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Empty Space on Akdamar. Archbishop Aram.

September 24, 2010

Akdamar Island on 19 September 2010.

Big media events can be pretty claustrophobic. Generally there’s lots of pushing, and plenty of short mean words. Last Sunday, 19 September, Turkey held a big media event. On Akdamar Island on Lake Van in the country’s east, authorities allowed the Turkish-Armenian Orthodox Church to hold their first mass in 95 years in the 10th century Cathedral of the Holy Cross.  Among experts and the passionate, there was some disagreement whether the building should be classified as a cathedral or a church or even just a chapel. Whatever it is, there is less confusion over whether or not there should be a cross on top. While they claimed to be unable to manage it before the mass, Turkish authorities promised that they will eventually place one on top of the cathedral, now a state museum. Armenians demanded a cross on top, with thousands of the people expected to attend the mass boycotting because it was not yet properly installed.

That left a lot of room for media folks to roam around and make interviews and photos in the sun. Lacking the thousands of Armenians that had been predicted, the island was so empty, everyone had lots of room. There was even the ability to work while dipping your feet in the clear, cool waters of Lake Van as many people headed down to a beach after the mass. The closest the event came to a scrum happened when Turkish-Armenian Archbishop Aram Ateshian walked in a procession to the church. Interviewed in Istanbul a few weeks before the event Ateshian said that, after receiving permission from the Turkish government, going ahead with the mass despite the lack of the cross was all his decision. The importance of holding the first service would be that it would lead to others, hopefully multiple times a year, eventually, he said. Surprisingly, asked if he would like the government to give the Turkish-Armenian Orthodox Church ownership over the cathedral, Ateshian was hesitant. “Not a lot. I don’t have a lot of income to keep it up. It is hard to maintain and needs a keeper and insurance. Even if it did belong to me I would only go there one time per year [to hold mass].” What Ateshian did want are other Armenian church properties confiscated during the events of 1915, such as buildings that were once schools, a practical desire as they could bring his church income. A man forced by his position to be both practical and patient, with the survival of the Armenian church within Turkey his primary objective, Ateshian may have gotten beaten up in the Armenian press for holding the mass without the cross, yet knew that with Turkey any small step is progress.

Officials from the Turkish-Armenian Orthodox Church before the mass on Akdamar Island on 19 September 2010.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Asher permalink*
    September 24, 2010 11:30 am

    Ateshian translates literally into “The son of fire.” So that’s pretty metal.

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