Dörtyol, 1912: Celebration in church courtyard marking Armenian alphabet. Catholicos Sahag II officiating (Source: Bibliothèque Orientale - USJ)

Dörtyol and Neighboring Villages – Churches, Pilgrimage Sites

Author: Vera Sahakian, 28/08/2014 (Last modified 28/08/2014)- Translator: Hrant Gadarigian

There is a scarcity of information regarding the Armenian churches of Dörtyol. According to the list [1] of Armenian churches compiled by the Constantinople Armenian Patriarchate, there were four churches in Dörtyol and neighboring villages – St. Gregory the Enlightener (Özerli/Eozerli village; built 1877), Holy Mother of God (Dörtyol, c 1851), St. Gregory the Enlightener (Dörtyol, 1858), and Holy Mother of God (Ocaklı/Odjaklou village) [2].

In his book, Minas Kojayan writes that Dörtyol had three churches, the oldest being the St. Minas Church built in the cemetery. [3] Next was the Holy Mother of God Church that dominated the Verin Tagh (Upper District). Then came the Holy Cross Church with its high cupolas that dominated the Vari Tagh (Lower District). [4] Kojayan also mentions that the neighboring village of Ocaklı also had its churches that were destroyed during the 1895 Hamidian massacres. [5]

Colophon, Written by Constantin Tourat (or Kourat), Adana, 1284 (Source: Mesrop Mashtots Repository, No. 4207 in Album of Armenian palaeography [in Armenian], Michael E Stone; Dickran Kouymjian; Henning Lehmann, Yerevan, 2006, p. 309)

The chronicler Samvel Boranian mentions two churches in Dörtyol – Holy Mother of God and Holy Savior, that were also called the churches of the Upper and Lower Districts respectively. [6] He also notes the existence of a pilgrimage site called St. Sarkis in the cemetery, saying that it was the oldest religious institution in the town. [7]

Another chronicler, Minas Khabrig, describing Dörtyol’s religious sites writes: “It is an ancient small chapel still standing in the cemetery of Chork-Marzban (Dörtyol). It is the monastery on the slopes of Mt. Amanos, one kilometer distant from Chork-Marzban. Its ruins serve as a pilgrimage site the people call Kharnoublou.” [8]

The tree species kharnoub/harnup (caratonia siliqua – an evergreen commonly known as the carob tree – Armenian- yeghdjereni; Turkish – harnup or keçiboynuzu) was quite widespread in the Adana region. Almost every third hill was called by the harnuplu – hill with carob tree grove. [9] Thus, it is difficult to specify the exact locations of religious sites called harnuplu listed in the memoirs. Minas Khabrig offers another bit of information regarding the churches of the area. “Also beloved and similar to Kharnoublou on the slopes of Ocaklı is another set of ruins that the people have credited with healing powers, believing that St. Sarkis once lived there.” [10]. Kojayan also writes about a pilgrimage site called St. Sarkis Rock in Dörtyol, noting that it was the resting place of the hoof of the saint’s swift steed. [11]

As we see, we face a number of difficulties when we compare the descriptions and information provided by various chroniclers, especially regarding the names of churches and their exact locations.

In the lists compiled by the Constantinople Patriarchate and in three sets of memoirs, we come across a church called Holy Mother of God in Dörtyol. These three chroniclers also provide information about a chapel in the cemetery. As for the third church, it is called St. Gregory the Enlightener in the Patriarchate’s list, but given different names (Holy Cross and Holy Savior) by the above three chroniclers. [12]

Based on the primary sources at our disposal, we will now attempt to provide a general overview of the churches and pilgrimage sites that existed in the Dörtyol area.

