Armenian Boycott Calls for Aghtamar Mass Grow

Today’s Zaman, Istanbul, 21 August 2010

Armenian groups have stepped up calls for a boycott of an upcoming Mass at a renovated Armenian church in eastern Turkey, calling the event a publicity stunt by the Turkish government aimed at improving its image in the West.

Today’s Zaman, Istanbul, 21 August 2010

Armenian groups have stepped up calls for a boycott of an upcoming Mass at a renovated Armenian church in eastern Turkey, calling the event a publicity stunt by the Turkish government aimed at improving its image in the West.

The Turkish government agreed to open the 1,100-year-old Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Aghtamar, an island in Lake Van, for a one-day religious service on Sept. 19, an event that could become an annual occurrence. Many believe that the religious service at the church, which is now a state museum, could be a symbol of reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, two neighbors bitterly divided over history and the fate of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Turkish-Armenians have welcomed the move and Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, has agreed to send two senior clerics to the church for the Mass.

But others, in Armenia and elsewhere, say the event should be boycotted. “Those calling for a boycott indicate that the true aim of the Turkish authorities is to score propaganda points with the European Union and the United States, by feigning tolerance towards Christians and other minorities,” Harut Sassounian, the publisher of The California Courier, an English-Language Armenian weekly based in Glendale, California, said in an article published this week.

Sassounian reminded readers that there have been questions raised about the prudence of attending the church service. “In reality, successive Turkish governments have carried out a systematic policy of eliminating all visible signs of Armenian presence throughout Western Armenia (Eastern Turkey) for over nine decades, during which more than 2,000 Armenian churches and monasteries have been destroyed or converted into non-religious use,” he argued.

Sassounian also criticized the Turkish government’s classification of the historic church as a “museum” and it allowing only one service in a year. He said there is “no reason for Armenians to be grateful to a country that, after confiscating and destroying thousands of churches, is now allowing a religious ceremony in a single church, which it classifies as a museum.”

There have also been some calls for a boycott in Armenia, including from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. The party spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, denounced the Turkish government’s decision to reopen the church for a one-day religious ceremony as a publicity stunt and “provocation” aimed at misleading the international community.

“Once again, instead of taking a serious step, the Turks are staging a show,” Sharmazanov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Armenian service earlier this month. “I don’t think you can achieve tolerance and solidarity between civilizations in that way.”

Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) political affairs director Giro Manoyan has also urged Armenians to boycott the Mass. “I think it would be wrong to go there on a day set by Turkey and especially in these conditions of blockade and so on,” Manoyan told the RFE/RL. “I don’t want to blame believers willing to go there but they must know that they somewhat contribute to the Turkish provocation,” he added. Manoyan expressed regret for the decision of Karekin II to send clerics to the Mass as well. “I’m not sure that’s the right step,” he said.

But a spokesman for Karekin II rejected the calls for a boycott. “We believe that if we are given an opportunity to cherish a shrine that had functioned for centuries but is devoid of prayer today for some reasons, we must use even that single day in order to assert our rights and ownership to the shrine with our participation,” Father Vahram Melikian told the RFE/RL.

The Mass is to be officiated by Archbishop Aram Ateshyan, who currently leads the Armenian Patriarchate of İstanbul. The church was opened in 2007 following a restoration project by the Turkish government that cost $1.7 million.

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Հանդիպում՝ Գարեգին Արք. Պեքճեանի Հետ


  1. The so-called boycott

    The so-called boycott will not be effective. The world media will cover the Holy Mass at Aghtamar. If any Armenian Party or organization has anything to say, they should attend the Mass, make it successfull, and express their feelings in front of the world media.
  2. Police Escort Children out of Aghtamar Holy Cross Church

    Turkish Police Break Up Children’s Prayer in Armenian Church

    By Sandy Smith, HULIQ, 2010-08-21

    Turkish police ushered a group of Armenian children out of a 10th-century Armenian Christian church on the island of Akdamar in Anatolia after the children began lighting candles, singing hymns and engaging in prayer.

    The church of Sourp Khatch, or Holy Cross, was a cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church dating back to the 10th century; its priests and monks were murdered and monastery at the church destroyed in the Armenian genocide of 1915. In 2005-06, as part of the fitful path toward reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey, the Turkish government launched a costly and controversial restoration of the cathedral building, which reopened in 2007 as a secular museum in a ceremony to which Armenian government officials and the international press were invited.

