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First new church in a century to be built in Turkey

Francis met Syriac Christians during his recent visit to Turkey (CNS)

Turkey’s government has given the go ahead for the building of the first new church in the country for nearly a century.

The Syriac Orthodox church will be built in Yeşilköy on the outskirts of Istanbul, in an area which already has Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches.

The announcement was made last Friday, after Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu met Turkey’s religious leaders.

He told Turkish media: “It is the first [new church] since the creation of the republic [in 1923]. Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now.”

Turkey’s ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been accused of Islamising the country, with the country’s 100,000 strong Christian minority talking of an increasingly intolerant atmosphere.

However the party are in some ways more tolerant to Christianity than Turkish republicans who tend to be hostile to all religious expression.

Before the outbreak of the First World War Turkey had a big Christian population and Constantinople a Christian majority, but large numbers of Armenians, Greeks and Syriac Christians were murdered or driven out in the conflict. Since then the surviving Christians have faced discrimination.

But last Friday the prime minister insisted that AKP “does not discriminate between our citizens… the principle of equal citizenship continues to be our characteristic trait”.

The country’s 20,000 Syriac population, mostly in the south-east of the country, has now been swollen by large numbers of refugees fleeing from Syria and Iraq. The $1.5m cost of the new Virgin Mary Church is being met by the Syriac community.