Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Promising Start

From the BBC: Ankara restores Armenian church

Turkey has renovated a 1,100-year-old church in the east of the country, in what is seen as a gesture to improve ties with neighbouring Armenia.

The ceremony on Akdamar island on Lake Van was attended by senior Armenian officials, despite the two countries' lack of diplomatic ties.

The mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 left profound scars and bitterness.

About 70,000 Armenians live in Turkey today. The church will now be a museum.

Plea for worship

Patriarch Mesrob II, spiritual leader of Turkey's tiny Armenian Orthodox community, told several hundred people at the ceremony that the government should open up the restored church for worship at least once a year.

He said the move would help reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.

"If our government approves, it will contribute to peace between two communities who have not been able to come together for years," he said.

Turkish Culture Minister Attila Koc said Ankara would consider the request.

But the head of Armenia's Apostolic Church, Garegin II, declined Ankara's invitation to attend the ceremony because the church will no longer function as a place of worship.

So far Turkey has ignored calls to place a cross on the conical roof.

Turkey has had a very long history of attempting to wipe the footprint of past Armenian settlement in Turkey off the face of the earth. Many sites of great historical and archaeological import have been bulldozed to support the myth of Turkey for Turks. So it is heartening to see this small step taken. Hopefully, they will continue on this path and allow the Armenian's to worship there as well.

This won't solve Turkey's Armenian problem, but if they are willing to show goodwill on such matters than everyone involved can begin to move forward instead of being consumed by the past.

The BBC article also states "The church had long been neglected", but this is more than a bit unfair. It is (or at least has been) illegal to repair a church in Turkey without the consent of the government, which rarely gives such consent. The Eastern Orthodox community in Istanbul has had to put up with such harassment for quite some time, and I'm certain it has been worse for those small pockets of Christians in the hinterlands.

If you haven't read the William Dalrymple book From The Holy Mountain you should do yourself a favor and do so. His account of the Christians of the Middle East is poignant and a little melancholy, yet still inspiring. I still consider it the best book published in the last 10 years.


Anonymous said...

They only did this to difuse the genocide resolution in the US congress and senete, H. Res 106.

They turned the church into a museum and there are no mention of Armenians or Armenian History. Its only a smoke screen. Please go to and tell your congress person to vote yes to acknowlage the truth about the Armenian Genocide.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

I do realize the Turks have a long way to go. But in a country where you can be imprisoned for questioning the government line on the fate of the Armenains, the first steps would always be small.

I agree it cannot end here. If it does end here you will be right, it was just a smoke screen. For myself, I'll give the Turks a chance to take the better road.

I wonder, is there still a population of Amenian Christians in the area that could look after the Church as a going concern?