Holy Mother of God Church (Dörtyol, Upper District)

Armenian residents of Dörtyol were God-fearing people. For morning and evening vespers, they would make their way to the church in groups. They would gather at a local creek until church beadle Hadji Hagop would ring the church bells calling the faithful to prayer. [13]

Old and young alike would patiently await the yearly visit by the Catholicos of Cilicia. Schools would close and residents would line the streets to witness the arrival of the Holy Father riding  a white horse. [14]

On that day residents from the neighboring villages of Ocaklı, Özerli and Nacarlı/Nadjarli would flock to Dörtyol. Mothers carrying bouquets of roses and their babies, youngsters holding boughs and flowers, would form a large procession and circle the two story house of Hadji Hagop Küçük. Since the house was built near the Holy Mother of God Church, it would serve as a hostelry. [15]

Dörtyol – Holy Mother of God Church (Source: Minas Kojayan, History of Chork-Marzban (Dört-Yol, a town in Cilicia) [in Armenian], Los Angeles, 2006)

Dörtyol, ca 1920: Children of the Kelegian orphanage during a visit by Catholicos Sahag II (Source: Nubarian Library, Paris)

Nearly all the holy sites were surrounded by the lush and verdant fields, gardens and summer homes of Dörtyol residents. The gardens of prominent residents Der Sdepanents, Oueli Boghosents, Potourents and Yeprements encircled the Holy Mother of God Church. [16]

Dörtyol – 1902. National Central School graduates receive diplomas in church courtyard (Source: Minas Kojayan, History of Chork-Marzban (Dört-Yol, a town in Cilicia) [in Armenian], Los Angeles, 2006)

Those wishing to participate in the vesper service would arrive at church quite early. “And because that crowded gathering would last for some time, nearby landowners had built a ‘small market’ to take advantage of the business from locals and others arrivals.” [17]

With its high domes and upper gallery, the three-altar Holy Mother of God Church was located in Dörtyol’s center. The tasteful and attractive edifice was anchored on magnificently constructed columns that peaked with sculpted ram motifs. The altars stood out with luxurious adornments. [18]

Minas Kojayan provides various details about this church. He writes that its construction was linked to developments of the 19th century when the Dörtyol elders realized that the population was increasing and there was the need to build a spacious new church. [19] After receiving a construction permit from the Ottoman government, not a small task in itself, the community built the Holy Mother of God Church whose domes could be seen from far and wide. Due to its size, local Turks called the church büyük kilise (big church). [20]

Holy Mother of God was built of stone. The dome was adorned by a six-armed cross with an oil painting of the creator in the center. A bit below, on four columned arches, were depictions of the four apostles, the Blessing of the Feet ceremony, and a crowd carrying torches who came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. [21] On the highest spot in the center of the altar was a painting of two angels heralding the Final Judgment. The walls and eaves were adorned with botanical motifs. The Holy Baptismal Font was adorned with a large painting of St. Gregory the Enlightener. Like all the others in the church, this too was an oil painting. [22]

Dörtyol – 1919. Winter vista from town (Source: Minas Kojayan, History of Chork-Marzban (Dört-Yol, a town in Cilicia) [in Armenian], Los Angeles, 2006)

1) Dörtyol – 1919. Construction work at Sisvan Orphanage. Located on the same site was the Kelegian Orphanage built in 1912 (Source: Nubarian Library, Paris)
2) The Kelegian orphanage in Dörtyol (Source: Nubarian Library, Paris)

The church was constructed during the tenure of Father Minas. The list of donors includes Artin Kehya, Hadji Keyuk Balian, Sarkis Karavartanian, Kara-Sarkis Kodjayian and Sarkis Khdrian. Roupinian Barsam Ousda was the name of one of the prominent builders. [23]

Over the years the church was subject to partial restorations undertaken by individuals who, seeking to be healed of various ailments, made a vow to renovate the holy site. Some donated paintings, others an incense chalice. Sometimes people made donations after seeing a vision, participating in drives launched to improve the condition of the church. [24]

There were three other buildings in the church courtyard. There was a school built by the Miatsial Ungerutiun (United Society). There was the kindergarten built in the first half of the 19th century. Then there was the diocese comprised of three rooms where neighborhood organizations and church trustees held meetings. These officials had the authority to resolve all legal cases and disputes within the community and to supervise school and church affairs. [25]

Located in the eastern part of the town, ending in a field, was the two-story Kelegian orphanage. [26]

As mentioned above, a church called Holy Mother of God also existed in the nearby village of Özerli. According to information found in the Patriarchate’s files, all we know is that it was an old structure [27]. We assume that it was a functioning church prior to the 1895 Hamidian massacres.

