ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–Turkey’s Culture Minister on Monday conditioned its cooperation with Armenia in restoring the ruins of the medieval Armenian capital of Ani on the Turkish side of the border to Yerevan’s acceptance of a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict favorable to Baku.
Turkey and Armenia should cooperate to restore the ancient town of Ani, said Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay, adding that any such effort would require a resolution of the problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
According to Gunay, cultural efforts to establish peace in the Caucasus region cannot be maintained if they ignore Azerbaijan. “We cannot treat the people of Azerbaijan as if they don’t exist while trying to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia,” he said. “We should never forget that the province of Nagorno-Karabakh is still under Armenian occupation.”
Gunay told the Hurriyet Daily Newspaper that his ministry’s plans for cooperation between the two countries are not limited to restoration work. He said he hoped to undertake many joint cultural projects with both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Gunay said world-renowned Turkish piano virtuoso Idil Biret would hold a concert in Armenia in the next few months as part of her Caucasus tour. “We have certain sensitivities, but we also are aware that cultural activities can play a key role in resolving political issues,” he said. “This [the concert] is a first step.”
The ancient town of Ani was the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia between 961 and 1045. Its ruins are situated in the Arpacay region of the northeastern province of Kars, on the Turkish side of the border between the two countries.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Ani was under the full control of the Turkish Army; as a result, very little damage was done to the ruins during this period. In 2004, however, the Turkish Ministry of Defense transferred control over Ani to the Turkish Ministry of Culture, which has neglected its upkeep and protection from grave robbers. The Turkish government’s negligence of Ani has accelerating the destruction of the ancient city. This has been a sore issue with Armenia over the years.
The Turkish government’s attempt to Turkify the city’s name has also been a source of controversy. When asked about the matter, Gunay implied that it would soon be resolved. “I find changing the original names of historical sites meaningless,” he said. “Such names harm no one.”
The culture minister said the current restoration efforts in Ani would soon turn their focus to the town’s cathedral and that Armenian experts had recently attended a meeting on the project. The World Monuments Fund would support the restoration of the cathedral, he said.
Gunay added that the ministry was also ready to contribute to the Turkish-Armenian community in Istanbul’s efforts to raise the funds needed to restore the 500-year-old Surp Giragos Church in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
But the community fears any application for help would result in the church being restored as a museum rather than a place of worship that would serve the community, as happened with the church on the island of Akhdamar in the Van.
Gunay said if the community filed a request, his ministry would be glad to be of assistance, adding, “We have the utmost respect for all beliefs.”