AKHTAMAR (Combined Sources)—With no cross atop its dome, no belfry or tolling bells and a makeshift altar, the much-touted and controversial Mass took place Sunday at Holy Cross Church, officiated by the Istanbul Patriarchate’s Archbishop Aram Ateshyan.
Thousands of Armenians who had planned a pilgrimage stayed away from the scheduled Mass after Turkish officials refused to place a cross atop the dome and the general sentiment that the Mass was a propaganda ploy by the Turkish government.
The Holy See of Etchmiadzin and the Great House of Cilicia boycotted the event, the latter citing the blatant political charade by the Turkish government and the former citing the absence of the cross in a reversal of an earlier decision to send a delegation.
With bell chimes broadcast through a loud speaker, several hundred parishioners and Turkish government officials gathered at Holy Cross for what was originally seen as a historic Mass in a historic church. Most of the parishioners attending the Mass were Armenians from Istanbul, according to Turkish media reports.
No high-level Turkish government officials attended the ceremony and the church, which was deemed too small, was filled with local officials and guests, while most parishioners gathered outside the church to witness the Mass, which was the first held at that church in 95 years.
“Turkey failed to reach its objective because of its missteps in recent times,” said Giro Manoyan the political director of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Manoyan pointed to recent Western media reports and cited CNN and BBC reports, which clearly stated that Turkey intentionally avoided opening Holy Cross as a church since in fears that Armenians would lay claims on lands and territory.
He urged the Armenian church leaders in Turkey to press for more religious ceremonies at Akhtamar, because, as Manoyan explained, by granting permission for Sunday’s Mass, the Turkish government claimed the Holy Cross church as its property.
Manoyan also called on Armenian authorities to clarify to the international community that the Turkish government’s “permission” for the Mass was done more as a gesture—appeasement—to its national minorities than it was a concession to Armenia.