NEW MILFORD, N.J.—A fundraiser earmarked for the continued restoration of the St. Giragos Church in Dikranagerd (Diyarbakir) took place on Sat., May 17 at Hovnanian School’s Banquet Hall in New Milford.
The occasion provided the opportunity to honor two individuals who have been critical in the renovation of the church: Vartkes Ergun Ayik, chairman of the St. Giragos Church of Dikranagerd, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Honorable Osman Baydemir, metropolitan mayor of Dikranagerd, who was given the Friends of the Armenians Award.
In his welcoming remarks, Hirant Gulian, who has spearheaded fundraising efforts in the diaspora, recognized Baydemir and Ayik and their families who traveled from Dikranagerd to attend the benefit. He presented both with their respective awards and expressed gratitude for their commitment to the St. Giragos Restoration Project.
On accepting his award, Baydemir said that the pain of the past is still being felt by the generations that have followed. “Despite all the suffering we have to move ahead and make things right,” he added. “Armenian brothers should feel ownership of this church because Armenians are a part of Dikranagerd.”
Noting that St. Giragos is the biggest Armenian church in the Middle East, Ayik stressed how Istanbul and Diasporan Armenians worked together to collect money for the renovation, and how they received the moral support of Mayor Beyman since the project’s inception.
“This project is an important sign of apology,” said Ayik, who explained that St. Giragos is the most visited church in Turkey and now holds social activities such as classical music concerts for the public.
Ayik’s daughter Pelin presented a historical slideshow of the city of Dikranagerd and the St. Giragos Church, which is experiencing increased numbers of Armenians in attendance during church service. She stressed that the Turkish government did not contribute to the project; if the had, she said, it would have turned into a museum instead of an active church.
Professor Vartan Abdo, the director of the Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey, served as master of ceremonies. A special performance was made by the Akh’Tamar Dance Ensemble of Hye Doon. Musical entertainment was provided by oud players Udi Yervant from Dikranagerd and Mike Uzatmajian, as well as by Vicken Makoushian and DJ Berj.
St. Giragos was originally constructed in the 15th century and was rebuilt in the 19th century after a fire damaged the sanctuary. The church has seven bell towers, the first of which was built in 1884 (and was cast by the world famous Zildjian Company), making it the tallest structure in Dikranagerd. The church is known for its seven altars, signifying “eternity” in the Armenian alphabet. It can accommodate more than 2,500 faithful during services.
The restoration project of St. Giragos, which remains in possession of the Armenian community under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Istanbul, began six years ago under the leadership of Ayik. Through fundraising efforts by the church and worldwide Dikranagerdtsis, two and a half million dollars has been raised thus far.
Tax-deductible donations for the St. Giragos Church Restoration Project may be made to the Diocese of the Armenian Church, 630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016 (with the memo: Dikranagerd Fund).