St. Gregory the Enlightener (or Holy Savior)

Dörtyol – 1899. A gala dinner at the home of Manoug Efendi Balian after the first Divine Liturgy celebrated by newly appointed Father Der Roupen (Source: Minas Kojayan, History of Chork-Marzban (Dört-Yol, a town in Cilicia) [in Armenian], Los Angeles, 2006)

There were two churches called St. Gregory the Enlightener in the kaza of Dörtyol. The first was built in the town of Dörtyol (c. 1857-1858). The second was built in the village of Özerli (c. 1877-1878). [28] A school called Holy Savior also operated adjacent to the latter. [29]

Dörtyol‘s St. Gregory the Enlightener Church (also chronicled as Holy Cross or Holy Savior), was located in the Lower District of the town. There isn’t a great deal of information about this church that has been preserved. All we know is that originally it too had a number of domes. [30]

In his autobiography, Father Moushegh Seropian, the Primate of Adana (1905-1909), also calls the church Holy Savior. He paid a visit to Dörtyol and was present at the local neighborhood church board elections at Holy Savior and St. Gregory the Enlightener. [31]. This information leaves little doubt that local residents knew the church as Holy Savior.

St. Minas Chapel

Özerli. The Peltekian family. Seated (from left): Markrid Peltekian, Bedros Peltekian. Standing (from left): Panos, Siranoush, Areknaz (later Balian), Khachig, Sahag (Source: Bedros Sahag Peltekian collection, Beirut)

St. Minas Chapel was located in the center of the area’s only cemetery. The cemetery, in turn, was on the fringes of the town, on the slopes of the Amanos Mountains. [32]

According to tradition, the chapel was built immediately after the fall of the Cilician Dynasty in 1375. [33]

It was a tiny structure and the door was said to have been so small that worshippers had to crouch to get through. [34] It was seldom visited except for the Feast Days of Easter, Christmas and the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple, when the faithful flocked to the chapel. [35]

It was a custom on Merelots (Day of the Dead) following Feast Days for the faithful to visit the gravesides of their dearly departed taking food and sweats with them. After the Requiem Service officiated by the priest, the people would share their food with the poor and destitute. [36]

St. Minas Chapel was also famous for the huge carob tree (harnuplu) in its courtyard. During church services and requiem masses, the priests and choir would take refuge from the summer sun under its dense and wide branches. [37]

The oldest Gospel Book in Dörtyol was kept here. [38] An uninscribed earthen tombstone also existed in the chapel. [39]

Salt (north of Amman, located in present-day Jordan). 1918. Bedros Peltekian, who died while in exile, lying in casket. Woman seated to right of casket – Markrid (the deceased's wife). Standing behind Markrid is her son Sahag. Standing to the right of Markrid is Sahag’s first wife Noyemi and their child Asadour (Source: Bedros Sahag Peltekian collection, Beirut)

The Protestant Assembly Hall

Initially, Protestant Armenians would gather in the house of Deli Kevorkian Khacher. Later on, Nazaret Makasedjian opened a meeting hall, built by craftsmen brought from Marash and Zeytun, in her garden. After the first floor was built, the Armenian Apostolic community sent a protest letter to the Ottoman local authorities and construction was halted. Finally, after Pastor Sarkis Torian intervened, construction of the assembly hall was completed. [40] It was located in Dörtyol’s Upper District. [41]

The Protestant community also owned a meeting hall in the village of Özerli.

Carob Tree Grove Holy Site

Carob tree (Source: The Garden: an illustrated weekly journal of horticulture in all its branches, Vol XIII, 1878, p. 424)

Residents of Dörtyol and neighboring villages would organize excursions every Sunday to the numerous historic pilgrimage sites in the area. The Armenians of Ocaklı would mostly visit the harnuplu holy site, with its run-down walls, located on the slopes of the Amanos Mountains. [42]

Only the four walls of the structure remained standing. There was a large tree inside the walls that the faithful would adorn with colorful bits of cloth as a prayer offering to St. Minas, hoping that he would intercede and make their wishes come true. [43]

