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Detailed Report: The Mass in Akhtamar, and What’s Next

VAN (A.W.)–”Victory is in the realization of mad men’s dream…” This, written in big Armenian letters along with a photo of Akhtamar Island’s Holy Cross Church, ran on the front page of the local daily newspaper Van Times on Sept. 19, produced in cooperation with the Istanbul-based Agos weekly on the occasion of the Holy Mass ceremony in that church, which took place on the same day.

The scene outside the church. (Photo by Talin Suciyan)

Cheering headlines were common on the front pages of other local newspapers, too. While newspapers like SehriVan, Bolge, Prestij, and Vansesi were presenting the event as “a contribution to the world peace and a bright example of tolerance,” other newspapers like DoguAnadolu were sinking deep into details by criticizing their colleagues for missleading the public by presenting the Mass as a first after 95 years, and not 92 years―matching it with the date of the Armenian uprising of Van in 1918, in an attempt to fuel more historic hatred against “traitor Armenians.”

In 1951, Yasar Kemal, a reporter of Kurdish origin, witnessed the beginning of the demolition plan on the island of Akhtamar while visiting the region. He used his contacts to stop the destruction of the site and raised awareness of it through his writings. This is how a masterpiece of world and Armenian medieval architecture was saved for today’s Mass ceremony. The church, however, was left in a dilapidated and abandoned state until 2005, when the Turkish government decided to begin restoration efforts.

In an interview to the Armenian Weekly, the governor of Van, Munir Karaloglu, who followed the event from a helicopter flying over the island, said that restoration was carried out by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey, and that it cost nearly $1.5 million. In 2007, it was finished and opened as a museum. Today a restoration and renovation project is being considered for the rooms of a seminary outside the walls of the church, which is also part of the monastery complex on Akhtamar Island.

“Maybe we cannot rebuild those rooms in their entirety, but we can conserve what is left of its walls and restore them,” said Karaloglu. “It would be difficult to build a new dome and cover the top, but we will work to restore and show the general architectural design of those few rooms of the monastery complex. The cost of this restoration process will be fully covered by the government of Turkey.”

Answering a question about an incident that happened a month ago—when students from Armenia attempted to pray inside the church, but were stopped—Karaloglu said that although it is clear that the architectural design and purpose of the building is to serve as a church, its legal status is a museum, and the temporary permission to perform a Mass there on Sept. 19 does not affect its legal status.

And inside the Church. (Photo by Talin Suciyan)

Regarding this once-yearly permission, Karaloglu explained how “during the opening ceremony of the church in 2007, the Patriarch of the Armenians of Turkey Mesrop Moutafyan expressed his wish to do a Mass ceremony in the Holy Cross Church of Akhtamar at least once a year [on the second week of September, which matches the Holy Cross Day in the calendar of the Armenian Church]. Till today this request wasn’t fulfilled. This year, after renewing their request, I, as the governor of Van, stated that we can bring this to reality, and we had the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to perform the Mass once a year in this church.”

By noon on Sept. 19, only several dozen Armenians from Armenia had arrived to the island, with the same number coming from the diaspora. According to the representative of the Spiritual Council of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, Father Tatul Anus, the number of Istanbul Armenians who came for the Mass was nearly 700.

Despite the lack of official numbers from that day, Turkish newspapers estimated the presence of 4,000-5,000 people. During the liturgy, however, local Turks and Kurds outnumbered Armenians several times; some of them had come out of curiosity, others for a weekend getaway on the shores of Van.

Official guests included the general director of cultural monuments and museums, Osman Murat Suslu; the mayor of Van, Bekir Kaya; the governor of Gevas province of Van, Yusuf Guni; the mayor of Gevas, Nazmi Sezer; the mayor of Sur, Abdullah Demirbas; the ambassador of Germany in Ankara, Eckart Cuntz; and several diplomatic mission representatives in Turkey from the United States, France, Netherlands, Sweden, and other countries.

The Holy Mass started at 11 a.m. with the sound of ringing bells played by a tape, and ended after two-and-a-half hours. As Patriarch Mesrop Moutafyan is permanently ill, the Holy Mass was headed by the president of the Religious Council of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, Archbishop Aram Atesyan. Fifty-five official guests attend the Holy Mass inside the church—a small space at 45 m²—while others watched the ceremony from the big screens placed outside of the church. While 148 Turkish and 63 foreign journalists covered the event, only Turkish State Official Television TRT was allowed to enter the church during the ceremony.

After a very long absence, a liturgy was finally performed in the church. But, in spite of promises by Turkish officials, the church’s dome still missed its cross. A few days prior to a referendum in Turkey on constitutional changes, the deputy minister of culture and tourism, Ismet Yilmaz, had said that a cross would not be placed on top of the cone-shaped dome of the church, citing technical difficulties.

“The reconstruction, which was carried out by Italian specialists, makes it impossible for the dome to support the 2-meter, 200-kilogram cross,” he said. “If we put up the cross without making any changes, even a breeze will harm the dome. We plan to invite other specialists to solve this problem.”

