ECHMIADZIN, Armenia (RFE/RL)–The Armenian Apostolic Church on Saturday expressed outrage at a Muslim religious service held in an Armenian holy site in eastern Turkey, calling it a serious blow to efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations.
In a written statement, the Holy See of Echmiadzin strongly condemned the Turkish government for allowing the country’s leading ultranationalist party to hold a Friday prayer at the 11th century Holly Virgin Cathedral in Ani, the ruined capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom.
“This action is a political provocation that has nothing to do with spiritual-virtuous feelings and religious freedom and rights,” read the statement. “At the same time it is an attempt to negate the Armenian origin of the Ani cathedral, which was deprived of prayer as a consequence of the  Armenian Genocide.”
“It is also absolutely unacceptable to make a Christian shrine available for ‘namaz’ (Muslim prayer) while consistently forbidding legal heirs to the Christian heritage [in Turkey] to perform worship in their own temples,” it said. “Thus, the Turkish authorities are continuing their steps aimed at destroying Armenian monuments and misappropriating historical Armenian holy sites and cultural treasures.”
“It is also evident that with this step Turkey is once again scuttling efforts by Armenia and the international community to establish Turkish-Armenian dialogue and normalize Turkish-Armenian relations,” added the statement.
The Armenian Church and its supreme head, Catholicos Garegin II, similarly condemned Ankara for failing to restore a cross atop another medieval Armenian church located in the same region in time for a landmark mass held there on September 19. Garegin abandoned his earlier plans to send two high-ranking clerics to the ceremony, in protest against the delay.
The cross was reportedly placed on the dome of the 10th century Holy Cross church on Akhtamar island in Lake Van on Thursday.
The Ani and Akhtamar churches are among few surviving examples of the ancient Armenian civilization in what is now eastern Turkey. Hundreds of Armenian churches built there since the early Middle Ages were destroyed, ransacked or turned into mosques during and after 1915 slaughter of more than one million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
The Armenian government has not yet officially reacted to the Ani prayer.