VAN, Turkey (Reuters)–Turkey announced on Thursday that permission had been given for Christian worship to be held once a year at the Holy Cross Church on the historic island of Akhtamar in Lake Van.
The Culture Ministry has given its approval for a religious service to be held once a year in the recently restored Holy Cross (Surp Khach) church on the island of Akhtamar in Van province, the regional governor’s office said.
The 10th-Century church is located in eastern Turkey, which was the cradle of Armenian civilization prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1918. It reopened in 2007 as a museum. The site has significant symbolic importance for Armenians, and religious leaders had suggested that religious services be allowed once a year.
The Van governor’s office had last year sought permission from the ministry for such a ceremony and the governor was reported as saying by state-run Anatolian news agency that the decision would boost faith tourism in the region.
“Nobody should have any doubt that we will welcome our guests from home and abroad in the best possible way on September 12,” Governor Munir Karaloglu said.
The decision came amid mutual recriminations between Turkey and Armenia over the lack of progress on accords which they signed last year to establish diplomatic ties and open their border. Neither parliament has yet approved the protocols.
Relations have also been soured this month by Erdogan’s threat to deport thousands of Armenian migrants working illegally in Turkey. Neighboring Armenia has compared Erdogan’s warning to the language that preceded the 1915 Genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.