While the government was very careful not to do anything that could be used by the nationalist opposition during the referendum, many accused the Turkish authorities of reneging on their promise to place a cross on the church’s dome ahead of the much-awaited Sept. 19 Mass, prompting hundreds of pilgrims to cancel their visit. Critics say the Mass was merely a facelift to improve Turkey’s image and promote its bid to join the European Union, which has been pressuring the country to grant more freedom to its minorities.

According to Omar Khashram, a major Arabic news channel correspondent and analyst on Turkish issues, the government has goodwill towards minorities, especially Armenians, but is facing huge pressures from the nationalist opposition.

“You may believe the official explanations of not putting the cross, or may not, it’s up to you,” Khashram said. “But an Armenian priest here told me that this is a great step, we appreciate it and we demand more later on, but we do not work to abort this kind of positive moves.”

“I think that Armenians should take advantage of this event and work harder to get more rights, because the political atmosphere in Turkey is not easy at all,” he continued. “When they decided to open this church, huge pressure was put on the government, even from Azerbaijan. I think we should work gradually to achieve better results.”

After the Holy Mass, Archbishop Atesyan gave the Sunday speech. “What matters for us is that this building, which is being preserved as a museum, will be passed on for the future generations. This church is a masterpiece of art and culture, and that’s why it belongs to the whole of humanity. We thank the government of Turkey for renovating and protecting this church,” he said.

Although Archbishop Atesyan considers the Mass to be an important gesture from the Turkish government, secular and religious leaders from Armenia and the diaspora called for a boycott after it became clear that a cross would not be installed in time for the ceremony. The majority of Armenians who arrived from Armenia were journalists, many of whom came with financial support from various international organizations. The diaspora media, on the other hand, did not dispatch many journalists to Akhtamar, even though the Turkish prime minister’s office sent invitations offering to cover all expenses.

In a recent interview with reporters, the senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), Giro Manoyan, said that because of the enormous violations of international agreements and human rights in Turkey, some are feeling content enough that they have such an opportunity to pray inside the church―at least once a year. “This is what Armenians of Turkey are saying,” he told reporters. “They’re telling us, what else do you want? Here we are going to pray in the church.”

“Of course, we also want to pray in that church,” said Manoyan, “but we want to pray 365 days a year, not the day that Turkey chooses.”

According to Manoyan, Turkey continuously tries to connect the problems of its minorities with the original countries of those minorities. “In fact, all those monasteries and cultural monuments belong solely to Armenians, not necessarily the Republic of Armenia; there are other legal owners of those monuments. All these issues must be discussed on legal grounds and not be used as a political bargaining chip in Turkey’s relations with Armenia,” he said.

The editor in chief of Agos weekly, Rober Koptas, pointed out that while the restoration of the Holy Cross Church and the Mass are important steps, they were accompanied by some major problems, too.

“The Turkish government is using this event as a cheap propaganda tool for its political goals,” he said. “Maybe in the beginning the government had some noble motivations, but during the last three-and-a-half years, their moves were painted with absolute political calculations. This event would have been more meaningful if it was going to help the Turkish government and the people to face their history, but we understand now that this is just another diplomatic gesture. Whenever the Turkish government faces difficulties on the political ground they take such small steps to win more time. The last issue in this chain was about the placement of the cross on the dome of the church. In April, they stated that the cross would be placed on the church, but a few days ago they stepped back pointing to ‘technical difficulties.’ Armenians all around the world can see and analyze these facts and that’s why they are boycotting this event. If the Turkish government really had good intentions they would have done their best to prevent the boycott.”

According to Koptas, the Turkish government wants to paint a tolerant image for the world. “They want to tell the world that they don’t put any differences between Turks and Armenians and they don’t have any complexes regarding the Armenians, but this itself is a problem, because they do not regard Armenians as equal as Turks,” he said.

“If they want to use this event to create a decent dialogue with Armenians, they should also listen properly to the other side,” he added.

According to local newspapers in Van, Governor Karaloglu has promised that the cross will be placed on the church within six weeks, and ordered that it be temporarily placed on a stand near the entry of the church during the day of the Mass. The many excuses given by Turkish officials, however, for the postponement have not been viewed as sincere by many critics; after all, if it is possible to do it a few weeks later, why not do it before the liturgy, to make sure that more people come, including those from Armenia and the diaspora?

Renowned journalist and Zaman newspaper columnist Yavuz Baydar told the Armenian Weekly that the placement of the cross should have been included in the restoration process of the church. “This issue must be solved quickly because there can’t be a church without a cross, like there can’t be a mosque without a crescent,” he said. “However, I am not concentrating on the issue of the cross because there are more positive things to look upon. Today, the Mass in this church is of a huge importance.”

“No one must forget that civil society movements in Armenia and Turkey, all those who voted for political change in Turkey, are supporting this process to have more cordial relations with Armenia, and to be able to face their history,” said Baydar. “Eventually, this is not only a policy of Ankara, but the representation of the will of a wide range of people and organizations in Turkey,” he added.

Speaking about the cross problem, Turkish writer and journalist Baskin Oran told the Armenian Weekly that “sometimes the AK Party has the courage to begin a process, but it doesn’t have enough courage to complete it, because the AK Party is a coalition of different groups in itself.”

“If Erdogan was stronger, like Turgut Ozal was in some periods, we would have witnessed the placement of the cross on the church today,” he said. “However, I don’t think that this is an important issue. The important thing is that when Turkey does such moves and sees that the country is not falling apart, it will have more courage to go further in the normalization process.”

