ISTANBUL (Lraper)–The Armenian and Greek Patriarchs of Istanbul paid a pastoral visit Saturday to Izmit–the epicenter of the Marmara Earthquake that devastated Northwestern last week. During the eight hour trip–the Patriarchs shared the pain of those who had lost their family members.
His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and His Beatitude Armenian Patriarch Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan were accompanied by some of the members of the Christian Churches of Turkey Steering Committee for Disaster Relief among them–Rev. Father Samuel Akdemir (Syrian Orthodox Church)–Rev. Father. Lorenzo Piretto (Roman Catholic Church)–Rev. Douglas Anderson (Union Church)–the Rev. Gerhard Duncker (German Evangelical Church)–Deacon Tarasios (Greek Orthodox Church)–Laki Vingas (Greek Orthodox Church)–Luiz Bakar (Armenian Church)–Edmond Adam (Middle East Council of Churches)–Emmanuel Bagdas (Bible Society-Turkey) and Sleiman Saikali (Caritas-Turkey).
The group of Christian representatives were met at the Izmit marina by the Assistants to the Secretary General of the Municipality of Kocaeli in Izmit–Murat Sirmen and Ozkul Ipek–as well as Mari Oduncuyan–an Armenian registered nurse serving in the Social Security Hospital in Izmit.
The Patriarchs and the CDR representatives were then escorted to the Fire Department headquarters in Izmit where they met the Mayor of Kocaeli–Sefa Sirmen–an ex-State Minister–Onur Kumbaracibasi and the Rector of the Kocaeli University–Prof. Dr. Baki Komsuoglu.
The Mayor gave the CDR group first-hand information about the situation of the earthquake zone. The Christian representatives expressed their solidarity with the people of the earthquake-stricken zone in the person the Mayor and pledged to build a settlement of 200 pre-fabricated units in a place to be designated by the local authorities.
Following consultations–the CDR delegation was taken to the Izmit Fair grounds–where a considerable piece of land was set aside for the CDR operation.
Headed by the two Patriarchs–the CDR delegation then paid a visit to the Governor of Kocaeli–Memduh Oguz. The Governor thanked the Patriarchs for their willingness to share the pain of the province.
"The dead are no longer here–and in a sense they are saved. But we are here and we must struggle to live–even with this unbearable pain" he said. The Patriarchs comforted the Governor–who was evidently exhausted–and assured him of the prayers of all the Christian communities.
The Patriarchs and the CDR group then visited ruined sites in Izmit and a suburb area called Derince.
There was a strong odor of decaying corpses that weighed on the area. Approximately nine hours after the earthquake– people held a vigil by what was once their home hoping that their beloved ones were still alive.
Departing from Izmit–His Beatitude Patriarch Mesrob returned to Istanbul and presided over the vespers in the Holy Mother-of-God Patriarchal Church. He prayed for the repose of the souls of all who lost their lives in the early morning hours of 17 August. He urged the faithful to show solidarity with the people of the earthquake zone–helping them morally and financially.
Patriarch Mesrob presided over a Divine Liturgy Sunday in the Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator on Kinali Island where–once again–he appealed to the community for financial assistance to help the victims of the earthquake. He told the believers how churches overseas had begun to raise funds in order to mobilize assistance and assured the local church that she was not alone.
On Monday–Patriarch Mesrob met with seven architects and engineers in the Patriarchal Office–representatives of the SKW-MBT Construction Chemicals Company in Istanbul attending as well. His Beatitude asked the group to begin a professional survey of the church and school buildings–to prepare an exhaustive report of the damages and the suggested ways of repair.
The same day–Patriarch Mesrob presided over the funeral service of his former student Zaven Khatchig Melkonian and his wife Veronique–in the Holy Mother-of-God Armenian Church in Bakirkoy. Zaven had also served in the Parish Council of the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Kumkapi. The church and the churchyard were filled with the larger community members.
On the same afternoon–the Patriarch hosted the CDR meeting in the Armenian Patriarchate which was chaired by Emmanuel Bagdas. An executive committee was formed with the following members: Bagdas–Chairman; Tulin Kenber–Secretary; and members Rev. Alan McCain–Rev. Father Samuel Akdemir–Rev. Deacon Tarasios–Luiz Bakar and a Catholic representative which will be named by the Latin Bishop of the city.
The CDR office will be at the headquarters of the American Board. At least two or three persons will be hired for auditing and secretarial work. The Greek and Armenian Patriarchates will oversee the relief project. The materials that are dispatched to the earthquake zone are collected in the Bezciyan Common Hall of the Armenian Patriarchal Church in Kumkapi.