Construction of the first-ever church built in Republican-era Turkey will begin at the end of the February, said an official in Turkey’s largest metropolis on Tuesday.
The paperwork has been done and a permit issued, Bulent Kerimoglu, the mayor of Istanbul’s Bakirkoy municipality, told reporters while meeting with Yusuf Cetin, the Syriac Orthodox Church’s metropolitan for Istanbul and the capital Ankara.
Kerimoglu said once the church is finished, after an expected two years of construction, it will serve around 17,000 Syriac Orthodox believers.
For his part, Cetin said that despite “different religions, ethnic roots … everyone’s hearts beat for our Turkey.”
“We’re proud of living under the Turkish flag in this land,” he added.
In 2015, then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced the government greenlight for a new church in Istanbul, which up to now has had only one Syriac Orthodox church.
Assyrians are an ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient northern Mesopotamia. Their language – an Aramaic tongue – is one of the oldest in the world, with a history stretching back 5,500 years.
The new church is planned for the Yesilkoy neighborhood in Bakirkoy, an area close to Istanbul Ataturk Airport.
Plans call for the church, with a capacity for some 700 worshippers, to feature a parking lot and a cafe.
The Virgin Mary Syriac (Assyrian) Orthodox Church, also known as Surp Asdvadzadzin, located in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, is far from many Assyrians, who mainly reside in the neighborhoods of Yesilkoy and Atakoy in Bakirkoy. The community also uses some Catholic churches in the province for services.
There are around 25,000 Assyrians living in Turkey, according to the community. The majority (around 17,000) live in Istanbul, with others living in the eastern provinces of Mardin, Adiyaman, Diyarbakir, and Elazig.