13 May 2006

A pilgrimage to Sourp Magar Monastery

Azad-Hye, Dubai, 13 May 2006: In 2001 a British journalist named Ben West
visited Sourp Magar Monastery in the northern part of Cyprus (now occupied)
and wrote in the travel section of the "Guardian": "Sadly, Sourp Magar has
been comprehensively vandalised, but it is still a beautiful spot with an
unbelievable silence and the heady scent of pine trees".

In May 2005, Armenian news agencies reported that the Monastery was turned
into a cafe with the intention also to build a hotel or a recreation center
on the site. After actions by the Cypriot Government, international bodies
expressed concern on this matter, notably the Vatican, which issued a severe
response. The hotel "licence" was temporarily halted.

In April 2006 Easter time, Sebouh Armenagian, a Cypriot Armenian based in
Sharjah (UAE), visited Sourp Magar Monastery with the spiritual leaders of
the community. Here are his notes:

It was Armenian Easter. We met Hayr Paren in the Armenian Apostolic Church
in Limassol (Saint Kevork). His face was familiar. He has stayed in Dubai
(UAE )for a couple of months in the past. After the Holy Mass we had a chat
with him and remembered the old days in Dubai and Sharjah.

We were informed that he and Archbishop Varoujan Hergelian (Catholicosal
Vicar) are planning to go to visit Sourp Magar Monastery in the occupied
areas after the Easter. He invited us to join the group.

The next day we headed to the Prelacy in Nicosia. The weather was better
than the day before and there was less risk for rains.

We noticed that both Archbishop Varoujan and Rev. Father Paren were wearing
civil clothes. They told that though it was not forbidden to go to the
occupied part with formal wearing, but it is better to keep low profile and
not to provoke any reaction there.

Our driver was the Bell-ringer (jamgotch) Vache Megdessian. Although he has
been there before, he did not remember the exact route that we needed to
follow. Archbishop Varoujan called Dr. Antranik Ashdjian and asked him for

At the borders (the so called Green Line) we had a bad feeling when we read
a big banner stating: "I am happy that I am a Turk". You could see churches
transformed to mosques, houses of Greek Cypriots inhabited by Turks, etc.

We followed Dr. Antranik Ashdjian's instructions and took the Famagusta
Highway. At some point you will notice the sign leading to Kyrenia. If you
watch carefully you will encounter a small signboard for Sourp Magar.

After the signboard we took a narrow road, where only one vehicle could
pass. We were thinking what will happen if another car appears from the
opposite direction. Vache managed to reach to a point where "Armenian
Monastery" was written.

The Monastery was closed. We went to a nearby governmental office, where we
communicated with the Turks using English and some Turkish. We asked for the
key. A wrong key was given first and then we received the correct one.

We had to walk for some 2 kilometers. We reached there and saw the Monastery
transformed into a restaurant.

Archbishop Varoujan remembered that he had held a baptism ceremony in the
same place in 1973, one year before the invasion. He gave us some

We noticed that the most part of the church has been destroyed. In the
baptism basin we could see only the letters HA (the first letters of havadk
= faith). The complete saying is faith, hope and baptism.

Various parts of the Monastery were extensively dug up by the Turks in the
hope of finding gold.

On the way back we had a stop at the Sourp Asdvadzadzin Apostolic Church,
located in the occupied Armenian quarter of Nicosia. There is also the old
Prelacy buildings and the Melikian-Ouzounian Primary School. Everything is

At 5 pm we were back in the Prelacy, thinking what unforgettable day we had
just experienced.


Additional reading

Sourp Magar Monastery (Magaravank)

The monastery of Sourp Magar is situated at a height of 510 meters above sea
level, on the northern slopes of the Kyrenia mountain range.

Sourp Magar means "Saint Makarios the Blessed". It was first established in
about 1000 AD as a Coptic monastery, and was dedicated to Saint Makarios of
Alexandria (309-404 AD) whose Coptic monastery still exists in Egypt.

Its location being at the edge of the cliff and the beginning of a deep
ravine is very picturesque.

The monastery came into the hands of Armenians at a later stage (15th
century). The exact date and the circumstances of this transfer are unclear.

Close relations exist between the Coptic and Armenian churches since the
Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

Sourp Magar has been a religious centre for Armenians for centuries.
Although under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, it has had
close ties with St. James' Monastery in Jerusalem and with the Catholicosate
of Etchmiadzin in Armenia. The quiet surroundings have for centuries
provided a haven for clergymen and laymen alike.

The monastery was also used as a summer resort by the Armenian Church and
became a favorite pilgrimage spot for Armenians on their way to and from the
Holy Land.

The upheavals in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century
resulted in the arrival of thousands of Armenian refugees on the island. The
monastery opened its doors to orphans and to those in need. It also
developed farming to help feed the hungry.

Right until the Turkish invasion of 1974, the monastery was a favorite place
for Armenian families and schools to visit, as its grounds were particularly
pleasant, especially in the hot summer months. The feast day is 1st May.

All manuscripts and other relics kept in the Monastery were plundered and
sold and only the intervention of the Republic of Cyprus, the Armenian
Church and international organizations prevented further destruction of the

From 1974 to 2005, the monastery has been inaccessible to Armenians or Greek
Cypriots. Lately it was allowed to conduct daytime visits to the occupied
part of Cyprus.


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