Amidst the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the violence in Syria, some Christians have made their way to Turkey and provided a welcome boost in attendance for the small churches in the region. Eastern Turkey was once home to a vibrant Christian community, but the last 100 years witnessed a massive exodus of Christians from the region. While the situation that led to the influx of Christians into Turkish churches is something no one would desire, it has brought a new vitality to the community for both leaders and congregants alike.
By Diana Darke
08/10/2013 Turkey (BBC) – Syria’s Christians belong to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, but chased away by the threat of violence some are heading for neighbouring Turkey, where they have been greeted with considerable enthusiasm.
Driven by a deep and humble faith, Father Joaqim is a young man with a sense of destiny. He has returned from 11 years in Holland to revive his dying community in eastern Turkey.
We are standing together on the terrace of his newly restored monastery, high on a remote escarpment near Nusaybin, looking south over the Mesopotamian Plain.
“Thank God our community is alive again,” he says, his face radiating out from the distinctive black cap of his Syriac Orthodox habit. “On Sundays our church is full with worshippers from the village.”
“You have transformed this place,” I marvel, admiring the quality of the renovations. “Back in the 1980s, when I first came here, there was no path and it took an hour to climb up here. This terrace was a vegetable patch and a local family was living in the ruins.”
“Yes,” he replies serenely, “They were Yezidis. They moved in after the last monk died. They looked after the monastery very well.”
The thought of a Syriac Orthodox monk being grateful to Yezidis, sometimes reviled as devil-worshippers by Muslims and Christians alike, was a novel one.
But surprises like these come thick and fast in eastern Turkey, where the Turkish government has invested heavily over the past decade, building hydro-electric dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, extending agriculture and employment to help settle local communities, including Kurdish ones.
As for the Syriac Christians, custodians of some of the earliest surviving churches in the world, this was always their homeland, the region known as Tur Abdin, Syriac for “Mountain of the Servants of God”.