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Ethnic Armenians who grew up as Muslims baptized in Diyarbakir.
11/11/2011 Turkey (Compass Direct News) – Just hours before a deadly 7.2 earthquake struck Turkey’s southeast on Oct. 23, well over 3,000 visitors crowded into an ancient Armenian cathedral in nearby Diyarbakir for Sunday mass.
The mass was the first worship service in decades in the ancient St. Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, which had fallen into serious disrepair in the early 1980s. Built 350 years ago and still the largest Armenian church building in the Middle East, it once served as the metropolitan cathedral of Diyarbakir.
In a private ceremony the following day, 10 ethnic Armenians who had been raised as Sunni Muslims were baptized as Christians in the restored sanctuary. All from one extended family, the Armenians returning to their faith said that their ancestors had converted to Islam during the Ottoman era (1299-1923).
“We have been ostracized by both Sunni Muslims and Armenians,” one of them told Hurriyet Daily News. “It is a very emotional moment for me, and I’m a bit upset, because unfortunately we do not belong to either side.”
For security reasons, the baptisms were closed to the press and outside visitors.
According to one source at Istanbul’s Armenian Patriarchate, it is estimated that at least 300,000 Armenian and Syriac Christians converted to either Sunni or Alawite Islam after 1915 to avoid forced deportation.
“This means there could be as many as a half million ethnic-background Christians in Turkey today who carry ID cards stating they are Muslims,” the cleric observed.
Over the past decade, both Armenian and Syrian Orthodox church centers in Turkey have quietly baptized individuals and families from the eastern regions of the country who had Muslim IDs but wished to return to their Christian roots.
“I wish this church had always been open,” one of the newly baptized Armenians told the online Massis Post website. “It is unbelievable to be together here with people from all around the world with whom I share the same origins.”
Although political dignitaries representing a number of foreign embassies attended the Oct. 23 mass, along with Armenian spiritual leaders from around the world, most of the congregation consisted of Armenian pilgrims from Armenia, the Netherlands, Germany, Syria, Lebanon and the United States.
“It was like they were returning from exile!” one Diyarbakir resident who attended the Sunday mass told Compass. “Here were these elderly Armenians who used to live here, walking through the streets of Diyarbakir, weeping and looking for their old homes and places they remembered. They all still spoke Turkish and Kurdish, as well as Armenian.”

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