According to Oran, until now, Turkey has been trying to assimilate the non-Turkish Muslims in Turkey, while dealing with the non-Muslims through ethnic and religious cleansing, because it is not possible to assimilate the non-Muslims. “What we are seeing today is that those who suffered our ethnic and religious cleansing are coming against us like zombies, while those whom we wanted to assimilate are carrying their guns and going to the mountains,” he said. “Both were the wrongdoings of our nation-state, and the opening of this church today serves to acknowledge those mistakes.”

Today, only about 40 Armenian churches remain from the 2,500 that once dotted Turkey; the rest were destroyed, ransacked, and turned into mosques or schools. Why has only this site been restored and presented to the world, while other Armenian churches and monasteries in the region are left to their bitter fate? The alternative, said Oran, was to have nothing at all.

“I think that there are at least as many churches in the Republic of Armenia which need restorations,” he said. “But I know about other restoration projects that have started, too. This is a long way, and while you’re at the first step of a 100 steps road, you cannot ask why you didn’t make those 99 steps too… We should not forget that we are breaking a 87-year-old nation-state mentality, which is a very dangerous mentality. We are bringing back the Ottoman Empire’s good values, which is about recognizing the heterogeneous and multicultural nature of this country,” he added.

Regarding the fate of what remains of the Armenian cultural and religious heritage in the region, Governor Karaloglu explained how “a hundred years ago, there was a huge Christian Armenian population living in this region, and all their churches and monasteries are left abandoned here. Maybe the church of Akhtamar was the most famous among all of them, that’s why it was done first and it is the most talked about. But we also started to put plans of renovation for other churches too, such as the Monastery on Carpanak Island [Gdouts, in Armenian]. The plans will be submitted to the Higher Council of Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection, and only after their approval the project will be put into implementation.”

“We also have another restoration plan for the Seven Churches monastery, which is called Varaka Vank by the Armenian community,” he said. “Also another restoration plan is being studied for the church of Surb Thomas, five kilometers west of the Altinsac (old name, Kantzak) on the shores of Lake Van. Whenever we finish these study plans, we will start searching for funding to initiate these projects. Most likely, we will look for international foundations interested in preserving the cultural and architectural heritage in the world.”

Istanbul-Armenian architect Zakaria Mildanoglu was included in every step of the restoration project of the Holy Cross Church in order to avoid any possible disagreement over the process. Mildanoglu told the Armenian Weekly that the region of Van, which is historically the Vaspurakan region of ancient Armenia, had nearly 220 monasteries—apart from the churches, which numbered more than 400.

“There are some people in the Turkish government who have the willingness to work on the restoration of more Armenian churches and cultural monuments,” he said. “There are projects encouraged by Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertugrul Gunay, being carried out on Varaka Monastery, and the churches on Lim and Gdouts islands of Lake Van. The initial plans are already set. There will be also cooperation with architects and professionals from Armenia, as it had been in the case of Surb Khatch of Akhtamar.”

Mildanoglu said that another restoration project is in process, too. It’s the renovation of Surb Giragos Church of Tigranakerd (Diyarbekir), which is the biggest Armenian church in the Middle East and still belongs to the Armenian Patriarchate. The project is mainly funded by the Armenian community of Turkey, in addition to many other Armenian organizations and associations from abroad.

“I think that this a step towards the right direction, but there are still too many steps to be taken,” said Kapriel Chemberdjian, a Syrian-Armenian philantrophist and president of the Pyunik PanArmenian Benevolent Fund, who is also one of the donors for the renovation project of Surb Giragos.

“I have some hope. For example, today, there are only two Armenians living in Diyarbekir, and the restoration of the Armenian church there needs more than $3 million. But that’s not a problem, the church of Diyarbekir is worth restoration regardless of anything, because it is ours. We may be able to do a Holy Mass ceremony there once or twice a year, but not more, because there are no Armenians left there. But our cultural heritage will be preserved,” he said. “We should also think about how to protect and claim ownership of these monuments, while there is no Armenian population. I think that this an important problem too.”

While plans are still being researched, these churches need immediate attention to protect them from both people and nature.

A day after the ceremony, a group of Istanbul Armenians, along with priests from the Patriarchate, visited the Varaka Monastery, seven kilometers west of the city of Van. The dome of the Surb Nshan Church of the monastery complex no longer exists, and the bending columns inside the church have been fixed with tied metal sticks by the local Kurdish guard, Mehmet.

Mehmet, who is being paid the lowest wage (asgari ucret, in Turkish), said that “although I am not a mason, I am doing everything in my hand to help this church not to pull down.”

“I wrote more than 100 requests to renovate this place, but I didn’t get a reply. I only had some woods and thin metal plates once, and I covered the open dome with that, so the rain water doesn’t fill inside the stones and harm them more,” he said.

The situation in Varaka Vank, however, appears to be better than that of Saint Thomas in Altınsac, which doesn’t have a guard at all, like most of the other remnants of Armenian churches and monasteries in Van and throughout Turkey.

