In addition to the two chapels located within St. Garabed Monastery (Surp Garabed Vank) in Western Efkere, by the end of the 17th century there were at least 3 Armenian churches in Eastern Efkere:
- Surp Stepanos
- Surp Sarkis
- Surp Kevork
All three of these churches are listed by Simeon the Scribe in a manuscript from 1683.
Surp Stepanos seems to have been the principal church in the village. Surp Stepanos was rebuilt and renovated numerous times, with the structure that is currently standing dating from 1871. Arshak Alboyajian described this in 1937 as “a magnificent, bright, cross-shaped church with high arches, with a beautiful bell-house and dome.”
The architect of Surp Stepanos is unknown, although the interior decorative elements bear a striking resemblance to those of St. Mary’s Armenian Church in Istanbul [Surp Asdvadzadzin in Besiktas], which was built by Garabed Armira Balian in 1838. The semi-dome decorated with a multi-cross pattern, the four paintings in elliptical frames in the pendentives, and the form of the inner decorative columns are very similar between the two churches, and examining St. Mary’s gives one a sense of the beauty that must have existed with Surp Stepanos.
Surp Kevork (St. George) Church was said to be a one minute walk to the northwest of Surp Stepanos. This was an extremely small chapel built into the rock. Once a year, on a day to celebrate Surp Kevork, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated here. As one left Surp Stepanos, and headed to the right, a door leading into this small chapel was said to exist near the top of the steps that led to the valley below. Alboyajian states that this was “like a small cabin with cells…There were four wooden crucifixes there, three paintings, and a small table…Every week, men and women would go there on pilgrimages.” This chapel was mentioned in an almanac from 1718, and, in an interview that I conducted with a former resident, this chapel was noted to still exist in the early 1920’s, although it was no longer in use. Any further information, or photographs, would be greatly appreciated.
There is a structure standing in Efkere which may be the remains of Surp Kevork Church. Approximately 20 meters to the northwest of Surp Stepanos, there is a building (see photographs below) which has been described by current residents of the village as having once been a “chapel”, with some elderly Turkish residents interviewed in 2002 remembering that religious services were held by the Armenians in this building. This fits both the location provided by Alboyajian, and also that I have obtained from elderly Armenian natives of the village. This building will need to be studied further. First two photographs courtesy of S. Burhanettin Akbaş. The third and fourth photographs are also from approximately 2002, and demonstrate that the structure is indeed built into the surrounding hillside, as Alboyajian suggested. It may be that the chapel itself was only the structure on the right, which was underground, and not the structure toward the left, with the large arch. The final photograph is a cropped version of one of the vintage photographs above, with the area in question boxed in green.
St. Sarkis was another small chapel, possibly also built into the rock, southeast of Surp Stepanos. According to Alboyajian, there was “a small table, two paintings, and four wooden crucifixes.” No further information is known.
Two additional churches were noted in a 1718 almanac – St. Merecherios and St. Theodore – no further information is known.
There was also an open-air site on the southwest side of the village called Surp Elia. This was a chapel with no roof where Armenians gathered on the Sunday celebrating St. Elijah for the Divine Liturgy. This “place of pilgrimage…can be found in the village’s southwest, at the edge of a small plateau, watching the whole village. Surrounded by ordinary rocks…the small main four walls, standing 2 or 3 arm lengths tall, made of cubic stones, open from above…the width of the chapel is around 3 arm lengths, and its length 5 arm lengths…It was an ancient practice with the Efkeretsis to visit…and celebrate Mass…with the participation of all villagers, rich and poor, on St. Elia’s Sunday. On the same day, men and women from surrounding villages would also be present.” Again, any further information is appreciated. On the first photograph shown on this page, the small Southwestern plateau is shown in the lower right portion. Whether this is the exact location of the chapel is uncertain, although its location, and the small edifice located on it, seem to correspond to Alboyadjian’s description.
Efkere also had a significant Turkish Muslim population, consisting in 1915 of approximately 50 families. The photograph to the left, taken in May 2002, is described by local residents as an old mosque. It is located in Eastern Efkere, a two minute walk to the southwest of Surp Stepanos. Any further information would be greatly appreciated.