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.
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