ŞIRNAK, Turkey -- With their hometown cleared of terrorist elements, the Chaldean Christian community in southeastern Turkey has returned to restore their local church.
Eight Chaldean families were forced to leave their home in the 1990s due to escalating terror in the region. Thanks to the Turkish government's "Return to Village" program, the community recently returned to their village, known as Cevizağacı (Walnut Tree) in the Beytüşşebap district of Şırnak.
Turkey started the "Return to Village" program in the early 2000s so people can return to areas that were once plagued by terrorism but are now safe and secure.
The families, glad to be back in their peaceful village, wanted to renovate the Mor Yuhanon Church, where they had worshiped in the past but had been destroyed over time. Angel funding came from a fellow villager named Celebi Yaramis, who now lives in Europe and comes to visit his hometown once a year. Yaramis offered the necessary financial support for the church's reconstruction.
Metin Yaramis, a local leader in Cevizağacı, told Anadolu Agency that back in the 1990s the village had as many as 45 households. "We came back to our village with peace and rebuilt our houses," he said. In this village, whose residents follow the centuries-old eastern Chaldean Christian faith and speak Kurdish as well as Turkish, Metin Yaramis said they enjoy support from both neighboring settlements and the state.
In the summertime, nearly 100 families living in Europe come to visit the village, he said. "In winter, only eight families live here." "Everyone here welcomed us restoring the church," he stressed. "Our Muslim brothers are also helping to restore the church. There's no distinction here."
Zarife Yaramis, a former resident of Cevizağacı now living in Belgium, said she is happy to see the village alive again. "I'm glad to be in my village, my kids also love it here. I have very nice neighbors." Aydın Yaramis, a teenager living in the village, said: "Before the church, we said our prayers at home," adding that he would love to see a school in the village. "There's peace here, like never before. Soon it may be a better place than Europe," he added.
Cemil Acar, from a neighboring village, said he and the residents of Cevizağacı enjoy a good relationship. "Now they'll have a place where they can worship in peace. We're pleased with them and may Allah be pleased as well."