BY NANORE BARSOUMIAN
WATERTOWN, MA (A.W.)–On Oct. 1, Turkish sources reported that hundreds of Turkish nationalists held Friday prayers–namaz–at the Holy Virgin Cathedral in Ani.
Devlet Bahceli, the head of the conservative Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), along with other party heads, prayed in the front row of a crowd inside the cathedral.
Bahceli reportedly traveled to Ani with hundreds of supporters carrying Turkish flags and chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).
Earlier this week, Turkish newspapers reported that the Kars branch of the MHP had filed an application requesting permission for the prayer gathering; and on Sept. 30, it was reported that Turkish authorities had decided to allow the prayers.
Sources also reported that the leader of the MHP, Devlet Bahceli, said the Friday prayers at the Ani Cathedral were in protest of the Sept. 19 Divine Liturgy held at Akhtamar’s Sourp Khatch Church.
Meanwhile the MHP reportedly said that the Friday prayers at Ani were in the footsteps of the Seljuk conqueror Alp Arslan, who upon invading Ani in 1064 removed the cross from atop its cathedral and said Friday prayers there.
During a news conference today, Hayk Demoyan, the director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, said “To gain political dividends, Turkish leadership uses the religion and cultural heritage of other nations. Namaz on ruins of Ani shows the ugly face of Turkish nationalism… Allowing this namaz, the Turkish authorities involve Allah into their anti-Armenian campaign.”
Demoyan further characterized the prayers as “a blow and a serious challenge” to the European cultural heritage. “The Namaz is a slap in the face of European civilization,” he said. “This action should receive adequate response not only from Armenia but from Europe as well.”
Despite reports that quoted the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertugrul Gunay as having said that the act of collective prayer “can be anti-constitutional. While Bahceli personally could offer namaz in a clean place,” permission was granted for Bahceli and 40 party heads to carry out their prayers.
Earlier in the week, Turkish newspapers reported that the nationalist MHP is preparing for the 2011 parliamentary election campaign; and that Bahceli has said his party was planning to launch the campaign on Oct. 1, when members of the party begin touring the country.
The controversial Friday prayers at the Ani cathedral are the first stop on the MHP’s parliamentary election campaign tour.
On Sept. 30, Azerbaijan’s News.az reported that the planned prayer service “may also involve religious people from Azerbaijan,” and that “several Azerbaijani TV channels have been invited to the action.”
The MHP is a far-right leaning political party, soaked in Turkish nationalism. In the 2007 legislative elections, the party won just over 14 percent of the vote and gained 71 parliamentary seats. After being banned by the government, the party was refounded in 1983 as the Conservative Party. The name was changed again in 1985 to the Nationalist Task Party, and back to its original and current name in 1992. Bahceli has been its leader since 1999.
According to historical sources, Ani’s Holy Virgin Cathedral is the work of the Armenian architect Trdat. Its construction began in 989 A.D., per order of the Armenian King Smbat II (977-89), and was completed in 1001 A.D. When the Seljuk Turks invaded Ani, they converted it into a mosque, and subsequently renamed it Fethiye Camisi (Victory Mosque). In 1124, it was returned to its Christian owners. However, in 1319, an earthquake caused the collapse of its dome, which might have caused the end to its formal use.