“Many people believe that Armenians buried their treasures inside their churches before they were gone,” said the guard of Varaka Monastery. “That’s why some people always try to dig inside these places or vandalize the walls in search of those treasures, ruining and destroying the site in the meantime.”

One of the visitors, an Istanbul-Armenian, who was listening to the guard, had an emotional moment inside the church after learning that locals were using the monastery as a stable for their animals.

“Myths about buried treasures might be true or exaggerations,” he said. “Nevertheless, besides restoring and renovating these monasteries and churches, probably local people should also be educated about the real treasures, which are not under the ground, but on the surface, right in front of them, and they are in a desperate need for human care and protection.”

30 Comments on Detailed Report: The Mass in Akhtamar, and What’s Next

  1. I’ve been following this issue with close interest. It is astonishing to me that nowhere I have read a simple “Thank you” to the Turks by any of the Armenians or Armenian representatives for, firstly, undertaking and secondly, actually financing fully the restoration of the church. Regretfully, this lack of gratefulness shows to me the one-sided and selfish behaviour of the Armenians.

  2. avatar Dikranagertzi // September 30, 2010 at 9:41 am // Reply

    I’m not sure how many times this point needs to be reiterated on this forum in regards to reports on Akhtamar but numerous commentators have made the same point over and over again ad nausea….and thus its my turn to point it out again…
     
    The root word of the term restoration is “restore”. The verb to restore is defined as an act of bringing something back to an original condition (as in restoring stolen funds – thus regaining money that was stolen). The transformation or conversion of our Akhtamar Church into a “museum” requires renovation not restoration. To restore a Church would mean the Church would resume its primary purpose in its original form not an alternate purpose with a different agenda. If the Turkish government actually restored our Church, then there would have been no reason to convert it into a museum!
     
    In conclusion, our Akhtamar Holy Church has unfortunately been TRANSFORMED OR CONVERTED into a “museum” because of intolerant Turkish policies against our will. It has NOT been “RESTORED”.

  3. OSMANIUM: (Not sure why I’m wasting my words responding to your statement) but until Turkey admits to the facts of the Genocide and starts making retributions or at least gives an official “APOLOGY” to the Armenian people NO ARMENIAN CAN THANK TURKEY, ever. No matter how “grandiose” these “gestures” appear.
    So, don’t hold your breath.

  4. avatar David Boyajian // September 30, 2010 at 10:25 am // Reply

    The Turks achieved their goal of having Armenians waste our time arguing over one church and one day, as if the event were equivalent to the second coming of Christ, which it wasn’t. 

    It was a propaganda stunt that the naive among us fell for – hook, line, and sinker. 

    Every time the Turks says jump, these pathetic Armenians say “How high?”

  5. The stupefying comment by brainwashed riffraff like osman on this forum highlight Turkey’s deceitful intent. The Turkish governments financed transformation of our church was intended to royally insult us by converting it into a so called “museum” which was against our peoples will. Is Turkey so intolerant of other religions and their places of worship that they seek to convert Christian Churches into mosques and “museums”? Is that there interpretation of religious tolerance? It goes without saying that had the Church been returned to its rightful owners the Armenians, without any strings attached, we would not have converted it into a “museum”. And what did some misguided Armenians do in response to Turkey’s insult? Hilariously…and quite sadly some embraced the insult and others actually tried to compel the rest of us to reciprocate the so called “goodwill gesture” and “appreciate” their insult! Pathetic loons indeed!

  6. Nobody apologizes for what he did not do. Why would Turkey?

  7. Osmantium, I hear your complaint.  But you are wrong!  You think that Armenians are not happy to see Turkey preserve the ‘structure’ of our beloved Holy Cross church?  It is a good thing that Turkey did, a small step in the right direction, but it is nonetheless painfully flawed. Read Dikranagertzi’s comment above about the meaning of restoration and you will see why many Armenians are not expressing gratitude for this gesture which so misses the mark.
     
    If the ‘restoration’ of Holy Cross church on the Island of Akhtamar is an example of how Turkey says sorry or tries to right a wrong, it is a very weak gesture; it is more hurtful because of its self-serving public relations purposes than it is helpful in bridging our divide.  It is also sad that the divide between us is so wide that you cannot understand that the velvet-gloved hand extended to Armenians by Turkey is covered with spikes.  We have a long way to go before we can shake that hand and say thank you.
     
    Allow me to share an Armenian point of view.  Armenians look to Akhtamar and feel a painful mix of emotions.  We want to be hopeful and excited that what we have been waiting 95 years to happen may finally come.  But what do we get?  A church not restored but converted into a museum.  A cross on a platform not on the dome.  On the island of Agdamar not Akhtamar. Service once a year in a museum administered by a tourism bureau not the patriarchate of Istanbul who should not have to ask permission to use their church.  A PR gesture designed to highlight Turkey’s new tolerance, not a sincere acknowledgement of the wrong Turkey did against the Armenians.  Just vague comments regarding WWI era fighting which led to deportations and deaths.
     