    Since then, Turkish officials have been reluctant to allow any religious activities at the site beyond a service scheduled for the end of this month, a stance that has offended Armenian religious leaders. Meanwhile, some Muslim Turks have also protested the church’s reopening on the grounds that a Christian place of worship, even if run as a museum, is inappropriate in a Muslim country.
    Armenian children on field trip ousted for religious activities at Sourp Khatch church in Turkey

    It was in this context that the visit of a group of Armenian schoolchildren to Sourp Khatch became an international incident. The children were on a field trip sponsored by an Armenian youth education group called Hay Aspeth (Armenian Knight). When the children began to light candles in the church, a Turkish policeman in the building told them they could not, as the soot from the candles would stain the church walls. The group then moved into the center of the room with their lit candles and began to sing and pray, at which point the police told them to leave the church.

    The children and their escorts continued to sing and pray outside the building, on the church grounds, but police also disrupted their efforts to light incense and candles at gravestones and cross-stones in the churchyard.

    The field trip, which ended Aug. 17, was sponsored by Hay Aspeth in order to introduce Armenian youth to the historic heart of Armenia, which lies today in eastern Turkey.

    Some Turkish newspaper commentators have criticized the Turkish government’s behavior in reopening the church as largely a publicity stunt to score points in the court of world opinion.

    1. Leave children out of politics

      On surface this incident sounds to be a despicable act.

      Please consider that the Church at present is designated as a Museum and not a place for prayer. Would any museum allow people to light candles in it?

      Secondly, nowhere in the video shows that the "children were thrown out" of the church as some hot-headed people are reporting on various forums and individual mails.

      Thirdly, and most important matter, leave the children out of politics please.

      If you have a say as an adult then act accordingly. Raise your voice wherever you wish but don’t hold children as hostages in a complicated political situation. Turkey will use the Mass at Aghtamar in September for political gains. Is the answer to that this video?

      Please give me a break!

  3. I, for one, am proud

    I, for one, am proud of the manner in which these young people behaved. It shows to the world that as hard as Turkey tries to rewrite history, each successive generation will continue to carry on the message of its ancestors. These youngsters who came from Armenia, showed the Diaspora a thing or two. Bless each and everyone of them.
  4. Boycott What??

    If the Turkish government is aiming at staging a public event to enhance its international image, why can’t Armenians seize the opportunity and do the same to advance our cause? Clearly, protest is in order re Aghtamar, but in a respectful public worship at the ancient sacred site. The Hay Aspeth youth group members captured themselves for You-tube while being evicted from the church. That was easy, and all well and good, but is that all there is?   

    Bartholomew, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Istanbul proclaimed on the CBS news show "Sixty Minutes" that he feels "crucified" by Turkish authorities. This is no doubt true. I’ve seen follow-up comments on the 60 Minutes website, disputing the accuracy of the story, the authority of Patriarch and the supremacy of the Orthodox Church. Is that what the public wants to hear?

    How often do Armenians get the chance to publicly profess their Christian faith with dignity and courage and at a world cultural site with an international audience? Isn’t that what Armenians and the world really NEED to see? 

  5. React in a Civil manner, as response to restrictions imposed

    I am not certain if this piece will see the light of the day on this forum. I wrote on another quite respected forum site that our Babiks, Mamiks are bound to go. As well as some who think as I do, thus:- Go if you must and show up in planned numbers. However, if the local authorities have again placed Ataturk image or turkish flag draped on facade of church or inside, stay out of the church.

    Conduct the liturgy in the open air in a civilized manner. If they do not allow candles to be lit, so be it. But by not going there, that is the Turkish Government´s intention, if programmed to make it appear their complacency to world public opinion and diplomacy, which is very most probably so intended will bear fruit for them,not us.

    On the other hand by a huge crowd of pilgrims making their way through ancestors’ land and being there, at a thousand year old Armenian church on Armenian soil and as Armenian Pilgrims, is self explanatory… In short a good means presented to us proving authenticity of it being Armenian King Gagik Artzrouni´s dedication to Christianity.This indeed is more than important.

    Gaytzag Palandjian

    1. Needs clarification

      Many know Gaytsag Palandjian as an activist posting comments in a variety of forums. I sense a complaint in his opening remarks which is out of place.

      Could he please clarify what he wants to say in the third paragraph? I cracked my brains to understand. Alas, I could not.

    2. Why are we making

      Why are we making lighting candles a big deal? Some of the churches use battery operated candles on the altar for whatever excuses they have; examples- "the priest is allergic to smoke", "save candles", "they are messing the altar", etc.

      We forget the most important matter that our next generation lit a light inside the dark walls of the church.

      We have to stop being negative, please let somebody come up with a proposal. Let the Armenian lawyers’ association, the doctors or any other professionals come together as humble Armenians (not as members of a political party, organization, citizen of a country or a relegion) and propose a positive plan.

  6. To Shant re Clarifications
    Dear Shant,

    Firstly, there have been others who have mentioned that their comments were not posted. I am not the only one. Secondly, I would appreciate it if you addressed your query directly to me, instead  of a third person–if not in a brotherly manner then in a friendly way.

