The Orthodox Greeks in Turkish Mersin
From a cultural perspective, Mersin is one of the most important and rich cities. Turks, Kurds, Arabs, representatives of Christian churches and other religious communities have been living in this city at the same time.
Our uniqueness is our wealth .The major contribution to the development we can do is to know our history and culture, what distinguish us from others.
In this article I will share with you some information about the churches in Mersin, the challenges faced by the Christians as well as the facts I have managed to gather about the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches of Mersin.
I have to confess, this is the first time I have visited the churches of Mersin since I was born. The Orthodox church was the first I decided to visit. Even though I turned up there as an uninvited guest, the priest Choskun bey friendly received me. He was glad to know that my visit was aimed at writing essays on the churches of Mersin and was doing his best to help me.
The most interesting was to find out that the first Christians in Mersin were the Arabs who were praying in Arabic.
Let me tell you the history of the Orthodox church of Mersin. From the middle of the 19th century, the first settlers in Mersin were Orthodox Greeks arrived from the islands of Cappadocia and Arabs arrived from Syria and Lebanon. In 1840 all the arrived Orthodox Christians were called Greeks by the administration of the Ottoman Empire. As noted in some of the sources, by 1850 the city was inhabited by approximately 5250 Orthodox Greeks. During the American Civil War, in order to address the world’s cotton shortage, the city was connected to the rail network, and its life changed drastically. In a short space of time Mersin became a commercial center and port of the Chukurov region, followed by the export of products manufactured in the region. The Orthodox Arabs who were living in Kiremhane neighborhood, started to sell cotton and other products. Moreover, some of them were engaged in maritime trade. By the end of the century there were 195 Orthodox families in the city.
The first Greek Orthodox church appeared in Mersin with the permission of the Ottoman authorities in 1849. It was built by the donations of Dmitry and Tanus Nadir in honor of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. The building is still preserved in Mersin and is still the oldest church building there. It is open to everyone who wishes to pray and partake. The church belongs to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate located in Damascus. Its legal status is under the control of the regional management of the foundation called “Tomris Nadir Mitri Church Fund”.
The church is situated in the center of Mersin, close to the Ataturk avenue. Most of the gardens, belonging to the church, were ceded to the city authorities during the reign of the governor Taffik Syry Gyur. In Greek books the church is named after Michael the Archangel.
The priest told me that 300 Orthodox families live in Mersin nowadays. Previously, during the Sunday prayers they were reading prayers in Arabic, now half of them reads in Arabic, another half — in Turkish. Priest Choskun told me that the reason was that, children don’t know Arabic. The church organizes lessons in Arabic, however it’s not enough. The school programs don’t include Arabic language courses. Moreover, he noted that children can get religious education at church.
I told the priest that I was impressed by Mersin and I felt guilty to confess that it was my first visit to the city. He said there were plenty of others like me. Those who visit the church feel surprised and happy from their hospitality. However, he added that no one except Christians is interested in life of the church.
I wondered about the challenges, the Christian population faces living in Mersin.
“Previously, the Christians were afraid of speaking about their faith, but now it’s not a problem anymore. The reason is that, Mersin is a city full of representatives of different nations. The main problem for the Christians is that, they are not allowed to serve in government offices. We pay taxes as well as other citizens of Turkey, we do military service, however we have no access to public office. During the elections, candidates visit us, listen to our problems, but they can’t solve any of them. Therefore, we must provide our children with a good education. 95 percent of students of our church become graduates of universities. They must complete their education with high marks in order to work in private companies in future. They have no other chance”.
The problem, mentioned by Choskun bey, is too serious. I hope they find a solution to the problem in the near future.
As I said, I was impressed by the Orthodox Church in Mersin. It’s a place definitely worth visiting. The priests are very hospitable and are always ready to talk. You may just knock on their doors then you will be hospitably received.
In the second part of the article I will tell you about Catholic churches.
Translated Manan Ajamyan