    Osmantium, a mere one hundred years ago there were hundreds of churches and monasteries serving the Armenian faithful of the Van region which had lived there for thousands of years. Thousands!  Today those churches are crumbling or gone or turned into mosques, schools and sheepfolds.  And where are the Armenian faithful that built and cared for all those churches? Where are the people from whom this architectural marvel was generated as an expression of their Christian faith?   Do you think they willingly abandoned their villages and churches and left them to ruin and desecration?  It took thousands of years to build the Armenian culture of that region.  And it was alive and thriving in 1915, despite the Ottoman oppressive millet system, until your ancestors drove the Armenians to their deaths in the deserts and along the forced deportation marches.
     
    Holy Cross church stands today as a shell of what it once was, where the hollow sound of our prayers bouncing off the walls of that empty sanctuary reminds us of what is still to be restored. We are glad to have it, glad that some benevolent energy emerged in Turkey that allowed this preservation to happen, just sad that Turkey could not prevent this benevolence from being tainted by exaggerated Turkish pride and political machinations.
     
    Now Turkey needs to say “sorry we killed your grandparents and stole your homes and raided your bank accounts.  We were desperate in a time of war and the dismantling of the empire to save this country for Turks.  We acted selfishly in an effort to preserve a homeland for ourselves. We treated you, Greeks and Assyrians, and the other indigenous peoples of Asia Minor as less valuable than Turks and as if you were in our way. We decided to get rid of you and the problem of your desires for freedom and self-determination by deporting you and we turned a callous eye to the suffering and massacres done in our name that you experienced along the way.  We failed to protect you, our citizens, or to prosecute those who harmed you.  We are the descendants and heirs of the CUP government that ran Turkey at the end of the Ottoman empire and its transition into the modern republic, and therefore we are responsible today to say sorry and to make restitution to the Armenians.  Akhtamar Church is just the first step in a thousand mile journey, and we hope you will help us stay on track along the way.”
     
    For this we could be very grateful.
     
     
     
     

  8. avatar s teylerian jr // September 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm // Reply

    How nice, Ahmet. Up to 2-2.5 millions of Armenians lived in Armenian vilayets of the Ottoman empire. Now, according to your prime-minister, there is just 60-70,000 living predominantly in Constantinople. Might you know where millions of others have evaporated? Have you ever read documented and archived accounts of those foreign diplomats, consuls, and missionaries who witnessed mass slaughter of Armenians back in 1915? Have you ever read the testimonies of several CUP leaders at courts marshal in Turkey? Have you ever heard Adolf Hitler’s expression on annihilation of Armenians or your own Mustafa Kemal characterizing mass murders of Ottoman Armenians as “shameful act”? Do you know that the term “genocide”, i.e. deliberate extermination of a particular national, ethnic, racial, and religious group, has been coined by a Polish Jew, renowned international lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1943, based on his study of methodical extermination of Armenians by Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923? Go read and enlighten yourself. And don’t forget to share these facts with your friends and neighbors. And never again come back here throwing crap like  “Turkey did not do it” to the faces of descendants of millions of slaughtered in cold blood innocent human beings.

  9. Osmanium, I see your frustration… but I do not resent it … because you do not understand us… because you do not know the entire truth. 
    Yes, we are grateful that the Turkish government took this step to prevent Holy Cross from further deterioration.  But for us it is like being given a beautifully wrapped gift that we are required to hold and give back once a year… And the gift itself, is no gift at all because it belonged to our ancestors… So looking at it in pictures with the Turkish flag on it from afar… reading about it… going to pray in it once a year… is painful… it is a incomplete step in Turkey’s effort to be more tolerant.  This lone church that was converted to a museum, also reminds us of a famous saying by the Ittihadists regime that “they will keep one Armenian alive and put him in a museum”.  In that vast area, void of the thousands of Armenians who used to live there, this lone church is the Armenian in the museum. 

    You are upset that we are not thankful about this renovation… But I ask you, have you been thankful for all the Armenian farms that were left to your ancestors that you feed form today, have you been thankful for all the jewelry, bank accounts, business inventories, rugs, furniture, life insurance, lands that were taken from the Armenians by your ancestors and were used to fund your Republic.  Did you ever think to thank us for the 3,000 year old Armenian homeland that they took from us to build your Republic in.  Did you ever thank us for the antique rugs, golden artifacts that were abandonned in Holy Cross at a haste all those years ago.  Those valuables… where are they… we paid for that renovation indirectly with our ancestors assets, money, treasures, lands, businesses, farm and country many times over…

    Think about it… 

    We thank all those Turks who hid Armenians like my grandmother, and saved them during the Genocide… they are the Turks you should be proud of… I know I am, as a human being.

