monastery of Mor Gabriel were shocked when they heard of the plundering in the church. They are worried again about their future in an area that is nowadays increasingly under the influence of radical Islamic activists. About 2 years ago the Syrian community of Diyarbakir was caught in a political row, when the priest Yusuf Akbulut was tried before a Turkish court. The priest had spoken about the genocide of 1915 in Turkey that killed huge numbers of not only Armenians but Aramaeans (Syrians) too. Journalists of the Turkish newspaper "Hürriyet" recorded his discussion in secret and later they depicted him as a “traitor among us". In this manner they fanned up hatred toward the Syrian Aramaean minority amongst the Turkish people. After several trials under the watchful eyes of foreign politicians and human rights campaigners, the priest was finally acquitted. He is still being watched by Turkish authorities and journalists. Every Sunday (partly armed) members of the secret service attend the sermon of the priest during the service. Moreover, the newspaper "Aksam" had named the Syrian Aramaeans as separatists when they published the ethnographic map of Tur Abdin (this is a Syriac term and known name of the region in southeast of Turkey, where once only the Syrian Aramaeans lived) from the pictorial book of the Austrian Professor Hans Hollerweger. The newspaper "Aksam" on June 27, 2001 asserted that the Syrian Aramaeans strive for a independent Tur Abdin. On the complaint of the Syrian bishop of Tur Abdin, the radical newspaper “Aksam" was convicted on 6th of September 2002 in Istanbul under criminal law.
Diyarbakir, known earlier as “Amid", "Ameda" since the 13th century B.C., was the capital of the Aramaic kingdom of Bet-Zamani, and in the 12th century A.D. the seat of the Patriarch of Antioch and centre of the Arameans, who are also known as Syrians. Many famous Syrian theologians and patriarchs came from there and were buried in the Church of the Mother of God, where their relics are kept. These include those of the Apostle Thomas and of the Saint Jacob of Serug (+ 512). The church is one of the oldest church buildings in Mesopotamia having been a church as early as the 3rd century. It must have been a large heathen temple in the pre-Christian era as suggested by the two lion's heads still visible in the entry portal to the Diakonikon. In the course of centuries this church was plundered and ransacked time and again by foreign rulers and by Muslims who came into the city. It was once an important pilgrimage centre for the whole region. It is probable that the current name of the city, Diyarbakir, is derived from the Arabic “Deir Bakira" (Church of the Virgin). In this church there is a relic of the Holy Cross and a rare 6th century Bible manuscript on parchment.
The Syrian city of Diyarbakir lost more and more of its original Syrian Aramaean citizens gradually over time. In 1870, Diyarbakir with its surrounding villages had a recorded population of 13,500 Syrians. 5379 persons were killed in the “Year of the Sword", as the year of the massacre in 1915 is known. In 1966 there were still 1000 families. However, presently there are only 4 families and their priest, who serves all Christian denominations. The rest had to flee to Istanbul and to the Diaspora further west. The persecution of the Syrian Christians has extended even to the dead; a road was constructed through the Syrian cemetery in Diyarbakir. The protests of the Syrian community have remained unheeded.
The church of the Mother of God
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