ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)—Delays in installing a cross atop Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island, ahead of a planned Mass on Sept. 19 was blamed on the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey, according to Vicar of the Istanbul Patriarchate, Archbishop Aram Ateshyan who discussed the matter with a German publication.
Ateshyan told the Deutche Welle that the Turkish-Armenian community’s enthusiasm for the upcoming Mass at Holy Cross was shattered after news that a cross would not be installed atop the renovated 10th-century Armenian church, rationalizing that a cross would be installed after the scheduled services.
“The Van Governor promised the Armenian community that the cross would without fail be installed after the liturgy. We expected 5,000 people to take part in the liturgy, but the present situation has reduced the number – some people refused to participate. The Holy Sees of Echmiadzin and Cilicia refused to participate in the services,” Ateshyan told the German news organization.
The Mass, which the Turkish government has spearheaded as an effort to show the world its brand of tolerance for minorities, has been mired in controversy as Armenian political and religious forces have boycotted the event.
Citing the Turkish government’s decision to not erect a cross atop the church, the Holy See of Etchimiadzin Saturday reversed an earlier decision to send a high-level delegation to the service. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem also announced that it would not participate in the service, in light of Etchmiadzin’s recent posturing.
However, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia last week announced that it would not participate in the services, citing the blatant attempt by the Turkish government to capitalize on this religious matter and bolster its standing in the international community.
Calls to boycott the event have been heard from varied political circles in Armenia, including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the ruling Republican Party.
The recent wave of boycotts, however, did not deter the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul to push ahead with its plans to hold the Mass.
At an assembly convened in Istanbul, the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul confirmed Monday that the service will be held as planned, despite the fact that a cross may not grace the church’s dome, as had been initially promised.
“The [patriarchate’s] spiritual assembly decided that the organization [of the service] will be held as initially planned, without undergoing any changes,” the patriarchate said in a written statement Monday after the assembly was gathered under Ateshyan’s chairmanship, according to the Anatolia news agency and as reported by Hurriyet.
Thirty nongovernmental organizations criticized the controversy regarding the “cross issue” in a joint statement, according to a report Tuesday by daily Radikal.
After reopening the Holy Cross church in 2007 as a museum following an extensive renovation effort, the Turkish government said it would allow Armenians to hold a Mass in their own church once a year.