Monday, September 10, 2012

Armenians hold third religious service at Akdamar church

Armenians from around the world flocked to the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on the island of Akdamar in the eastern province of Van on Sunday, lighting candles and praying for victims killed by last year's earthquake in Van and for Syrians killed during clashes in their country.

A woman lights candles during a religious service at the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island in the eastern province of Van. (Photo: AA)

Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, together with other religious representatives and almost 2,000 Armenians, arrived at the Akdamar port in Van's Gevaş district in the early hours of Sunday. Crossing to Akdamar Island on boats, they arrived at the church to attend the service, which was organized by the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey and led by Archbishop Khajag Barsamyan.

During the service, prayers were held, in particular for those killed by two major earthquakes that occurred in the province in late 2011 and also for Syrians killed during clashes between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups.

The service was attended by Ateşyan, the deputy patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate based in İstanbul, and many other local and foreign religious leaders. Van Deputy Governor Atay Uslu, Gevaş District Governor Yusuf Güni, Van Provincial Culture and Tourism Directorate head Muzaffer Aktuğ, Van Deputy Mayor Sabri Abi, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Van deputy Nazmi Gür and Armenian politician Aragats Akhoyan were also in attendance.

Meanwhile, dozens of security units, a 40-person medical unit, a helicopter and four ambulances were kept ready near the church in case of any emergency.

After the two-hour service, the attendees left the church and sang hymns with the Armenians outside the building.

During a performance by folk dance group Agunk, from Armenia, a number of people unfurled Armenian flags, which led to tension within the crowd. The flags were then removed.

Hymns and prayers resonated on Akdamar Island in 2010, 95 years after religious services ceased in the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross, which occupies a special place in medieval Armenian art and architecture and is a jewel for Turkey, as indicated by both Turkish and foreign observers.

Known in English as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross, the church was in ruins and on the verge of collapse. However, by order of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism started a restoration project in 2005 to preserve the historical identity of the church. The church has since become a focus for domestic and international tourists since being opened as a museum by the ministry after its restoration was completed in 2007.

The Armenian Church of the Holy Cross was a monastic complex until the 1920s, but fell into deterioration after being abandoned during World War I. Upon a proposal by the Van Governor's Office and approval by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the church started to host annual religious services in 2010.

Armenians who lived in this province, located on the eastern shore of Lake Van and in Eastern Anatolia, were deported by the Ottoman forces in 1915. Armenians say 1.5 million Armenians were killed during a systematic campaign in Eastern Anatolia, while Turkey strongly rejects the claims of genocide, saying the killings came as the Ottoman Empire was trying to quell civil strife and that Muslim Turks were also killed in the conflict. There are over 60,000 Armenians living in Turkey, mostly in İstanbul.

Source: Today's Zaman

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