A cross was erected on the dome of ancient Armenian Surb Khach (Holy Cross) church in central Turkey, in an attempt to offset likely Armenian anger at Muslim prayers staged by nationalists inside the ruins of another key Armenian cathedral in , located in northeastern Turkey near the border with Armenia.
Hundreds of nationalists traveled to the ruins of the 11th century Ani cathedral on Friday, 1st October, to commemorate a Muslim victory there.
The action, accompanied by “Allah Akbar” outcries and carrying of Turkish flags, was a response to the Armenian Christian service held on 19 September at another medieval Armenian church, called Surb Khach, located in central Turkish Lake Van‘s Akhtamar island.
Surb Khach church had been damaged and closed down after the Genocide of Armenians in the years of World War I and no Christian service had been held there for about a century.
The church was renovated by Turkish government in 2007 and turned into a museum, with no cross placed on its dome, despite a promise to the Armenian community. The 19 September Christian service was held in the church without a cross, causing much controversy and division among Armenians.
Even though Turkish authorities cited technical issues for not placing the cross back in September, those ‘issues’ suddenly disappeared, as Turkey’s influential opposition Nationalist Movement party went on to hold Friday’s prayers in the 11th century Holy Virgin Cathedral, another Armenian church situated in the ruins of Ani, the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom.
Nationalists said they were following the example of Turkish ruler Alp Arslan, who removed the cathedral’s cross and prayed there following his capture of Ani in 1064.
Even as images of nationalists preying in the Christian Armenian church are frustrating, if not offensive to most Armenians, I see tremendous positive change in the two religious events that took place in two different Armenian churches in Turkey on 1st October.
The Ani cathedral has been under foreign rule for centuries and it has probably seen hundreds of Muslim prayers. Moreover, the latest prayer in Ani was more of a political event, aimed at Turkish government, rather than Armenians.
But erection of the cross on a Christian Armenian church in Turkey, is clearly the most significant sign of progress for Turkish Armenian community and Armenia – Turkey relations, despite the fact, that it was only done in response to the opposition Nationalist Movement’s actions.