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Armenian Ruling Party Slams Planned Church Service In Turkey

The 10th century Church of the Holy Cross is an Armenian landmark in eastern Turkey.
YEREVAN -- President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK) today spoke out against Armenian participation in a landmark service to be held in a 10th century Armenian church in southeastern Turkey next month, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov denounced the Turkish government's decision to reopen the church for a one-day religious ceremony on September 19, calling it a publicity stunt and "provocation" aimed at misleading the international community.

"Once again, instead of taking a serious step, the Turks are staging an imitation show," Sharmazanov told RFE/RL. "I don't think you can achieve tolerance and solidarity of civilizations in that way."

Giro Manoyan, a senior member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also urged Armenians to boycott the mass, which will be led by Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the spiritual leader of Turkey's Armenian community.

"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 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 said.

Manoyan therefore regrets the decision by Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to send two senior clerics to the Church of Surp Khach (Holy Cross) for the mass. "I'm not sure that's the right step," he said.

But a spokesman for Garegin rejected 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 reason, we must use even that single day in order to assert our rights and ownership of the shrine with our participation," Father Vahram Melikian told RFE/RL.

The mass takes place three years after the completion of a $1.5 million renovation of the church funded by the Turkish government, which has allowed Turkey's Armenian community to hold religious services there once a year.

Ankara has promoted the upcoming ceremony as proof of its commitment to tolerance and a gesture of goodwill toward Armenians. But it has resisted calls to return the church, perched on the legendary Akhtamar Island in Lake Van, to the Armenian Church.