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Thousands Attend Armenian Church Mass In Turkey


The Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island on Lake Van (file photo)

The Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island on Lake Van (file photo)

YEREVAN -- Thousands of ethnic Armenians attended a Mass held in a medieval Armenian cathedral in southeastern Turkey for the second time since its renovation in 2007, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Turkish television on September 11 said boats ferried the pilgrims, most of them from Turkey but some from Armenia and Western Europe, to the Akhtamar Island on Lake Van, which is home to the Surp Khach (Holy Cross) Church.

The Turkish government allowed the first Mass in nearly a century there in September 2010 after reportedly spending $1.5 million on the renovation and turning the church into a museum.

Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the interim spiritual leader of Turkey's Armenian community, chaired the ceremony this year, AFP reported.

Ateshian was quoted as saying that only 60 percent of around 3,000 people who arrived on the island were able to enter the church. The others listened to the Mass outside through loudspeakers.

According to the Turkish Tourism Ministry, nearly 30,000 tourists visited the Akhtamar church last year.

The Armenia-based Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church boycotted the 2010 ceremony, saying that Turkish authorities broke their pledge to restore a cross on the Surp Khach dome in time for the Mass. The cross was placed there later in 2010.

Ankara has promoted the Surp Khach renovation as proof of its commitment to tolerance and a gesture of goodwill toward Armenians. But it has resisted calls to formally return the shrine to the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul.

Built between 915 and 921, the church on Akhtamar Island is one of the few surviving examples of the ancient Armenian civilization in eastern Turkey.

Hundreds of Armenian churches built there since the early Middle Ages were destroyed, ransacked, or turned into mosques during and after the World War I-era mass slaughter of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

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