Turkey Approves Construction Of First New Church In Nearly A Century

Turkey is getting a brand new church for the first time in nearly a century.

The $1.5 million Virgin Mary Syriac church will be built in the Istanbul suburb of Yesilkoy, Daily Sabah reports.

A government source told the AFP that this is the first church that the government has allowed Christians to build from the ground up since the republic formed in 1923, though other churches have been restored and reopened. Yesilkoy already has a Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic church.

The construction project will be funded by the Syriac community. The Syriac Orthodox Church is considered to be one of the oldest Christian denominations. Part of the church’s liturgy is said in an ancient Aramaic dialect believed to be closely related to the language spoken by Christ. Syrian Orthodox churches can be found all over the world.

There are now only 25,000 Syrian Christians in Turkey, according to The Daily Sabah.

Turkey is officially a secular country, but about 99 percent of its 76 million residents are Muslims. Less than 100,000 are Christian.

The country’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with the country’s religious leaders on Friday. He insisted that the ruling AKP party “does not discriminate between our citizens” and that “the principle of equal citizenship continues to be our characteristic trait."

Turkey has in fact become a refuge for Christians fleeing persecution by the Islamic State in nearby Syria and Iraq, Reuters reports.

But secular critics of the AKP have accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of trying to strengthen Islam’s influence -- particularly through changes to religious education in schools.