As Turkey’s Christians celebrate a new church, religious minorities still call for respect

by | Oct 27, 2023 | Religion

ISTANBUL (RNS) — On Oct. 15, hundreds of Turkey’s Assyrian Syriac Christians gathered in Istanbul’s leafy Yeşilköy neighborhood to witness the inauguration of Mor Ephrem Syriac Orthodox Church, the community’s first new church in more than a century. A generation ago, the vision of building a new Syriac Christian church in Istanbul would have been a fantasy. One of the oldest branches of the church, Syriac Orthodox Christianity still uses a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus and his disciples, for its liturgy. “We’re a very ancient people, a Mesopotamian people,” said Katia Arslan, an Assyrian who studies Turkey’s minority peoples.
But today only about 25,000 Assyrian Christians live in Turkey, represented across the Syriac Church, the Assyrian Church of the East and Latin Uniate Churches adhering to Rome, but most are Syriac Orthodox.
They are the last remnant of a community that once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in Turkey’s southeast but faced genocide at the close of the Ottoman Empire. Further persecution in the early days of modern Turkey kicked off a mass emigration abroad or to western Turkish cities. During the exodus, the state expropriated Assyrian properties, including churches and monasteries …

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