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FRIAR JONAS AND THE QUEST FOR ORIGINS | École Biblique et Archéologique


Yunus Demirci is in charge of the topography class for this year 2022-2023. Yunus, or Jonas: let us get to know this Capuchin, son of the East, who has been teaching the topography course at the École Biblique since this year. “He is always smiling, very lively, and his discoveries are more than nourishing: the students obviously appreciate him.

Where does this energy come from? Born Turkish in Iskenderun 45 years ago, he gradually discovered he was Armenian. His mother, whom he thought was Syriac, was in fact much more than that. There are Syriacs in the family, Muslims too, and Christians, of course. Yunus, or Jonas, discovered this destiny in Jerusalem, where he was assigned in 2007. Ironically, he is Turkish ? Because France disposed of his native region by ceding it to Turkey in 1939 as the price of its neutrality in the looming war. Antioch and its region fell into the hands of Atatürk. For a little the Demirci family belonged to the French empire! What do destinies hold? Baptized Greek-Orthodox, Yunus enters the Capuchin minor seminary in Mersin. He became a Catholic religious from the family of Saint Francis. In Jerusalem, he will receive his doctorate in archaeology in 2019 with a thesis on “Synagogues in Asia Minor in late antiquity in their urban and religious contexts”.

How does one become an archaeologist ? The path starts with ancient languages, which naturally lead him to the land that bore them. “With archaeology, you are immersed in the concrete, you also work with your hands. And when asked if archaeologists are not a bit of pretenders, he retorts: “Yes, but if you invent, you have to invent well!

The description of the sites must be clear. So there are interpretations, they can differ. And then the passage of time, and study, bring their evolutions. What remains a hypothesis must be founded. Science does not progress by its results but by its questions; and the ensuing discussions create a virtuous dynamic. When he talks about his early days at the School, he pays tribute to Friar Sigrist, the former Director: “It was he who invited me to teach. What does he appreciate about the School ? “The collaboration between religious on the one hand, and on the other hand the very nice atmosphere with the brothers who are willing to welcome me and the students, even if their questions sometimes contradict me. But it is both a question of humility and a stimulation. I teach, but I also learn a lot.”