Armenian Church Heads Refuse Invitation to Church Inauguration in Turkey

(Combined Sources)The Armenian Apostolic Church said on Tuesday that it will boycott the high-profile inauguration of an ancient Armenian church in Turkey. The 10th century Church of Holy Cross, located on the Akhtamar island on Lake Van, will again open its doors on Thursday after a $1.5 million restoration commissioned by the government in Ankara. The opening ceremony is due to be attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top Turkish officials as well as hundreds of guests. In a statement, the Echmiadzin-based Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church said its supreme leader, Catholicos Garegin II, has also been invited to the event. It said Garegin will boycott it because the Turkish authorities have refused to return the church to the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul and plan to turn it into a museum instead. This action taken by Turkeys authorities against the virtuous Christian feelings of the Armenian people can not be regarded as a positive step towards a rapprochement between the Armenian and Turkish peoples, read the statement. Especially in the context of the present universal pursuit of a dialogue of religions and cultures and partnership among peoples. On the same day, the Catholicosate of Cilicia issue the following statement: We would like to convey to our faithful that because Turkey refuses to recognize the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide, the Catholicosate of the House of Cilicia rejects the invitation to send representation to the March 29 ceremony marking the opening of the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island. Armenia has sent a delegation to that ceremony, headed by Deputy Youth and Cultural Minister Gagik Gyurjian. Others in the delegation are mostly academics, including the head of Eastern Studies at Armenia’s Academy of Sciences, Rouben Safrastian, the head of the Architects Union, Megerdich Minassian, the head of the Antiquities Studies at Armenia’s Academy of Sciences, Pavel Avedissian, among other scholars. The Istanbul-based spiritual leader of Turkeys 60,000-strong Armenian community, Patriarch Mesrop II, will be among those present at ceremonies. MesropII had earlier asked the authorities in Ankara to allow the Turkish-Armenian community to mount a cross on top of the Akhtamar church and hold religious ceremonies there. The request was rejected by the Erdogan government, which makes no secret of its intention to use the churchs renovation for halting growing international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian downplayed the events political significance a few days later, saying that it is no substitute for reopening the Turkish-Armenian border and establishing diplomatic relations between the two neighboring states. Built in 921 A.D. by Armenian King Gagik Artsruni, the Akhtamar church is one of the few remaining monumen’s of medieval Armenian architecture in what is now eastern Turkey. The Turkish government initiated the churchs renovation in 2005 after being urged by the European Union to consider placing it on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

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