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.
Archbishop Aram Ateshian Deputy Patriarch of Istanbul, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Bishop Shahan Sarkisian (Primate of Aleppo), and Bishop Sahag Mashalian (from Istanbul) consecrated the five altars.
The number of participants in the service exceeded 2,000, with groups of Armenian pilgrims from Istanbul, the U.S., Armenia, Holland, Germany, Aleppo, and Lebanon present.
Among the dignitaries attending were the United States Consul General of Istanbul, Scott Kilner; the U.S. Consul of Adana, Daria Darnell; the mayor of greater Diarbekir Osman Baydemir; Abdullah Demirbas, mayor of the city’s Sur Ici section (the area “inside the walls” of the old fortified city); and Mayor Scott Avedisian of Warwick, Rhode Island (U.S.A.)—all of whom were very interested in the service and supportive of the historic event.
At the conclusion of the service, the mayor of greater Diarbekir, Osman Baydemir, offered his warm welcome to the visitors—speaking first in Armenian, then in Kurdish, Turkish, English, and Arabic. To the Armenian pilgrims he said, “Welcome to your home. You are not guests here; this is your home. Anytime you come here, you are coming to your home.”
“This is a happy and special day not only for you but also for us,” Mayor Baydemir continued. “We all know about past events, and our wish is that our children will celebrate together the coming achievements.” Mayor Baydemir’s remarks were frequently interrupted by applause, as those gathered were gratified to hear acknowledgement that the city is indeed an historic Armenian center.
Sunday morning witnessed the celebration of the Armenian Divine Liturgy in the newly re-consecrated St. Giragos Church. Archbishop Ateshian was the celebrant and homilist, and members of the Sts. Vartanantz Church choir from Ferikoy, Istanbul, sang the Komitas setting of the badarak.
The service took place before another remarkably large gathering of the faithful, which included guest Armenian clergy, as well as the Syrian Orthodox bishop of Adiaben; the representative of His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople; mayors Baydemir and Demirbas, and the two American consuls.
Also on Sunday, a group of Armenians, raised as Sunni Muslims, were baptized.Their ancestors had converted to Islam after the 1915 killings in the Ottoman era.
Among those who were baptized was Gaffur Turkay, who also contributed to the restoration of the church.
“I wish this church had always been open,” he said. “It is unbelievable to be together here with people from all around the world with whom I share the same origins.”
The baptism ceremony was closed to the press and outside visitors, was led by Archbishop Ateshian. The names of those baptized will not be revealed for security reasons.