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Erdogan to lay cornerstone for modern Turkey's first ever new church

The Syriac Church has long been crying out for a new place of worship. On Saturday work will begin on the first church to be built since the Turkish Republic was founded
A Syriac priest climbs the stairs at the Syriac Orthodox Mor Gabriel monastery, in the Turkish southeastern town of Midyat (AFP)
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to lay the cornerstone for the first church to be built in modern Turkey on Saturday, officials told Middle East Eye.

The church in Istanbul's Yesilkoy neighbourhood will serve the Syriac Christian community, who have been attempting to build a new place of worship for 10 years as their current building isn't suitable to accommodate the more than 15,000 devotees who live in the city.

Representatives of Turkey’s Syriac community said the land in Yesilkoy, which is part of an Italian cemetery, was allocated by then-prime minister Erdogan a decade ago.

Sait Susin, the head of the Syriac Church Foundation based in Istanbul, said they have been using churches belonging to other communities to satisfy their needs.

"However, we have had problems because of the prayer times. We needed a church. Erdogan granted our request in 2009 to build the church on public property. That's why we are honoured to invite him for the groundbreaking ceremony," he said.

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The project was initially announced in 2015, but legal obstacles disrupted the construction process.

Though the cemetery is public property, the site's proximity to a chapel owned by the Catholic Church complicated matters, a source with knowledge of the project told MEE. Eventually, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the largest Christian denomination in the country, intervened on the Syriacs' behalf.

"The head of Eastern Orthodox Church Bartholomew I of Constantinople spoke to the Vatican's Ankara ambassador to get Pope's blessings. That's why they had to wait," the source said.

The project is expected to be completed in two years following Saturday's groundbreaking ceremony, with the financial contribution of the Syriac community, who are also known as Aramaic.

The Turkish government has in recent years been returning previously confiscated Christian and Jewish properties, together valued at more than $2bn.