His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, paid a second visit to Rumkale, where a boat donated by the Patriarchate to the village of Kasaba was inaugurated.
Last July, the Patriarch had led an expedition to the region to discover the location of the ancient castle of Rumkale (Hromcla or Hromgla), on the very spot where the river Euphrates and Merzimen meet. It is located about an hour’s drive north of the city of Gaziantep (Aintab). The purpose of last year’s visit was to see whether Hromcla would be submerged in the Birecik Dam, which was being built at the time and has since been completed (*).
While visiting the area, the Patriarch noticed that children were crossing the Merzimen River on dangerous makeshift rafts — large pieces of wood laid on rubber automobile tires. He decided to give the chieftainship (mukhtariyet) of the Kasaba village a boat for safer crossing across the river.
The Patriarchate purchased a second-hand boat in good condition from the seaside village of Arsuz, near Iskenderun (Alexandrette), in the province of Hatay (Antioch). It was then checked for safety, re-painted and renamed “Sevgi” (“love” in Turkish), and then sent to the Kasaba village on May 15.
Patriarch Mesrob flew to Gaziantep on May 17, accompanied by the Revd. Archpriest Muron Ayvazyan (Patriarchal Religious Council member), Mr. Vazgen Barin (Deputy Mayor of the Sisli District of Istanbul) and Sub-deacon Vagarsag Seropyan (“Lraper” staff member). At the airport, Mr Shemseddin Can Kahya, Director of the Tourism Bureau of Gaziantep, and the executive members of the local Lions Club and representatives of tourist agencies
greeted the Armenian Church delegation.
The group then set off towards Hromcla by a bus, provided by the Arsan travel agency in Gaziantep.
About 30 kilometres later, the bus stopped at the centre square of the Yavuzeli County, where the mayor of Yavuzeli, Mr Ali Sakar, greeted His Beatitude with flowers and accompanied them on the journey ahead.
The Patriarch and his entourage arrived at the Kasaba Village (formerly called Kalekoy) and were greeted at the village entrance by the village Chief (the Mukhtar), the Imam and the members of the Elders’ Council. Many villagers, men and women, came forward to greet the Patriarch and wish him welcome.
A white pavilion tent was prepared in the village square for the reception, where the guests were offered cold “taan” (yoghurt drink, ayran) and local pistachios.
The Mukhtar, Mr Mahmut Yazgan, formally greeted all the guests, wished them welcome to Kasaba and Rumkale, and recounted the hardships that the villagers were facing after the rising waters of the Birecik Dam had swallowed up, among others, the old Kasaba village as well. Now they had to build everything anew. They needed running water, new electric power lines,
a sewage system, and similar utilities. Mr Yazgan thanked His Beatitude for making the effort to visit the site, which will help highlight the needs of the village.
The Mayor of Yavuzeli, Mr Ali Sakar, followed with his short welcome speech and expressed hope that Rumkale would receive the attention it deserves following His Beatitude’s visits.
In his remarks, Patriarch Mesrob greeted the people with the Lord’s peace and said that he is touched by the warm hospitality that he has received for the second time in the Kasaba village.
He explained that purpose of his second visit was to deliver the boat to the village for safer access to the other bank of the Merzimen Spring and the River Euphrates.
Patriarch Mesrob said he senses a special feeling at this site, the moral presence of the great Saint Nerses the Graceful, who served the Armenian people as Patriarch from his headquarters in Hromcla (**) in the 12th century. “He was a great man of God, with strong faith and deep love. Saint Nersess had a special gift for reconciling and peace making between different peoples. It is his moral presence, and also the place where his remains were committed, which make this site holy and special for pilgrims,”
added the Patriarchate.
In its three-thousand year history, Hromcla had been ruled by the Assyrians, the Armenians, the Romans, the Parthians, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Memlukes, the Seljuks and the Turks. However, the most famous person whose name is associated with Hromcla is Saint Nersess.