  10. Ahmet and Osmaniye “Effendis ”
    A simple question to you both, what happened to the people who built those 2000+ plus Churches and monasteries in Eastern  Anatolia- many of which were built- before even your ancestors got there @ 1072? Did they evaporate as Hrant Dink asked you when he was alive? Show us one building in that region which was build by your ancestors 100+ years ago? Even most of the “old”mosques in that region are all converted Armenian churches. Second, how can you expect me to say “thank you” if you are yet unable to recognize the pain you have inflicted to my people. And sadly have no remorse about it. You can’t even say the simple “I am sorry for what took place in 1915″, and now you are expecting us to say “thank you” , for what ? Reclaiming a millennium old Armenian Church as a museum? The only “thank you” I feel I owe, is the one, to those who are coming out and saying “enough is enough” let’s teach real Turkish history to our people, rather than “Turkish masal” – since they have the  courage to question the “status quo” !
    David Boyadjian “Aga”,
    It is never waste of time for an Armenian to claim ownership for what our ancestors built a millennium ago. It may not serve your ideology to recognize these facts, but every single church which my ancestors built I am happy to claim ownership and talk about it, hours and days if necessary. The fact remains that, only the “engaged” not the “naive” as you claim among us, are able to understand what is really happening here. Don’t insult those of us who can follow the dynamics of the process, unlike you, who is only driven by ideology and maintaining the status quo!
    I also applaud all those from who wants to be engaged and wants to do things differently. All those who organized the 2005  Armenian Conference in Istanbul, those who started the ”we apologize campaign” in Turkey, and last but not least the editor of this paper  “Armenian Weekly” who courageously spoke about April 24 1915, on the first ever public commemoration of April 24 in Istanbul! Bravo!

  11. avatar ainlin@juno.com // September 30, 2010 at 8:00 pm // Reply

    To Osmanium:  Turks destroyed not only the Akhdamar church but all our hisotric Armenian churches, castles and monuments in Anatolia.  And YOU want the Armenians to thank Turkey for rebuilding what Turkey destroyed!  That is very arrogant on your part!
    The least your country Turkey can do is restore them as these are not just important for Armenians but the whole world.  These are hisotoric monuments that need to be preserved, regardless of who built.  Your nation is very well known for destorying things!  Historically we Armenians built and Turks destroyed!  It is within the last few years that your nation has finally semi learned to built!   Lets hope you keep this new trend!

  12. I ment to send the above comment to Ahmet, and not to Osmanium!  Sorry for the mistake!

  13. avatar Samvel Jeshmaridian, PhD // September 30, 2010 at 8:12 pm // Reply

    Turks are making a grave mistake. They think they are able to play on both Christian and Muslim strings. One day, they will get up and realize that they are Christians like Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America.

  14. osmanium,deduct the $1.5M from the rent that Turkey is cashing from the Ceyhan pipeline.
    It is passing through our lands.

  15. When somebody talks about 2000 Armenian Churches , do we really think about how many schools , homes and other properties Armenians had on their own soil ? Do turks realize , that the Church or monastery is built for certain number of people in the community ?
    What for to “thank” you , guys ? For destroying Armenian presence on their lands , in their own Armenian homeland , where they left the graves of their fathers and mothers and left for deserts with your grandfathers and your grandmothers help ?
    Do you , turks , really think that it is normal , to come -wipe out population-get their belongings-rename country-try to become as former owners and be called civilized ?
    Then – Thank You from the bottom of my heart ! You did it ! Your forefathers are not murderers anymore , because their grandchildren think they are civilized …

  16. Let’s all start to be realistic. All this noise about Akhtamar seems to ignore the fact that Armenian churches are open all day long in Istanbul, and except for Sunday badarak, a wedding, funeral or holiday, are mostly if not completely empty most of the time. Not even tourists in there, usually just a lonely jamgoch. I’d like to see Giro Manoyan appear in Akhtamar 365 days a year….or any other church. That ain’t happening, trust me.  So, when someone extends a hand in friendship or to help or as a sign of conciliation, slapping it is not the proper response. So, let’s stop slapping the hands that are extended in our direction by Turks or the Turkish govt.  As Phil Gamaghelyan says, very accurately:  using it for anti-Turkish propaganda serves no other purpose but to incite intolerance and hatred. I’m so glad there are those who understand that this is all part of a long, slow process that is moving, albeit painfully, in the right direction. Moving in any other direction is not and should not be an option. As he says, the rest is up to us. The choice is for each of us to make. We are all involved in ensuring that the outcome is positive, not negative. So, let’s do the right thing.

  17. Karekin/Phil – after mainly the Bolsetis being those present at the ill-fated Holy Cross Church at Aghtamar fiasco – is not it apparent to you that the Armenians fear being identified, even to enter their own churches – since Turks schooling of their youth is to teach via their history lessons that the Armenians are the enemies of the Turks.  Eliminating historically that Armenians were ‘eliminated’ as the victims of the Turkish Genocide of the Armenians and, too, ‘eliminated’ in their students education. Instead, students are taught to hate the victims of the Turkish Genocide – hence recent murders of our Hrant Dink and others.  Manooshag
     

  18. Oh, it’s incorrigible Karekin, again. My friend, a Turk by the name “Murat” asked you a question in “Who Won Akhtamar Propaganda War: Armenians or Turks?” to which you never responded. Is it because you fear to infuriate your former masters or you only pop up on these pages to do lecturing solely to Armenians? Armenian churches are open in Istanbul for a reason. Just like the bulk of Istanbul Armenians were left untouched during the genocide. It’s called Turkish smoke-and-mirror for the foreigners. Why don’t you take a look at what they’ve done to the much greater number of churches in the Armenian provinces? Which of these is an indicator of true Turkish motives? Giro Manoyan, just like myself, won’t appear in Akhtamar 365 days a year because a church functions as a Turkish museum with no annotation inside as to who built the church, when, and, most importantly, what happened to the parishioners. I’ll only shake “a hand of friendship” by the Turks when they’ll acknowledge their crime against my nation. But you’re free to travel there 365 days a year and shake hands with unrepentant murderer-state officials.

