Lake Van, the cradle of the Iron age Armenian empire, the Urartu (Van kingdom), has been a central part of the Armenian culture for thousands of years. The Ottoman-era Genocide of Armenians in 1915, however, cleansed the area of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians, leaving orphan churches and broken khachars (cross-stones) behind.
In the wake of recent attempts to thaw relations with Armenia, the Turkish authorities undertook the restoration of a beautiful and significant 10th century Surb Khach (Holy Cross) Armenian church built on Akhtamar island of Lake Van.
The church was renovated and turned into a museum. Despite angry reactions from Armenian religious leaders, no cross has been mounted on the chapel of the church.
Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities have allowed holding a mass in Surb Khach church on September 19th, to be led by Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the spiritual leader of Turkey’s surviving Armenian community.
The Turkish government hoped to attract hundreds of dignitaries and ordinary people from Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora to an event meant to showcase its stated goodwill towards the Armenians. However, its apparent reluctance to restore a cross on the church’s dome in time for the September 19 liturgy has all but scuttled those plans.
Travel agencies in Yerevan last week cancelled plans to transport several hundred pilgrims to Akhtamar following a boycott announced by the Armenia-based leadership of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The Turkish government has instead invited a number of prominent Armenian public figures and pundits to the mass. Written invitations sent to them by the Directorate General of Press and Information at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office refer to an “international visiting program covering Istanbul and Van, between September 17-22, 2010.”
“All the expenditures including flight, accommodation and sustenance will be covered by our Directorate General as a courtesy,” read the letters.
Most of the 100-or-so invitees have rejected the offer.
Earlier the The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the worldwide Armenian Church, had announced that it has changed plans to send representatives to the mess, following news, that despite earlier assurances received from the Turkish authorities, they have found out that the church will remain without a cross on September 19th, the planned date of the mess.
Source: CNN, RFE/RL