YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The Armenian Ministry of Culture said on Wednesday that the Turkish government has not invited it to send a delegation to this week’s Mass at the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island.
“I want to stress that we have received no invitations and will therefore not be going there,” Deputy Culture Minister Arev Musayelian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The 10th century church of Surp Khach (Holy Cross) nestled on the Akhtamar island in Lake Van will see its first mass in nearly a century three years after undergoing a $1.5 million renovation funded by the Turkish government. It will be led by Archbishop Aram Ateshian of the Istanbul Patriarchate.
The Turkish government hoped to attract hundreds of dignitaries and ordinary people from Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora to an event meant to showcase its stated goodwill towards the Armenians. However, its apparent reluctance to restore a cross on the church’s dome in time for the September 19 liturgy has all but scuttled those plans.
Travel agencies in Yerevan last week cancelled plans to transport several hundred pilgrims to Akhtamar following a boycott announced by the Armenia-based leadership of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Musayelian could not say whether her ministry would join the boycott if it was invited by Ankara. She said the “political decision” would be made by the Armenian presidential administration and the Foreign Ministry.
The Turkish government has instead invited a number of prominent Armenian public figures and pundits to the mass. Written invitations sent to them by the Directorate General of Press and Information at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office refer to an “international visiting program covering Istanbul and Van, between September 17-22, 2010.”
“All the expenditures including flight, accommodation and sustenance will be covered by our Directorate General as a courtesy,” read the letters.
Karen Bekarian, head of the Yerevan-based European Integration non-governmental organization, was one of their recipients. Speaking to RFE/RL, Bekarian said he will turn down the invitation. “The moment it was announced that the cross will not be placed on the church, the issue was closed for me,” he said.
“There is a danger that the show will not take place. So they are making a last-minute attempt to salvage it,” charged Bekarian.