  19. Karekin you really do amaze me! 

    Is it your goal to convince Armenians that because Armenians do not frequent Armenian churches in Turkey, (where our numbers were barbarically diminished and where being openly pro-Armenian can be socially ostracizing), this means we have no right to express distress over the dishonorable way that Sourp Khatch has been transformed into a museum/tourist attraction where the faithful cannot light a candle, sing a hymn, openly pray or even be taught the proper history of the ‘museum’?

    I know you are all about being ‘realistic’ but are you for real? 

  20. Bravo to Katia, Boyajian, Karo, Dikranagertzi, Vtiger, Teylerian Jr and the rest of my true Armenian commentators.. Qefs galisa when i read your comments…

    Karekin- STOP please.. you are giving me an ulcer.. please..

  21. Ahmet, Osmanium— I have a plan .. you ready? here we go…

    We are going to go around the Turkey and turn your mosques into a museum…would that be something you both can be thankful for? Would YOU extend your thanks?  DID NOT THINK SO.. so stop acting like your govt did us a favor.. such crapola… such BS.. you will get thank you when your bloodthirsty govt actually grows balls once and for all and stop hiding behind the money stolen from our ancestors, behind the oil, behind the spineless and bought out politicians and admit the horrible things they have brought upon my people.. When that happens, you will then be showered by many thanks…. Trust me.. we are very thankful and generous people….and we have abundance of that to share…so don’t worry about that..

    By the way .. to be fair here..and want to see how Turks would feel about this..for every destroyed church (turned into a museum, animal shelter or anything else), a mosque should face the same fate.. a destroyed church to destroyed mosque.. it is only fair right????.. how can Turkish govt love to destroy that much? only parasites love to destroy their host… hmmm.. such resemblance… 

    G

  22. Karekin, you think all this is because we need one more church to pray in!!

  23. Boyajian…the point is, the der hayrs who were present did not need a cross on the roof as a pre-requisite to do a badarak, did they? Why is that key fact being ignored here?  It would have been nice, but it is irrelevant to the main point – which was the badarak itself.  I am still much more comfortable w/ the cross being properly placed on a reinforced 1000 year old dome, which by the way, sits in a major earthquake zone.  Moreover, this service has called a lot of attention to Van, to Akhtamar, to the Armenian story and to the entire genocide issue. As they say, any publicity is good publicity, and most of the publicity related to this event focused on Armenians.  Yet, some Armenians seem to be the ones attempting to bring a negative spotlight on it. Most of the world does not know and probably does not care that Akhtamar was part of an Armenian kingdom a thousand years ago. While it is important for you, they really just don’t care. It doesn’t concern them. It concerns Turks and Armenians, however.  In that regard, the concept of mirroring, which in its most simple form, constitutes a hand extended for a handshake. If you respond in kind, you will likely begin to develop a rapport with that person and be treated better than if you spit on the hand extended towards you, or if you slap it in response. For instance, the namaz service done at Ani has backfired on the Turkish nationalists, because it was the wrong response. As a result, now the Turkish public and the world have seen yet another ancient and magnificent Armenian church in living color. I doubt that was their goal – to bring even more attention to something Armenian, yet they did it anyways…and, Ani – ancient Armenian capital – is all over the news. As Armenians, we couldn’t do that…believe me.
     
     

  24. No Karekin, the point is that whether or not there is a cross, the priests have to have permission to do Badarak there!  This is wrong on many levels.
     
    I am intrigued by the interest of the locals in this,  ”Armenian opening.”  They seem to appreciate the magnitude of this event and seem anxious to see the looks on the Armenian faces.  Do they know the history, know the guilt, feel compassion, long for reconciliation?

  25. I have to agree with this one point with Karekin. Whether we want to admit to it or not, the Turks put the spotlight on Western Armenia with the recent stories involving Holy Cross Church and the cathedral at Ani. For this we should be thankful. We would be stupid if we do not take this ball and run with it so to speak. This is the time to go all out in our efforts to shed more light on these Armenian architectural marvels and to the story of Western Armenia. We should also make a point of reaching out to the Turks who admit to the Genocide and promote the work of their proArmenian historians and scholars. In our frustration we should be careful not to overlook the achievement of these courageous scholars as well as many human rights activists, so that we motivate them and encouraga them in spreading tolerance, knowledge and unserstanding amongst the Turks and Armenians.

  26. Karekin — How technically Armenians can bring attention to one individual site that’s been stolen by the Turks and is currently situated on the territory of an enemy-state? By breaching the Armenian-Turkish border and flooding into Ani? Please explain. Also, why is it that you accept that Armenians “can’t bring attention to Ani,” while at the same time bashing us on these pages for our ability to bring world’s attention to our demand for historical justice? Don’t you see that you’re way off the mark here?

  27. Karo jan.. Karekin is way off but he is in denial.. in his own world he thinks he is doing as a favor but all he does is put us down and bring attention to his love and appreciation for the Turkish govt actions and/or deeds…

    I am sorry did you say?

