Armenians divided over landmark service in Akhtamar church

Turkey -- Armenians gather for the mass in Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island, Van, Turkey, 19Sep10. AFP PHOTO / MUSTAFA OZER

Armenians were allowed to conduct a religious service in the recently renovated Surb Khach (Holy Cross) church on Akhtamar island of Lake Van, in an event that Ankara intended as a show of tolerance toward its Christian minority. Meanwhile a protest action was held in Yerevan to protest “propaganda actions of Turkish authorities.”

The liturgy came 3 years after the Turkish government completed in 2007 the $1.5-million renovation of the 10th-century Armenian church. But it was reopened as a museum, not a church, with no cross placed on its dome. Still, Ankara allowed Armenians to hold a liturgy there once a year in a demonstration of goodwill and a show of its tolerance.

The September 19 Armenian Orthodox service on the Lake Van island of Akhtamar was conducted by Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the spiritual leader of Turkey’s Armenian community. The event attracted many visitors, including representatives of the foreign diplomatic corps in Turkey and the mayor of the city of Van.

Armenian Christians gather for mass at the Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island in Van, eastern Turkey, AFP PHOTO / MUSTAFA OZER

Hundreds of Armenian pilgrims also attended, most of the from Istanbul Armenian community, some from US-Armenian Diaspora and European countries.

But the Sunday Mass was boycotted by many Armenians because of the failure by Turkey to place a cross atop the building.

The Armenian Apostolic Church in Etchmiadzin, which had initially agreed to send representatives to the service, later withdrew its participation, citing the failure of the Turkish authorities to honor their promise to place a cross by September 19th. Turkish officials said the 200-kilogram cross could damage the church’s roof and would be placed at the door of the church instead.

Armenians responded by canceling their trips to Turkey. Critics said the Mass was merely a campaign to improve Turkey’s image and promote its bid to join the European Union.

The developments around the service in Holy Cross Church sparked fierce debates in Armenia. Many held the view, that Armenians shouldn’t play Turkey’s game and boycott the service. Some, however, said this was the best opportunity to show the world, that Armenians are the righteous owners of historical monuments and lands in Eastern Turkey, which were cleansed as a result of World War I genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire.

In Armenia, hundreds attended an alternative religious service held at the Armenian Genocide Memorial on a hill overlooking the capital, Yerevan. They denounced the service on Lake Van as a publicity stunt.

Source: RFE/RL Armenian service


11 thoughts on “Armenians divided over landmark service in Akhtamar church

  1. Armenians divided? Didnt feel that yesterday at Genocide Memorial! Noone condemned those attending Akhtamar Holy Cross liturgy. Noone!

    I believe this is totally misleading title, perhaps, sorry, borrowed or inspired from Turkish propaganda.

    • Hovhannes, the great thing about blogging, is that I have an opinion, and you have an opinion, and we both have the opportunity to say it prove it.

      However, I reject the claim, that my article has been in any way borrowed or inspired by any kind of propaganda. The only reason I blog is because it gives me a chance to test my ideas.

  2. yeah, sure! You are absolutely right and I am glad you employ this opportunity to express yourself. Meanwhile, apologies if my previous comment insulted you in any way. That was at least not the thing I wanted to share.

    I was only trying to bring your attention to the fact that noone in Armenia or elsewhere condemned the ppl going to the liturgy. IMHO that means that no divide inbeteween Armenians is the case. Thats only a propaganda made by Azeris and Turks for their obvious benefit.

    • Yes, I agree, that noone condemned the ppl going to the liturgy, you’re right. But Armenians were divided on deciding: should they attend the ceremony, or no. Maybe ‘divided’ is not quite the right word, but I will not change it. The readers of this post will have the opportunity to read this comments and make up their minds.

      PS: No, you didn’t insult me at all and I’m really thankful for your comment and thoughts.

      • I think haveing the debate and both sides of the issue was the best way to proceed. It did show that we are not going to play Turkey’s games and at the same time it reiterated that we are the rightful owners of Western Armenia. The debate has so far been civilized and both the progressives and the nationalists did a good job and the result of it was very good.

        BTW, I have only come across criticism of the people attending on a few fringe nationalist places.

  3. One has to admit that they have done a good job at renovating the church. The governor of the area probably hears a ‘ka-ching’ sound each time he blinks.

  4. Allowing Armenians to have once a year service in this museum is being promoted as “goodwill” gesture by Turkey and many news media and individuals are repeating this. The true goodwill gesture would have been to renovate the place and hand it over to its rightful owners, the Armenians, and to not turn it into a state museum to attract future tourists and make money.

    There were criticisms by certain individuals against those who opposed to attend this museum event:

    Father Tatoul Anushian, from the patriarchate in İstanbul, told Today’s Zaman that the Armenian diaspora had “failed the test.”

    “There is no prerequisite for praying. If the cross is present, that is enough. If Armenians outside Turkey are making this a big issue, they would find another issue to criticize even if the cross issue was not present,” he said, adding that he believes in the government’s good will.

    Historian Ara Sarafian, who recently co-authored with writer and publisher Osman Köker the book “Ahtamar: Ortaçağ Ermeni Mimarlığının Mücevheri” (Ahtamar: A Jewel of Medieval Armenian Architecture), said that the “positive” development of the opening of the church should not be overshadowed by the diaspora’s negative attitude.

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  6. I’m so sad about this – this evilness by Turkey, including about the praying by Turkish Muslim fanatics in Ani Cathedral, should be highlighted in main conservative news especially in America, which are brave enough to criticize Islam, such as in Europe News, gatesofvienna, Right Side News , Washington Times, Washington Examiner, Townhall, WorldNetDaily, Australian Conservative, The American Thinker, Family security Matters and Christian Post. Also there should be huge demonstration all over by Armenians in the US/Europe to revive seriously the commemorating of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish Ottoman empire and to reclaim compensation on the Genocide in the ICC, and these very important churches and land. Especially, since Turkey is trying to deceive the West into joining the EU. Armenia must also demand membership into the EU – this will help prevent Turkey from twisting with continuing lies, the history of the Armenian Genocide in Europe. Also since much Armenian land is now occupied by Turkey.

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