14th November, 2011
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited earthquake victims in eastern Turkey last Saturday, where evangelical Christians and Armenians are among those helping survivors of two deadly quakes in this predominantly Muslim area.
The 23rd October tremor killed 604 people and destroyed at least 2,000 buildings in Ercis and in the city of Van, which was hit again by a magnitude 5.7 quake on 9th November.
"(C)hurches from across Turkey also have sent volunteers to the evangelical church in Van, which is coordinating their efforts in food distribution and medical care."
- Ava Thomas, a writer for the International Mission Board
Yet, "a small evangelical church in Van is helping victims who are sleeping in tents around the church," explained Ava Thomas, a writer for the International Mission Board which supports missions around the world.
"Other churches from across Turkey also have sent volunteers to the evangelical church in Van, which is coordinating their efforts in food distribution and medical care," Thomas said.
"People by the dozens gather at the church daily. Believers feed them and share Christ's love."
Church members have acknowledged that problems remain. "There aren't many of us, and we are tired...We are doing all we can," the church said.
Yet, between the devastation, reports emerged that thousands of worshipers, including American Armenian pilgrims, escaped death: They gathered for the reopening of the ancient Armenian cathedral in nearby Diyarbakir, just hours before the first quake struck.
Christians said the St Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church had fallen into serious disrepair in the early 1980s. Built 350 years ago and still the largest Armenian church building in the Middle East, it once served as the metropolitan cathedral of Diyarbakir.
Following Saturday's massive ceremony, attended by Turkish and American diplomats, a group of Armenians, raised as Sunni Muslims, were baptised on 23rd October, during one of the first worship services in years in the ancient cathedral.
Their ancestors reportedly converted to Islam after the 1915 killings in the Ottoman era.
Armenians say that up to 1.5 million of their kin fell victim to "genocide" in 1915; Turkey counters that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in "civil strife" when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian forces.
In a sign of some reconciliation over the issue, Armenia send aid to Turkey. Israel, another country having frosty relations, also participates in the aid effort.