High-Ranking Etchmiadzin Officials to Attend Akhtamar Mass

Holy Cross Armenian Church in Akhtamar

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Two high-level representatives of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, will attend a religious ceremony to be held at the 10th century Holy Cross Armenian Church in Akhtamar, official Etchmiadzin said Monday.

The Holy Cross Church will hold its first mass in nearly a century on September 19, three years after its reopening following a $1.5 million renovation funded by the Turkish government. The latter has allowed Turkey’s Armenian community to hold religious services there once a year.

Ankara has promoted the decision as proof of its commitment to tolerance and a gesture of goodwill toward Armenians. Still, it has resisted requests to return the church, perched on the legendary Akhtamar Island in Lake Van, to the community currently led by Archbishop Aram Ateshian.

Catholicos Karekin II’s chief spokesman, Father Vahram Melikian, described the one-day reopening as a positive but insufficient step. “The Mother See of Saint Echmiadzin hopes that the decision will be revised and the church will be returned to the Armenian community that will use in full,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

Melikian said Ateshian, who will preside over the mass, has asked the supreme leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church to send representatives to the high-profile ceremony expected to draw Turkish state officials. The Catholicos has accepted the request and will be represented at the event by a bishop and another senior cleric from his headquarters, added Melikian.

It is not clear whether Armenian government officials will also attend. The Armenian ministries of foreign affairs and culture said Monday that they have received no formal invitation from the Turkish side yet.

The Catholicos’ decision could cause controversy in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora where many regard the mass as a Turkish propaganda ploy. The matter was discussed on Monday by a sub-commission of President Serzh Sarkisian’s advisory Public Council.

Ruben Safrastian, a Turkey scholar chairing the sub-commission, said Ankara wants to exploit the mass for its political agenda. “Having scuttled the process of normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations, Turkey is now trying to show the world that it is trying to normalize those relations,” he said. “In all likelihood, it has prepared that event for this purpose.”

The discussion was initiated by the Van-Vaspurakan non-governmental organization uniting descendants of Armenians who lived in the Van region and survived the 1915 genocide. Its chairman, Romik Hovnanian, accused the Turks of seeking to mislead the world and “drive a wedge” between Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.

Built between 915 and 921 A.D., the Akhtamar church is one of the few surviving examples of the ancient Armenian civilization in what is now eastern Turkey. Hundreds of Armenian churches built there since the early Middle Ages were destroyed, ransacked or turned into mosques during and after the 1915 mass killings and deporations.


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  1. Abbe said:

    This church and the land it is standing on, and the lake that is around it should be returned to their rightful owners… after the Genocide Recognition !

  2. manooshag said:

    Hye, the Holy Cross Church of Aghtamar, rebuilt by the Turks to benefit the tourism to a Turkey…
    Holy Cross of Aghtamar, ancient edifice of Armenian Christianity since 301 A.D. now ‘allowed’ by the Ottoman Turk mentality to ‘permit’ the Armenians one day each year ONLY – this year in September – for
    the Armenian rites to be observed. Turks resurrected this edifice, a holy site for Armenians, to seek tourists to flock to Aghtamar recognized as earliest of Christian religious sites. Howsomever, Holy Cross Church of Aghtamar shall not bear the Armenian Cross atop. The Turks, in all their generosity before the world, are still in their Ottoman mode – treating the Armenians in the most ‘subjected’ and ‘inhuman’ manner the Turkic mentality devises (too, their Turkic tortures). The Turks are quite successful, in so many ways, of using their ongoing PLOYS. Thus, ‘IN YOUR FACE’, PLOY again…

    ‘Yes, here is your Armenian Church – but you can’t have your Armenian Church (or your Armenian nation) … Ha, Ha, Turks own your lands, your churches and this is what WE shall ‘allow’ you to observe at your Holy Cross Church of Aghtamar – without your Armenian Cross….
    P.S. Are muslim mosques treated so in all the nations of the world?… or is this ongoing ‘elimination’ of any and all things Armenian – still ongoing by Ottoman mentality – mentality of which Turks are so proud…
    from their Genocides from the 1890s until today – unending, as if the Armenians had committed the Genocides against the Turks… When in reality, the Armenian victims, those of the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation – unending – still today – 2010. Manooshag

  3. Krikor said:

    This is a Turkish ploy to be used for thier propaganda.What kind of chrch is this with no cross on top???