YEREVAN—Calls to boycott the scheduled mass at the Holy Cross Church at Akhtamar gained momentum and crossed party lines in Armenia and included a denouncement by the ruling Republican Party.
Armenian Revolutionary Federation Political Affairs Director Giro Manoyan urged Armenians to boycott the mass, scheduled for September 19 and to be officiated by Archbishop Aram Ateshyan, who currently leads the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“I think it would be wrong to go there on a day set by Turkey and especially in these conditions of blockade and so on,” Manoyan told RFE/RL. “I don’t want to blame believers willing to go there but they must know that they somewhat contribute to the Turkish provocation,” he said.
Manoyan also expressed regret for the decision by His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, to send two senior clerics to the Church of Surp Khach (Holy Cross) for the September 19 mass. “I’m not sure that’s the right step,” Manoyan told RFE/RL.
But a spokesman for Karekin II rejected calls for the boycott. “We believe that if we are given an opportunity to cherish a shrine that had functioned for centuries but is devoid of prayer today for some reasons, we must use even that single day in order to assert our rights and ownership to the shrine with our participation,” Father Vahram Melikian told RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party on Tuesday spoke out against Armenian participation in the mass to be held in a 10th century Armenian church in southeastern Turkey next month.
The party spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, denounced the Turkish government’s decision to reopen it for a one-day religious ceremony on September 19 as a publicity stunt and “provocation” aimed at misleading the international community.
“Once again, instead of taking a serious step, the Turks are staging an imitation show,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I don’t think you can achieve tolerance and solidarity of civilizations in that way.”
The mass will take place three years after the completion of a $1.5 million renovation of the church funded by the Turkish government.
Ankara has promoted the upcoming ceremony as proof of its commitment to tolerance and a gesture of goodwill towards Armenians. Still, it has resisted calls to return the temple, perched on the legendary Akhtamar Island in Lake Van, to the Armenian Church.