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Akdamar Surp Haç Church in Turkey to host service, but remain museum

Thursday 24 June 2010, by Vercihan Ziflioglu

The Surp Haç Church in Akdamar island near the Eastern citys of Van is getting ready for the readying for the first religious service in many decades. The preparations for the service are conducted in collaboration and peace with Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, the chief of the spiritual committee of the Armenian Church in Turkey, says Van Gov. Münir Karaoğlu. The church’s opening for the religious service will be temporary, he says.

The centruies-old church was renovated in 2007and re-opened as a memorial museum.

Van province in eastern Turkey is ready for the first religious service in many decades at the Surp Haç Church on Akdamar Island on Sept. 19.

Security measures have been implemented and the church is awaiting sanctification by the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey. Before the service a cross will be mounted on the dome, but the bell tower will remain empty.

The centuries-old church was renovated in 2007 and re-opened as a memorial-museum. As part of the project, solar-powered lighting was installed and starting the night of the service the whole island will be illuminated.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, Van Gov. Münir Karaloğlu said the church’s opening for a religious service was temporary. “The fact that it is open to a religious service once a year will not change its quality as a memorial-museum.” The governor added that the idea showed respect and was introduced by the Patriarch Mesrop II.

“No museum is allowed to be open for religious service for a whole year, and nobody could expect us to do that. The Ministry of Culture made a great gesture.”

Karaoğlu said the preparations for the service were conducted in collaboration and peace with Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, the chief of the spiritual committee of the Armenian Church in Turkey. Answering a question about whether they had contacts with Armenia about the preparations, Karaoğlu said: “We had no contacts with Armenia. This is the Foreign Ministry’s business.” Hoping Sept. 19 can be a turning point between the two countries, Karaloğlu said: "Something happened in the past. It is no use to keep on scratching the crust of the wound. Now it is time to build a new future between the two countries.”

Some 5,000 people are expected in Van on the service day. The island has limited space, but LED screens and a sound system will be installed around the island for everyone to witness every minute of the service. There will be a private pressroom for members of the press from Turkey and abroad. To prevent any problems with the live broadcast, 3G technology will be used.

According to figures stated by the governor, hotels in the city are already fully booked. To overcome accommodation difficulties, the governor said, they decided to open all the guesthouses owned by public offices and even university dormitories. Karaoğlu said the number of those willing to open their houses to Armenian visitors has already reached 1,500. "We are meticulously conducting security investigations on these families. There will be no problem with respect to security.”

Karaoğlu said there would not only be a religious service on Sept. 19, but also Turkish-Armenian Culture Day celebrations would be held, and these would continue for 10 days after the service in the indoor stadium in the city center.

“Our greatest ambition is to turn Van into a center of religion tourism. The historical Armenian Church on Çarpanak Island, and the Varakavank Armenian abbey in Bakraçlı will both be renovated in the near future.” Answering the question of whether the abbey complex around the church on Akdamar Island will also be renovated, Karaloğlu said there were no plans for the time being. “We will preserve it as it is for now.”

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Source : Hürriyet Daily News, Saturday, June 19, 2010

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