March 29, 2007


The official opening of the Church of the Holy Cross, on the island of Akhtamar in Lake Van, takes place tomorrow, March 29th.

Representatives of the Catholicosates of Etchmiadzin and Cilicia of the Armenian Church have refused to participate since the centuries-old church will be maintained as a museum and that it will remain the property of the Turkish state.

A delegation from the Republic of Armenia, headed by Deputy Acting Minister of Culture Gagik Gyurjian, has left for Turkey to participate in tomorrow's ceremony.

After decades of neglect and abuse, the restoration of this shining example of medieval Armenian architecture is sadly being used by Turkey to garner undeserved goodwill. Of course we are all gladdened that this monument no longer faces imminent collapse, but the situation reached this crucial stage specifically because the Turkish authorities failed to take appropriate action years ago. But then, they had no real need to rectify the situation. They hadn't applied for European Union membership nor had voices in the international community been raised to take Turkey to task for the crumbling walls and washed-out frescoes of Akhtamar. It was only Armenians who were demanding that something be done.

Thus we applaud the refusal of Etchmiadzin and Cilicia to participate in this farce, thus putting their stamp of approval on the US $2 million restoration. If Turkey wanted to make a real gesture of goodwill, especially just after the tragic murder of Hrant Dink, it could have easily done so by inaugurating the edifice as a church and transferring it to the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul. But even this small step is too much for Turkey to take!!!

Even Zakaria Mildanoglu (see photo), one of the architects involved in the restoration made the following comment, " though there is no chance to see the structure in service as a church, it could be opened for a few times a year; at least services would be allowed during the Feast of the Holy Cross and this is spiritually important. "

Erected in the 10th century, the Church of the Holy Cross is the only remaining structure of a much larger settlement that was built on the island by the Armenian King Gagik I (908-943 AD). Between 1116 and 1895, the island was the location of the Armenian Catholicosate of Akhtamar.

In 1915, the monks living on the island were massacred, the church looted and the monastic buildings destroyed. The US $2 million spent by Turkey thus can be seen as the first drop in the renumeration bucket for the countless other religious and secular Armenian edifices and monuments that today lie in ruins across the length and breadth of Turkey.


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