YEREVAN (ArmRadio)—Turkish authorities on Friday announced that they will not be installing a cross on the dome of the recently renovated Holy Cross church on the island of Akhtamar.
Located in the Southeastern province of Van, the Holy Cross Church was reopened and converted into a museum by local authorities following renovations. The move caused an outcry among Armenians in Turkey and abroad, who condemned the government’s defilement of the holy site. After much local and international pressure, the Turkish government ostensibly agreed to install a cross on the church in time for its first liturgy and allow limited services to be held.
But the government is now backing down on its promise, according to the editor of the Istanbul-based Agos Daily, Sarkis Seropyan. “The cross had to be installed a few days before the liturgy. Everything was ready and the cross was already brought to Van. However they say they are not going to put the cross because of technical reasons,” Seropyan told ArmRadio.
According to Archbishop Aram Ateshyan, the Deputy Patriarch of Constantinople, the governor of Van had said that installing the cross, weighing at 200 kg, would require a special tower that would not be available until after the liturgy. Ateshyan said the governor said the cross would be “shown to everybody on September 19 and fixed on the dome after the liturgy.”
Seropyan said the Armenian community of Turkey will still attend the church service, despite the government’s roundabout over the cross. “For me the most important thing is that the church of Akhtamar was reconstructed,” Seropyan said. “The Armenian community is going to participate in the liturgy in any case to show that it does not refuse to use its own holy places.”
According Seropyan, a delegation of clergy from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin will arrive in Van a day before the liturgy to bless and decorate the church.
Earlier this week, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, Aram I, said he would not send a delegation to attend the September 19 church service, arguing that the restoration of the church and its transformation into a museum are “an attempt to convince the European Union and UNESCO that Turkey safeguards the cultural heritage of its occupied lands.” He further condemned the act as “an attempt to obscure its consistent policy of denying the Armenian Genocide and the rights of its survivors.”