ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–The recent increase in the number of visitors from Armenia and its Diaspora to the historic Armenian city of Van now in Eastern Turkey, has prompted the publishing of an Armenian-language tourism guide to the region, where the renovation and reopening as a museum of the Holy Cross church on Akhtamar Island has drawn much attention.
According to the Turkish Daily Hurriyet, the renovation of the church has drawn crowds of tourists, despite the controversy surrounding it when news broke that the church would reopen as a museum without the building’s cross.
According to Husamettin Ozturk, the culture and art administrator for the Van municipality, the guidebook was printed in Armenian, Kurdish, Arabic and Persian.
“There is a lot of that heritage in this city in the form of historical relics, which encouraged us to prepare this tourist handbook,” Ozturk said.
The translations were done by the employees of the weekly newspaper Agos, which is printed both in Turkish and Armenian. The guidebook, Ozturk said, has exactly the same content as the Turkish original.
The guidebook is being met with skepticism, from Armenians whose historic homeland has been under Turkish occupation since the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
“The content of the book, rather than the language in which it was printed, is what matters,” said Gagik Gyurjian, the former deputy head of the Armenian culture ministry. “If the handbook still ignores traces of Armenian civilization and its cultural wealth in line with Turkey’s official ideology, it does not matter at all in what language it was published in. Respect for history comes first.”
The Turkish cultural ministry has approved the opening of the historical church for religious services once a year, with the first service will be held September 19. The governor’s office and the municipality are working together on the preparations for the event.
“There already is a noticeable rise in the number of tourists in the city, and many of them are Armenian,” Ozturk said, adding that officials had attended the International Tourism Fair in Yerevan from May 13 to 16 and held meetings with nongovernmental organizations and artists in the country.
The municipal official also said Armenian artists and institutions had been invited to the Lake Van Culture, Arts and Nature Festival, which will be held for first time between June 30 and July 4. “Our fair attracted interest in Yerevan,” he said. “The participation of Armenia in the festival will contribute greatly to Van’s tourism.”
Ozturk said advertising and promotion of Van was not limited to Armenia, adding that Turkey aimed to make the eastern city a world-renowned spot. “After the renovation of the Akhtamar church, we had many visitors from Armenia. But we have bigger goals,” he said. “Van could be a new center of dialogue between civilizations and religions.”