Muslim worshippers conserve Armenian history in former church February, 2021 Abdulsalam Akinci
SAHMIRAN, Turkey – On a Friday afternoon in the mountain village of Sahmiran (Cekmece in Turkish) in Turkey’s eastern province Bitlis, villagers finish up their work and prepare to go to the mosque for prayers.
Their mosque is unique. It was built as a church, named Hagia Sophia, some 1,500 years ago and converted into a mosque in the 1930s after Armenian residents of the village left. The Muslim worshippers keep reminders of the church in tribute to the village’s history.
“The name of our village is Sahmiran. The Armenians who left here have now named their village Sahmiran in Armenia. This village has existed for a long time. The Armenians had established a church, according to our ancestors. It was damaged by treasure hunters, so we turned it into a mosque. We would not exchange it for ten mosques,” said village chieftain (mukhtar) Mahir Akhan.
Christian symbols can still be seen on the walls.
“In order to preserve the history of the building, we have kept the symbols. When someone sits here, they will know about their history – that other people lived here and they were Christians. Therefore, we have kept them. This does not affect us too much. It is history and a relic. Such things do not affect Islam. Islam wants us to have a pure heart,” said Mullah Mihyedin.
Nearly 500 people live in this mountainous area, according to a 2020 official survey.
Armenians were systematically killed and deported following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in a genocide that left an estimated 1.5 million dead.
Translation by Karwan Faidhi Dri Video editing by Sarkawt Mohammed