Akhtamar Church to Open for Service, Receive Cross in September

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)—The Holy Cross Armenian Church on the island of Akhtamar in Van will be reopened in September 2010 for prayer and a cross will be placed on its dome, officials at the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry reported Friday, ending months of speculation on the fate of the church, located in the historic cradle of Armenian civilization.

The Armenian church, left barren and in shambles after the Armenian Genocide, was renovated and opened as a museum in 2007 by former Culture Minister Atilla Koc. The move sparked outrage among Turkey’s Armenian community, angry over the desecration of the holy site when the government refused to open the church for prayers or place a cross on its dome.

Buildings designated as museums are not allowed to host religious services under Turkish law.

According to Hurriyet, the current Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said his ministry is making the final legal arrangements to allow the church to be open for prayer once a year.

Last week, however, the daily Milliyet and other Turkish newspapers announced that the ministry was no longer considering opening Holy Cross for prayer.

Culture Ministry officials, however, denied the reports, saying that the church would be opened for prayer in September 2010 with a cross on the building’s roof, Hurriyet said. According to ministry sources, Milliyet’s story was based on old information; in fact, they said, the legal preparations for opening the church to prayer are continuing rapidly.

Gunay said there are obstacles to churches in addition to Holy Cross being opened for prayer, adding that the ministry is handling the legal arrangements very carefully to prevent similar difficulties in the future.

Turkish officials claim that the renovation of the church holds symbolic importance in the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, arguing that the initiative kickstarted dialogue between the two countries before the Turkish-Armenian soccer match in 2008.

The process began when former minister Koc contacted Gagik Gurciyan, the deputy culture minister of Armenia at that time, to provide experts from Armenia to come to Turkey to inspect the church. Turkish and Armenian experts ostensibly engaged in a coordinated effort aimed at restoring Holy Cross.

Leaving the church without a cross and opening it as a museum, however, disappointed Armenians. During the restoration, a replica of the original cross was prepared by experts according to the traditions of the Apostolic Church. That cross was brought to Istanbul and delivered to Mesrop II, the patriarch of Turkish Armenians.

The cross is still at the Istanbul patriarchate, waiting to be placed on the church.


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  1. Siamanto said:

    How dare they decide how many times a year an Armenian Church can be used for prayer. That Church belongs to Armenians and only Armenians should dictate when it will be open or close.
    Why is Turkey again restricting the religious rights of its Armenian minority? The answer is very simple. Because we let them. Wake up Armenians in Turkey. WAKE UP FROM YOUR DEEP SLUMBER.

      • Varoujan Y. said:

        La your pathetic. Seriously. What are Armenians living in Turkey to do you ask ?????????????????????? Oh….well….they should just sit quiet and oblivious to everything going on around them and continue to justify the Turkish governments every action to make Armenians in Turkey as submissive and obedient as possible in the face of their continued state sponsored marginalization of Armenians living in Turkey! What kind of a ridiculous question is that?
        What should they do? What can they do? Make a big stink out of the many issues that need fixing in Turkey. Not sit idle and adopt a passive defeatist baklava approach to everything that happens to them in Turkey. Basically galvanize our youth living in Turkey and protest like the Kurds are doing loud and clear. How strong are political organizations like Dashnagstutyoon in Turkey? Could they be stronger? Do they have similar goals as other organizations operating in Turkey???????????????????????????????????????????

    • Harout said:

      The “main responsibility” belongs to the Armenian Government, to protest this!!
      If something similar happened to Turkey they will most likely invade that country, like Cyprus!!

  2. Vartan Ohanian said:

    These Turkish gestures are hollow and void of any sincerity.  During so-called “renovation” of the Holy Cross Armenian Church of Aghtamar, the Turkish Cultural Ministry removed Cross-stones that were engraved on each side of the altar.  All Crosses and Armenian identity were removed form inside and outside the Church.
    Genocide should not only physically destroy a community, it should likewise dictate the prerogative of interpretation in regard to history, culture, territory and memory.  As the victims – Armenians – never existed.
    Who remembers the destruction of thousands of  cross-stones in Nakhichevan only three years ago?

  3. grigor minasyan said:

    Do not ever let turks fool you. The turks will always remain turks!

  4. Ferhat said:

    I am a Kurd, but I dream the day when the Armenian people will come back and populate their ancestral lands, and pray in this beautiful church. As an architect, I am a great lover of Armenian churches and “Khatchkars.” Simply amazing architecture.
    Maybe it is time that Turks start renovating the 1001 churches of Ani. Since they quite “intentionally” destroyed most of these churches, it is their duty to rebuilt and renovate them all.
    When I looked at this picture, I did not see one shred of Turkey in it. It is pure, snow white beautiful, but occupied, Armenia.
    God bless Armenia(ians).
    Your Kurdish friend,

  5. manooshag said:

    Hye, the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation continues 1890s-2010. Turks are obsessed with pursuit of the elimination of the Christian Armenians – still.  Our Armenian church at Aghtamar is a prime example of this Ottoman mentality.  Another Turk ploy:  renovated the Holy Cross Armenian Church of Aghtamar – as site for world travelers to come to Turkey
    – now Armenian cross is not atop the church – sometimes yes/sometimes no;
    – now our church shall be allowed a ‘once yearly’ Armenian religious services in this holy site;
    – now the church may have a cross upon it (once yearly?)
    -now it’s your Armenian Church – ONLY for once- yearly Armenian services
    Treat Muslim Turk religious centers in this manner –  hear the Turk YELL – discrimination!!

  6. Hovsep (Osik) Movsessian said:

    Regardless how much money ASBAREZ receives from it; please remove that HUSTLER CASINO advertisement, look; it sits right under ASBAREZPOST and next to Holy Cross Armenian Church picture.
    I guess my this comment doesn’t require to wait for moderation!!  


    • Sevag said:

      I agree and I’m in my mid 30’s. Could you find no other advertisement? I mean really now! Hustler casino? A Bakery, the next big barahantes, Jewelery depot, an Armenian Bookstore somewhere, ??? Anything but an add encouraging people to gamble their life away! Seriously!

      • Hovsep (Osik) Movsessian said:

        Dear Sevag,
        Those places offer other so-called “Entertainments “ gambling is one of the holiest.

        BTW How do you know I’m old?

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  8. Zung said:

    Varuj. You need to sit back and realize that Armenians from turkey don’t have the same voice as the 14 million plus Kurds. Unless you are in their shoes you can not feel what they feel. Shooni shoon e. Right? So what makes you think you can walk into a pitbulls cage and taunt him without being mauled? It’s easy to spit yell and shout outside the cage but not while within. I think in 2010 propel choose to live rather than voice out to much. Will you be the one to rectify a killing of an Armenian in Turkey? I guess not!

  9. chase said:

    The cross should be put back on the church – we can worry about the other things we want later! We need to crawl before we can walk…..one step at a time. We have no right nor the power to make demands!

  10. Michael said:

    The only way we will get back what was taken from us is by force not by asking for it or shouting loudly.

  11. Aaron said:

    They say that because its now a “Secular Museum” to have a Cross and regular chuch services would be against that.

    However since 2007 the Hagia Sophia Cathedral has a Muslim prayer room and call to prayer, when thats supposed to be a “Secular Museum” too. In reality thats a Greek Orthodox Cathedral and this Cathdrel we’re talking about now a Armenian Cathedral one!