    As to the clarification of my post regarding the pilgrimage of Armenians to Akhtamar, I believe it is significant that a huge number of Armenian pilgrims, in the thousands perhaps, if allowed by the Turkish authorities, would go to the church that has Armenian inscriptions, and as good Christians they will pray there. Something  that  has no precedent in Turkey. I take it you would agree that many non-Armenian media representatives will be there. It is indeed a very impressive change in Turkey’s attitude towards their previous "rayas". You see, the Turkish "Voj" (style),  is  to give in "yavash-yavash" (by and by).

    On the other hand, if we don´t go then the Turkish media, and by extension government, will broadcast to the world that Armenians do not wish to accept our "kind" invitation, although this is a veiled and intended for other purposes. I do not trust their sincerity yet, but we must play along with them. Preferably a more compromising mode,especially to the world, than an unrelenting rejection. Turkey would love to see the latter, so as to boast that they are compromising, whereas Armenians are not. Dialogue, in short, is better than shunning away their sugar-coated offerings.

    Thence, by going we loose nothing on the contrary gain  

  7. Great act of defiance by rightful owners of Akhtamar

    We often tried not to offend Turks and this is where we are now – our children are not allowed to worship in our churches. Boycott is the only answer to the show the Turkish Government is putting on. That is, of course, if we have any shred of respect for what and who we are left. I applaud these kids and bow my head n front of them. They are brave and they are brave. I also applaud the Turkish policeman, based on what I see in this video. He does his despicable job but showing more restrained than any policeman in Armenia would show to his own people. In short, way to go Hay Aspet. More Armenians should do what they did. Let the Turkish government block Armenians from visiting Akhtamar. And let’s see what the world media would say: Armenians are banned for praying in the church, which was opened by the Turkish government as a sign of tolerance to Armenians and Christianity. Yes to Boycott. Bravo Hay Aspet.
  8. Border opening for Akhtamar Pilgrimage, prelude to final opening

    Panarmenian News has it that local authorities in EasternTurkey (Western Armenia) have been instructed to make preparations for opening the Armenia-Turkey border barriers for planned Armenian Pilgrimage on Sept.19, which was originally slated for the 12th, the Latter being their  Independence Day, thus avoiding to cross with it.

    One wonders if this  is going to be just a Show -as many of us thought-or a prelude to then soften up and NOT CLOSE  it after the pilgrimage. For  this has always been their "Voj" style, as I wrote before, acting very cautiously, step by step, like a cat does when planning to thrust forward…

    Unfortunately we did  the worst thing ever when we declared to them to establish relations "without any preconditions". Whereas we should  have set forth "The preconditions" that  of their recognition of  the Genocide perpetrated on us..

    Bygones are bygones, our RA Government must  now think of another strategy, since once  borders are opened and that "without any preconditions" they will gear up for "amicable" relations, establish NGOs, Business establishments in RA.

    What a shame that RA government did not consult with the Diaspora Armenians and did not act in cohesion with it. But then, what abput Diaspora that so far has not put its own house in order, each political party and/or other unions, etc. all acting seperately. I sent in to the editor-owner of this forum a lengthy article, that describes the ways and means of getting the Diaspora(s) re-organized to come up to a Super structure with Supreme Council.

    I Wonder whether the editorial staff would consider to post  it here in a precise (brief) manner.

    Thanks for reading me anyhow…

  9. Boycott What?

    Let the Turks establish a museum and host a Christian religious observance in the 1,100-year-old Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross at Aghtamar.  And let the Armenians call it hypocrisy and stay at home in anger and argue amongst themselves about the situation.  The winner in this event would not be the Turks.  It would be "the green-eyed monster of anger and jealousy."   The losers would be the Armenians.  

    I’m sorry if that sounds cynical, but in my opinion, the Armenians should not miss an opportunity to pay respects and stake a claim at their ancient sacred site.  The Hay Aspeth youth group has made a courageous attempt.  But now, wouldn’t it be useful for these kids if the Armenian Church could turn this into an ecumenical or interfaith event and a history lesson, rather than lose the opportunity to another angry protest or a quibble over lighting candles in historic structures?  It’s all about setting the tone and establishing the voice of history at Aghtamar – for the kids and for the world.  Who better to do that than the Armenians?

  10. Museum exhibit

    The butcher Talaat Pasha promised to allow a single Armenian to survive the Genocide – as a museum exhibit. Genocidal Turkey is allowing one Armenian church to function – as a museum exhibit. We will reclaim our lands no matter how many diplomatic and intellectual gymnastics you indulge in to deny the undeniable. We will reclaim our lands, reparations and restitution.

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