Yet another example of intolerance has taken place in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa (Urfa)—the historic Assyrian Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the city is now being used as a municipality-owned cultural center and the foundation of the Islamic school of Harran University, The Armenian Weekly reports.
According to sources, the church was used actively until 1924, when Assyrians (Syriac Christians) left for Aleppo.
Locals call the church “the Regie Church”, because Tekel, the Turkish tobacco and alcoholic beverage company, had once used it as a tobacco factory. This tobacco factory had been known as the Regie Tobacco Company in Ottoman times, and was nationalized in 1925.
It was also used as a grape storehouse for decades. After its restoration in 1998, it hosted a carpet-making class. In 2002, it became the “Kemalettin Gazezoglu Cultural Center,” named after the governor of the city. Today, a part of it has been given to a foundation that runs the Islamic school at the city’s university.
Turkey has used the historic church for many different purposes—except for its intended purpose: a church.
Called Edessa in ancient times, Urfa has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The modern city was founded in 304 B.C by Seleucus I Nicator.
In the late 2nd century, as the Seleucid dynasty disintegrated, it successively became a Parthian, Armenian, and Roman state, and eventually an Eastern Roman (Byzantine) province. It was frequently conquered during periods when the Byzantine central government was weak, due to its location on the eastern frontier of the Empire. It fell to the Muslim conquest in 639 but was briefly retaken by Byzantium in 1031. It then fell to the Turkic Zengid dynasty in 1144, and was eventually absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in 1517.
Edessa was an important early center of Syriac Christianity. For Armenians, too, the city is significant since it is believed that the Armenian alphabet was invented there.
But the traces of Assyrian, Armenian, and Greek Christians have been systematically erased from the city by Muslim governments and residents throughout centuries.