A local individual called Sourpig Mayrig would always join those on the pilgrimage. Minas Khabrig describes her thusly: “Past seventy years in age, with white hair, a reddish face and a solid body, she would stand in the middle of the people and recite magnificent quatrains of poetry in Turkish. Young boys and girls would gather round and listen intently to the words speaking to their hearts, requesting that they be repeated over and over. Despite her age, Sourpig Mayrig still had a sharp memory.” [44]

Many families would come to the site, believing that it had the power to arrange happy marriages. With this in mind, groups would make their way to the slopes of Amanos, bringing the best fed lambs and roosters and other delicacies with them. [45]

Celebrations were organized under the trees at the forefront of the site. Song and dance would reverberate from the Amanos Mountains. Musicians, especially kamancha bards, were a must at these festivities. [46]

St. Kevork Pilgrimage Site

This site was located in the northern part of Dörtyol, on the slope of a place called harnuplu. It was a dilapidated church, with the foundations of its walls and altar intact, nestled in a grove of carob trees. The old women would tell the tale that if necessary, St. Kevork would use his magical spear to transform the fruits of this tree to arrows and kill the brigands of Mt. Bereket on the spot (The fruit of the carob tree is long and slender, resembling small daggers). [47]

St. Sarkis (Dörtyol)

As the oldest religious institution in Dörtyol, St. Sarkis Church had become a pilgrimage site. [48] On feast days and regular Sundays, residents would flock to the church in great numbers, make sacrifices and organize festivities. The Divine Liturgy would be offered every Sunday without fail. Given its prominence as a pilgrimage site, neighboring Muslims would also visit. [49]

The components of the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua, St John's-bread, or locust bean (Source: Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany)

St. Sarkis (Ocaklı)

Hills called harnuplu (named after the carob tree), also existed on the slopes in Ocaklı. These areas were dotted with numerous monastery ruins that local residents believed had healing powers. Those making a pilgrimage to the harnuplu ruined monastery believed that St. Sarkis once lived there and that the ruins had a powerful healing quality. Large crowds visited the site on the saint’s Name Day. [50]

Rock of St. Sarkis

Armenians of Dörtyol and environs regarded St. Sarkis as their patron saint and protector. There were chapels and religious sites bearing his name in Ocaklı and Dörtyol.

In addition to the ancient St. Sarkis religious edifice, of which only scattered memories remain, there was a cliff rock in the shape of a horseshoe in Dörtyol. According to the legend passed down by word of mouth, St. Sarkis fled the Byzantine emperor on horseback, taking his son Mardiros. (According to another version, he took the emperor’s daughter who saved him from death). [51] Along his escape route, St. Sarkis passed the Dörtyol citadel. It is said his white steed was so fast that the animal’s horseshoe left an impression on a black rock. [52]

Young boys and girls, both local residents and from neighboring environs believed that the rock had wondrous healing powers. They would pour water in the rock and then drink. Many would make a pilgrimage to the hill called Guyr Chraghats (Blind Watermill) where the Rock of St. Sarkis stood under the ancient carob trees. According to custom, they would offer sacrifices and prepare a chickpea-blghour pilaf dish from the slaughtered lamb or rooster meat. [53]

Asar Dedeh Holy Site

This was another holy site, revered by both Armenians and Turks, located to the south of the hill called harnuplu. [54]

It was a ruined church in which there was a precious stone. Local residents believed that during a drought they could make it rain by throwing stones while offering prayers. [55]

Kilisedjig or Karavanklu

These were the names given to the ruins of a monastery located two hours distant in a southeasterly direction from Dörtyol. The remains of a settlement were still visible surrounding the ruins. [56] There was a spring whose icy waters cascaded down the ravine. The Turks called the site Shar Laghan. The ruins of a once flourishing settlement, most likely Armenian given the monastery, dotted the area. [57]

The orange and grape orchards of the Boranian family and other Dörtyol residents were located near the monastery ruins. [58]

