Surp Giragos was very busy, as you might expect because it was Sunday, but, because the morning service had concluded an hour or two before my arrival, it was primarily busy with people eating large meals in the courtyard (although every now and again small groups of Armenians or Kurds entered the still-open church to look around). Most of those eating appeared to be Kurds, but in a smaller courtyard to the north of the church about forty Armenians (foreign-born? A bus group from Istanbul?) were finishing a meal with two or three priests of the Apostolic Church. The joyful atmosphere was enhanced because the adults had consumed at least a dozen bottles of red wine made by the Syriac Orthodox Christians of Tur Abdin.
I chatted with a few Armenians who had finished their meal, and with a young Armenian woman responsible for some of the informative displays that enlighten visitors about the church in particular and Diyarbakir’s once-substantial Armenian population in general. It was wonderful to be back and to see the church so popular with Armenians and local Kurds.
The church that has been so carefully restored (it was badly damaged in the 1915 genocide, but restored in the 1960s when about a thousand Armenians still lived in the city and its immediate surroundings. However, as Armenians left the city in the years that followed, the church had to close. It was a ruin once again by the mid-1980s) dates from the first half of the 19th century, but Armenian sources suggest an Armenian church has been on the site of Surp Giragos since the 15th century. The complex is unusual in that it has no fewer than seven altars (five are in the church alone). Around the church itself are buildings that once included a school, chapels, storage space and accommodation for priests. Sinclair refers to a baptistery and says that the raised gallery at the west end of the nave is where women used to worship separately from men, but nowadays men and women worship together in the nave among the columns supporting the roof.
One of the altars is in a room separate from the church itself and is dominated by a picture of Mary with the infant Jesus. An attractive rug covers the stone floor in front of the altar. Nearby is an ornately carved wooden chair painted gold; the upholstery is ruby-coloured. The chair looks very much like a throne for a bishop or the Patriarch of Constantinople/ Istanbul himself.
One of the most notable features of the church is the slim bell tower that rises above the entrance. Pictures of the church dating from the 19th century suggest that the church once had a bell tower taller than the one that exists today, and the taller bell tower appears to be what existed at the time of the genocide itself.
Next, I walked east of the church to part of the old city where some of Diyarbakir’s poorest families live. Most men were at work, despite it being a Sunday, or with friends in tea houses or barber’s shops, so the residential streets were dominated by women and children. In many parts of the old city buildings private, religious or civil have been constructed with the same dark-coloured stone found in the walls and gates that encircle the district, but along the streets which I walked most old structures have been replaced by houses and small apartment blocks made with breeze blocks covered with plaster. As a consequence, the walls are painted many eye-catching colours that look their best in the late afternoon sunshine. It proved a wonderful time to be walking around.