Armenians hold second religious ceremony at Akdamar Church

TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL
11/9/2011

A second religious ceremony has been held since the historic Sept. 19, 2010 service at the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on the island of Akdamar in the eastern province of Van on Sunday.

Hymns and prayers resonated on Akdamar Island in 2010, 95 years after religious services ended 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 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 hotspot for domestic and international tourists since being opened as a museum by the ministry after its restoration work was completed in 2007.

Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, together with other religious representatives and almost 2,000 Armenians travelled to the island by ferry in the early hours of Sunday. The ceremony was led by Archbishop Ateşyan. Income received from the sale of candles at the church will be sent to famine stricken Somalia.

The church, which had attracted nearly 30,000 tourists until the end of 2010, has received even more number of visitors during the first seven months of the year, tourism officials told the Anatolia news agency.

Officials said the number of tourists visiting the church was expected to reach 60,000 by the end of 2011.

The Armenian Church of the Holy Cross was a monastic complex until 1920s, but deteriorated in condition after being abandoned during World War I. Upon a proposal by the Governor’s Office of Van and approval of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the church is expected to now host annual religious services.

Armenians who lived in this province, located on the eastern shore of Lake Van and in eastern Anatolia, were deported by 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 only around 60,000 Armenians left living in Turkey, mostly in İstanbul.

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