  • [1] Etchmiadzin Monthly [in Armenian], 1965, 1st year, p. 61.
  • [2] Minas Khabrig, a native of Ocaklı, writes that the only misfortune of Ocaklı is that it didn’t have a church. The new church remained uncompleted given that a dispute broke out between the Boyadjian and Geokdjian families. In order to hold services, a cabin was built with wood columns and lofts. (Minas Khabrig, If Chork-Marzban spoke to me [in Armenian], Published by Chork-Marzban Compatriotic Union, Beirut, 1983, p.50)
  • [3] Minas Kojayan, History of Chork-Marzban (Dört-Yol, a town in Cilicia) [in Armenian], Los Angeles, 2006, p. 142.
  • [4] Ibid, pp. 142-143
  • [5] Ibid, pp. 142-143
  • [6] Samvel Boranian, Memoirs of Djouk Marzeban (the original is in Armenian lettered Turkish), Leninakan, 1965, unpublished, p. 146.
  • [7] Ibid, pp. 144-146
  • [8] Minas Khabrig, p. 11.
  • [9] Reference is to the yeghdjer tree (carob tree). In Turkish, it’s harnuplu or keçiboynuzu. Sites surrounded by these trees were called harnuplu (Turkish) and yeghdjernoud (Armenian).
  • [10] Minas Khabrig, p. 11.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] We come a across a memoir regarding the Dörtyol St. Gregory the Enlightener Church in a 1945 poem written by Dörtyol native Mardiros Der Sdepanian (Toros Toranian, Chork Marzban Personages of Armenian letters and press [in Armenian], Beirut, 1987, p. 100.
  • [13] Mardiros Der Sdepanian, Fatherland of the Brave [in Armenian], Beirut, 1984, p. 23, as quoted in Minas Kojayan, p. 142.
  • [14] Minas Kojayan, p. 144.
  • [15] Nig Marzvan, retitled manuscript, written in 1934, Kirikhan, p. 123. (author unknown). Siranoush Minasian sent us some of the pages of this booklet in digital format, for which we are grateful.
  • [16] Minas Kojayan, p. 144.
  • [17] Mardiros Der Sdepanian, Fatherland of the Brave [in Armenian], Beirut, 1984, p. 23, as quoted in Minas Kojayan, p. 142.
  • [18] Minas Khabrig, p. 28.
  • [19] Minas Kojayan, p. 142.
  • [20] Ibid.
  • [21] Ibid.
  • [22] Ibid.
  • [23] Ibid.
  • [24] Nig Marzvan…, p. 123.
  • [25] Minas Khabrig, pp. 34, 44.
  • [26] This field, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Amanos Montains, separates Dörtyol from the villages of Özerlı and Gharakilisa.
  • [27] Etchmiadzin Monthly [in Armenian], 1965, 1st year, p. 61.
  • [28] Ibid.
  • [29] Osman Köker, 100 yıl önce Türkiyede Ermeniler, Birzamanlar yayıncılık, Istanbul 2005, p. 243.
  • [30] Minas Kojayan, p. 143.
  • [31] Moushegh Seropian, Autobiography, (unpublished), Booklet 2, p. 313.
  • [32] Minas Khabrig, p. 38
  • [33] Minas Kojayan, p. 36.
  • [34] Ibid.
  • [35] Minas Khabrig, p. 39.
  • [36] Nig Marzvan…, p. 135.
  • [37] Minas Kojayan, p. 36.
  • [38] Ibid. The author of Nig Marzvan, referring to holiday celebrations in Dörtyol, writes that on Maundy Thursday eve the six best manuscript New Testaments, bound in silver, would be brought to the main church, to be read while the 13 candles burned out (Nig Marzvan…, p.135)
  • [39] A handwritten memoir by Mardiros Der Sdepanian, as quoted in Minas Kojayan, p. 36.
  • [40] Samvel Boranian, p. 155.
  • [41] Minas Khabrig, p. 28.
  • [42] Ibid, p. 54.
  • [43] Ibid, p. 56.
  • [44] Ibid.
  • [45] Ibid, p. 54.
  • [46] Ibid.
  • [47] Minas Kojayan, p. 37.
  • [48] Samvel Boranian, p. 145.
  • [49] Ibid.
  • [50] Minas Khabrig, p. 11.
  • [51] Minas Kojayan, p. 37.
  • [52] Ibid.
  • [53] Ibid.
  • [54] Ibid.
  • [55] Ibid.
  • [56] Samvel Boranian, p. 21.
  • [57] Ibid.
  • [58] Ibid.