Remaining Akhtamar Church Faces Ruin

"IF WE TURKS EXPECT TOLERANCE IN THE WEST–THEN WE SHOULD EXTEND THE SAME TOLERANCE AT HOME"

In a special to the LA Times–reporter Amberin Zaman–referring to the Soorp Khatch Church on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van reports: "After withstanding more than a millennium of desecration–looting and war–however–one of the holiest sites of the Armenian Orthodox Church is facing ruin."

She discloses that rainwater seeping through cracks in the dome is washing away biblical frescoes of the interior. According to an archeologist from Van–Mete Tozkoparan–as dirt and moss build up inside the cracks and force them open–the dome could collapse at any time. He states: "We must start restoration work immediately if the church is to be saved."

Zaman writes that Tozkoparan is a government official and the director of the state museum in Van–therefore is not permitted to comment on why restoration has yet to begin.

"What we are up against is an undeclared policy by certain narrow-minded individuals within the state of discrimination against Armenian monumen’s in Turkey," boldly states the minister of culture and a member of the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party–Huseyin Celik.

Other victims of that policy include a cathedral in Ani near Turkey’s border with Armenia. Zaman’stresses that authorities have rejected funding offers from Western governmen’s for the structure’s restoration–saying they will carry out the work themselves.

"The fear of these policy makers is that if Christian sites are restored–this will prove that Armenia’s once lived here and revive Armenian claims on our land," Celik said during a recent interview in Van. Restoring the church on Akhtamar–he pledged would be a priority for the new government formed by his party.

Erected between 915 and 921 by the outstanding architect–sculptor–and painter–Manuel–under the patronage of King Gagik Ardzruni–the church is one of the finest examples of the richness of Armenian architecture–and has received the special attention of both Armenian and foreign academics. In its design and conception of volumes and surfaces–this sanctuary is an intellectually original variation of the cruciform and central cupola’d churches of the high Middle Ages–of which the church of Soorp Etchmiadzin of Zoradir is a specimen discovered by Italian archeologists at Vaspurakan. It differs from them in an unprecedented richness of shapes and particularly in the number as well as variety of its mural high reliefs–which constitute an innovation in Armenian architecture.

Hrant Dink–editor of Agos–a small Armenian-language weekly published in Istanbul reveals to Zaman that Turkish authorities: "know very well how much the restoration of such monumen’s could boost tourism revenue–yet their paranoia always seems to be stronger than their common sense."

"All this nonsense will soon end," pledged Celik–the culture minister. "If we Turks expect tolerance in the West–then we should extend the same tolerance at home."

Amberin Zaman’s article "Church Caught in Ethnic Enmity" appeared in The World section of the December 9th LA Times.

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