TURKEY: Archaeologists discover 1600 year-old church with Syriac inscription

MARDIN, Turkey – In September 2019, treasure hunters were reported to illegally excavate an archaeological site in the village of Göktaş in Turkey’s southeaster Mardin province. Local authorities took over the site and transferred it to archaeologists of Mardin Museum and the Diyarbakır regional Centre for Restoration and Conservation.

After excavation work, the archaeologists have unearthed a 1600 year-old church – preliminary dating: 396 A.D.

According to Sputnik News Agency, the church has a Early Byzantine Period Basilica based floor plan and contains floor mosaics with Syriac Estrangelo inscriptions, human and animal figures, and mosaics with geometric ornaments and floral motifs.

Floor mosaics and Syriac inscription in Estrangelo script. Image: Anadolu Agency

Mardin Museum director and exaction head Abdulgani Tarkan told state-run news agency Anadolu Agency that; “The mosaics are also decorated with animal depictions, geometric ornaments and human figures, including scenes depicting people on hunting. It is also written April and June on the human figures.” Tarkan said the structure contains names of the spiritual figures who contributed to its construction.

The church will be open for the public after restoration work is completed.

The church is located in the village of Göktaş in the Derik district of Turkey’s southeaster Mardin province. Göktaş is some 46 km from Omid (Diyarbakir) and some 114 km from Mardin city.

In a planned demographic change in the latter days of the Ottoman Empire during the Sayfo Genocide of 1915, Turks and Kurds massacred the long-settled Armenian and Syriac populations (Chaldeans-Assyrians-Arameans) of Turkey’s southeastern region. This left the region and bigger cities like Omid, Mardin, and Harput largely empty of its Christian Armenians and Syriacs.

In 1915, the district of Derik, had an estimated 50 Syriac families. An estimated 350 Syriacs, among them the local priest, of those 50 families were massacred. The local church was ruined.