Atonement on the Tigris

 A Century Later, Armenians, Turks and Kurds Slowly Move Forward From a Tormented Past


Sourp Giragos has gone through cycles of decay and rebirth. Its Gothic bell tower was destroyed in May 1915, according to the foundation’s director, after authorities deemed it inappropriate that a Christian church’s structure would rise higher than minarets of nearby mosques. (VOA/Mike Eckel)

By Mike Eckel

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Most of the congregants at Easter Mass at the rebuilt Church of Saints Cyriacus and Julietta in this Turkish city on the banks of the Tigris were not Christian.

They were Muslim.

Among the handful of Christians was Gafur Turkay.

Five years ago, he turned away from the religion he was raised in — Islam — and openly embraced the religion of his ancestors, a choice that he said was less about being Christian and than it was about being Armenian.

It was also, he said, about honoring his grandfather, whose throat was cut in the violence that in 1915 all but wiped Armenians from the map in this and other parts of the dying Ottoman Empire.

“For my grandfather, for the massacres, for the Armenians, I did it for them,” said Turkay, whose family was forced to adopt that surname. “I wasn’t a good Muslim and I’m not a good Christian either. But I am a good Armenian.”



In the village of Derkhist, about a two-hour drive east of Diyarbakir, headstones from an graveyard are all that remains of an hilltop Armenian church that Kurdish villagers said was demolished some 90 years ago.