Turkish Party to Pray at Ani Church in Protest of Holy Cross Service

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–A plan by Turkey’s most prominent nationalist party to hold Friday prayers at the ruins of Ani on the Turkish-Armenian border is a political ploy, according to an important Armenian religious official.

Bishop Sebouh Chouldjian, a primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church’s Diocese of Gougark in northern Armenia and a candidate for the next Istanbul patriarch, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that he would have respected the plan of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli if he genuinely wanted to pray.

“But this is not the case at all,” he said. “He is just trying to make religion a tool for his politics.”

Bahçeli said the plan to hold Friday prayers at the Holy Virgin Cathedral at Ani was being made in protest of the special Divine Liturgy held at the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island on September 19, the first Armenian rite performed on the island in 95 years.

The Holy Virgin Cathedral was converted into the Fethiye Mosque in 1064, after the Seljuk Turks conquered the Armenian Kingdom of Ani.

Chouldjian said the situation was proof that Turkey was still having an identity crisis. “I hope one day Turkey can be courageous enough to admit where its roots lie.”

One of the architects working on the restoration of the Holy Cross Church, prominent Turkish Armenian Zakarya Mildanoglu, agreed with Chouldjian and said nothing could change the fact that the Fethiye Mosque was a church.

“Even if they converted it to a mosque and now say the Friday prayer there, that is a historical church,” he said.

Aram Atesyan, the deputy patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, declined to comment on the MHP’s preparations.

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