     Moreover, this service has called a lot of attention to Van, to Akhtamar, to the Armenian story and to the entire genocide issue

    Hmmm.. do you mind directing us to which newspaper and radio or tv show actually went into that much detail about the entire genocide issue as you put it.. also, I believe the service did not bring attention to Van or Aghtamar.. the service got attention because majority of those who were suppose to attend this mass cancelled their trip..so technically, the non-attendance brought attention to our mass and not the service itself …but that is my wish..my wish is that one day, our mass, free of restrictions and chain from Turkish govt  brings great attention and attendance to every single Armenian church in Turkey….

    You say:
    Most of the world does not know and probably does not care that Akhtamar was part of an Armenian kingdom a thousand years ago. While it is important for you, they really just don’t care. It doesn’t concern them

    Well of course they don’t care..why would they care? if we have you to promote the cause..as I remember correctly, you are against recognizing the history .. you just want to move forward and forget the history.. well Karekin SIR.. that is backward.. you have to teach the world the history FIRST and then teach or show them how you plan to make mends with the enemy state… and that is where your hand shakes, hugs and kisses come in… but until then.. you can’t teach the world that you want to forget the history ,…and the way you do that is by not referencing it EVERY TIME the Turkish state plans to do ANYTHING that relates to Armenians.. Get real please.. without the knowledge of the history, you can’t truly make your case to be known the world.. not in its entirety. without the true understanding of our background, people can’t see as to why we are doing what we are doing and feeling how we are feeling.. our fight, our anger, our sadness, our passion, ect… I condemn all these games and fakeness of the Turkish govt.. but the world would not get that if they did not know the history.. so instead of trying to use this crapola of history does not matter and the world does not care or concerned,  why don’t you stop and think for a minute.. are you really doing the Armenians more harm than good by spreading your way of doing things…i just dont’ see your way to be a productive way.. this is not to say that with some odd luck, you do have one or two lines out of many many comments on these pages that may have some truth or promise to it…

    Anyway. My two cent for today..

     

  28. Hye, Turks do it again… Each time there is another ‘tactic’ used by these Turkish leaders, they do it again and again and again.  The world today, again, learns more and more of the Ottoman mentality that is dominant still in their approach to ‘joining the civilized nations of the world’… joining the EU, and more.  Turks’ actions/reactions, over and over, PLOYS and more, unending, bring these forth via news for all across the world – still, displaying their inhumanity to humans. First their Genocides, and their Genocide denials, now their base treatments for other religions…
    - today, the continued abuse of the Christian Armenians – using ancient Armenian Cathedrals – converted to Turkish museums – an IN YOUR FACE – to Chrsitian religions
    - today, the continued abuse by Turks, in their efforts in the USA, in New York city, where their bullying attempts to establish their Muslim site nearest to the Muslim destruction of human lives, and the Twin Towers building – tallest building in USA intently.  Too, knowing the pain of the families of those murdered at this site, knowingly too, IN YOUR FACE, Turkish leaders… bullying!
    So, these actions from the Turk leaderships (who claim to be the best ally of the USA; reality: it is the USA State Department best ally of Turkish leaders). Why, when Muslims have their mosques in the USA?  Are Christian churches now being built in a Turkey? OR those that exist – are these unhampered by Turk government?  How many Christian churches in a Turkey, ancient edifices of the advanced culture of the Armenians, has Turk deliberately allowed to fall to ruin? Civilized nations take steps to preserve these antiquities for… posterity, an unknown comprehension in a Turkey – who denies their Genocides – too, denies their own history by OMISSION – as OMITTED in the education of their Turkish youth – except to teach them to hate the Armenian who are the victims of the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation.
    Aghtamar Cathedral, Turks ‘renovated’ – Turkish style, as a Turkish museum and then the PLOY of PLOYs… act as though this Christian Cathedral shall open its doors for the world, for Armenians, to come to pray unhampered, for the first time in nearly a century.  In your dreams, Christians, not in a Turkey… a Turkey for Turkeys ONLY.
    Then, the Turk “retaliation” – funny thing, Turks retaliate against the Armenians for the Turks Aghtamar Armenian Cathedral Turkish fiasco (PLOY), and in order to do so, Turk government has Turks come to pray at the Ani Armenian Cathedral… the logic of these actions escapes me.. how do the Turk leaders come up with these PLOYS?  OR, are their advisors, former members of the USA Congress inthe employ of Turks’ overpaid lobbyists – are concocting these acts?  OR Turks do, in their creation of their own convoluted ‘PLOYS’ – ongoing/unending – still.  Manooshag

  29. Every report I’ve seen, including BBC news, reported this as taking place at an ‘Armenian holy site’. Seems pretty clear to me that the stunt backfired on the PR front for them. If you can’t see that and the importance of such reporting, something is seriously wrong with you. You apparently do not realize that they can’t control the world press or the verbiage, so it’s a bust. Katia is right, learn to make the best of these events…because when life gives you lemons, you must make lemonade.

  30. Every report I’ve seen, including BBC news, reported this as taking place at an ‘Armenian holy site’. Seems pretty clear to me that the stunt backfired on the PR front for them. If you can’t see that and the importance of such reporting, something is seriously wrong with you. You apparently do not realize that they can’t control the world press or the verbiage, so it’s a bust for them. Katia is right, learn to make the best of these events…because when life gives you lemons, you must make lemonade.

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