At ten in the morning I leave with the group to visit the Christian quarter of Mardin. I can already see from afar that a decorated horse is waiting with its Kurdish caretaker at the corner of the street of the Surp Hovsep (St. Joseph) Armenian Catholic church. And this indicates a big event, since the horses used to appear on such events, so that the little boy dressed for the occasion or the bride dressed for a wedding photo could pose with them or eventually on them for some money. But what event can be here at ten in the morning on a Sunday? In the side street going down there is no building but Surp Hovsep, and it has been closed for decades. It is true that in recent years there has been a major restoration here, and I wondered what the church would be transformed into. I look down the side street and see that there are men dressed for the occasion waiting around the gate of the church, and then families walking up from below walk through the gate. Is it perhaps open? I run down to check it.

The gate is really open, families are really walking in. I would also go with them, but the men in suits standing at the gate tell me it is closed. “And them?” I point to the people going in. “To them it’s open.” “And when will it be open to others?” “Another time.” “When exactly?” “In two weeks”, a hitherto silent man in a suit from the back row tries to dissuade me. I look there, and see a familiar face next to the person. “Edip!” I shout with joy. It is the custodian of the Syriac Orthodox church, with whom I talked a lot after the visits last year. “Thomas!” he shouts, too. We shake hands. “Let him in, he’s a good friend”, he says to the men in suits. “I am with a small group, eight people. Can they come in, too?” I ask. “Sure”, Edip says, and the men in suits obligingly let us in.

“What is happening here?” I ask Edip, now in the courtyard. “The Armenian church was restored. It is being consecrated today.” “Are there that many Armenians in Mardin?” I point to the almost full church, where people are still entering. “No. But all Christians came, it is a feast for all of us.” And indeed, familiar faces now enter the gate, the parish priest of the Syriac Orthodox church and the Syriac Orthodox metropolitan dressed in festive vestments. They are heading in, we go in after them.

The consecration ceremony is already taking place in the church. The Armenian bishop and the choir are already at the back of the church, under the gallery. The text of the ceremony and the songs are Armenian, but sometimes I hear Turkish mixed in as well.

I go forward to the altar, where an Armenian priest is already preparing the celebration, and the Syriac priests are sitting on the benches to the side as guests. After a short wait, the consecration ends in the back, and the priests with the choir, led by the bishop, come forward. The liturgy begins, in Armenian, with Armenian songs.

My baggy Kurdish pants and black shirt with a calligraphic quote from Hafez attract the attention of one of the young doormen, who asks me: “Are you Christians?” “Yes”, I answer, “Hungarians, from Budapest”. He smiles at us reassuringly.

The Surp Hovsep church was built in 1894 by the Armenian Catholic community in Mardin. Most Armenians belong to the independent Armenian Apostolic Church, which is Monophysite, so it is separated not only from the Catholics, but even from the Orthodox. However, for various historical reasons, one branch of the church accepted the Pope as their leader, while retaining their own Armenian liturgy and church language. The seat of the Armenian Catholic Metropolite in Turkey and Syria is precisely Mardin. The recently visited Red Church, which is now listed among the seven most endangered monuments in Europe, was the cathedral of this branch. And their parish church is Surp Hovsep, too. After the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the church was used as a barracks and then as an orphanage. Later – according to one of my sources, in 1949 –, the Armenian community got it back, but then it was closed for decades due to the emigration of the surviving Armenians and lack of financial resources. This is why today’s reconsecration is such a big feast, since the first Armenian church after the Genocide was rebuilt in Turkey in 2015, and since then maybe only one or two.

“How many Armenians are there in the city?” I ask the young doorman. “Maybe we are six or seven families”, he replies. I wish the rebirth of this church would also mean the survival of the community.