“The literature that he created, his poems, hymns, epistles and other works have been widely circulated to this day, not only in Armenian, but also in many foreign languages. Anatolia and Thrace are full of places of special interest for the believers, tourists, students of history and culture, and recreationists. However, it is important how people present these sites to
the visitors and pilgrims. The number one prerequisite is the hospitality, and the Kasaba village is blessed with that gift,” said the Patriarch.
He then wished them well and success in their endeavours to rebuild their village and invoked God’s blessings upon them. His Beatitude also prayed for the repose of the souls of the 34 passengers who had lost their lives in a tragic plane crash the day before in Malatya.
Inauguration of Sevgi
Immediately afterwards, the villagers and the guests, headed by the Patriarch, gathered on the northern bank of the Merzimen Spring where an inauguration ceremony was held. The “Sevgi” was lowered into the water, a 12-passenger boat, painted in dazzling white, with an adequate engine and propeller. The villagers were thankful for the donation of the Patriarchate.
The Patriarch wished them well and safety, and embarked the boat along with the members of his delegation, the Kasaba Mukhtar, and the Mayor of Yavuzeli. Three smaller boats were brought from nearby villages on the Euphrates to carry the rest of the visitors.
Half an hour later, lunch was served on the southern bank of the Merzimen, amidst a beautiful orchard of lovely pomegranate and tall white-berry trees.
Oriental rugs covered the picnic area, on which all guests lined up cross-legged to enjoy the local dishes and khorovadz (kebab) that the villagers had prepared.
At around 14:00 hours, the group began a climb up the Hromcla mound, approaching the forts via the western gate on which Armenian and Arabic scripts were barely noticeable. The Classical Armenian text began, “By the mercy of God… John…,” but the rest was illegible.
A steep climb took the visitors to the top of the mound where the ruins of an Armenian Church remained, built on the tomb of Saint Nersess the Graceful. The Patriarch discussed the current condition of the ruins with the Tourism Bureau chief and suggested that a scientific excavation was necessary in order to clear the narthex of the ancient church of the rubble that had fallen in. Another Armenian inscription was spotted on the southern wall of the bema, which was clearly dated 1600.
The most moving moment of the visit was marked by the Patriarch’s singing of a hymn in Classical Armenian, written by St Nersess in Hromcla: “Love is your name Jesus! Touch with your love my heart, which has become like stone. Because of your sorrow and mercy, grant newness to my life.”
Under the scorching sun, a mild breeze came to cool the faces of all present who listened to the ancient hymn in profound awe.
Descending towards the inner plain opposite the Eastern gate of Hromcla, the pilgrims faced a pleasant surprise. The Arsan Travel Agency and the Tugcan Hotel in Gaziantep had joined efforts to hold a reception, offering some eighty people champagne, refreshments, seasonal fruits and mixed roasted
nuts. Ms Ayse Nur Arun, the president of the Arsan Travel Agency, presented the Patriarch with a beautiful plaque ornate with mother-of-pearl.
The Patriarch left Hromcla through the Eastern gate, and made a 45-minute tour of nearby villages, which had succumbed to the waters of the Birecik Dam on the banks of the River Euphrates.
Returning to Kasaba village, he presented the village school with 120 children’s books, a complete set of encyclopaedia and 30 schoolbags, which were gratefully received. He then said farewell to the Village Mukhtar, the Yavuzeli Mayor and the villagers and promised to visit them again.
His Beatitude was then escorted to the Gaziantep airport and arrived at the VIP lounge, half an hour before the 19:30 flight back to Istanbul. Before he left for the plane, the Patriarch commended the Arsan travel agency for their excellent organization skills.
* See 2nd item at http://www.uk-christian.net/oons/august_2000.html).
** Armenian Catholicoi in Hromcla
Ten Armenian Catholicoi and Supreme Patriarchs served the Church with their headquarters in Hromcla, namely, Gregory III (1113-1166), St. Nerses IV the Graceful (1166-1173), Gregory IV the Young (1173-1193), Gregory V (1193-1194), Gregory VI (1194-1203), John VI the Affluent (1203-1221), Constantine I (1221-1267), Jacob I the Learned (1268-1286), Constantine II the Woolmaker (1286-1289) and Stephen IV (1290-1293).