The beautiful Armenian church of Surp Khach (Holly Cross) on Van’s Akhtamar island will be opened as a museum by the Turkish authorities in a few hours.  Although I used to think this was a progressive step by Turkey – no matter the anti-genocide recognition propaganda factor – I changed my mind after I found out that…

– the church will open as a museum

 – it will not have a cross on the top of the dome

– it will not be under the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul

and more…

An editorial by California Courier’s Harut Sassounian gives some insights:

No Self-Respecting Armenian Should
Accept Turkey’s Invitation to Akhtamar
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

The Turkish government has launched a worldwide campaign to exploit, for
propaganda purposes, the renovation of the 10th century Holy Cross Church on
Akhtamar Island, in Turkish-occupied Western Armenia. Ankara has sent out
invitations for “the inaugural” ceremonies to more than 3,000 guests from around the
world, including officials from Armenia and Armenians from the Diaspora.
According to the Turkish Zaman newspaper, the Turkish government’s intent
is to use the restoration of the church on March 29 as part of its accelerated
efforts to counter the adoption of the Armenian Genocide resolution by the
U.S. Congress.
Last week, when a Turkish delegation came to Washington to lobby against
that resolution, Mehmet Dulger, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission
of the Turkish Parliament, announced that he had brought with him photos ofthe
renovated Akhtamar Church. Dulger said he would show the photo album
published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to U.S. Congressmen and tell them:
“See, the Turks, whom you accuse of genocide, have renovated an Armenian Church
with taxes collected from Turks. And these photos are the evidence.” The
Turkish government reportedly spent more than $1.5 million for the restoration.
Zaman reported that the album would be distributed worldwide to all
organizations advocating “Armenian genocide claims.” Furthermore, “the culture
ministers of all countries that have adopted or will adopt Armenian genocide bills=80¦
are invited to the opening,” Zaman wrote.

To make maximum propaganda use of this opportunity, an official from the
Turkish Ministry of Culture even suggested that the long-blockaded
Armenian-Turkish border be temporarily opened for guests from Armenia wishing to cross into
Turkey. He also spoke about the possibility of a special direct flight from
Yerevan to Van on that occasion. However, the Turkish military vetoed both
Turkish officials came up with ridiculous explanations when asked why the
renovated Holy Cross Church did not have a cross on its dome. Reporters were
told that the cross could be the cause of a lightning strike that would burn
down the church! Another official ridiculously claimed that he could not find any
old photos of the church with a cross on its dome.
Even the date of the planned ceremonies has been subject to much political
speculation and a comedy of errors. The Turkish government originally set the
date for April 24. But after complaints from the Armenian Patriarch, the date
was changed to April 11. When Turkish officials learned that April 11 was in
fact the same date as April 24 in the old calendar, they changed it yet again
to March 29, hoping that they would thus be able to pre-empt the negative
impact on Turkey of the worldwide commemorations of the Armenian Genocide held in
April of each year.
Once the final date was set, the Turkish Foreign Ministry immediately
instructed its ambassadors and consul generals around the world to extend
invitations to Armenians and non-Armenians alike to attend the ceremonies on March 29.
Invitations were received by scores of Armenians whose addresses had been
provided to local Turkish consulates by a couple of Armenian individuals who do
the Turkish government’s bidding apparently for personal gain.
The invitations offend the invitees by describing the Holy Cross Church as
the “the Monumental Museum of Akdamar [sic] Church.” Even more offensive is
the two-page enclosure which states that the carvings of the church walls “show
an influence of 9th and 10th century Abbasi art, which was itself influenced
by Central Asian Turkish Art.”
The invitation indicates that the guests are expected to arrive in Ankara
on March 28 and leave for Akhtamar in the early morning of March 29, flying
from Ankara to Van by private plane. After the conclusion of the opening ceremony
— which may be attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Foreign
Minister Abdullah Gul — the invitees will be given lunch, taken on a tour of
the city of Van, including the historic castle and then depart to Ankara later
that afternoon. After asking them to fly to Turkey, in some cases from halfway
around the world, the guests are expected to be on Akhtamar Island not more
than an hour and a half which would include the opening ceremony and a recital
by a Turkish pianist.
While it is obvious that the Turkish government is only interested in the
propaganda value of this ancient Armenian Church, it is much less clear whyany
Armenian would want to be a part of its unholy ploy. Why would any
self-respecting Armenian, whether from Armenia or the Diaspora, allow himself or herself
to be used by Turkish authorities for anti-Armenian purposes, specifically in
Turkey’s efforts to counter the recognition of the Armenian Genocide?
Armenians should boycott and denounce this cynical Turkish ploy. If Turkish
officials are truly interested in restoring the Holy Cross Church, here are
the steps they must take:
1) Designate it as a church, not museum, and open it for Christian
2) Place it under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate of
Constantinople, not the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
3) Place a cross on its dome.
4) Remove all false references to a non-existent Turkish influence on
the architecture of the Holy Cross Church.
World public opinion should be told that Turkey deserves very little credit
for renovating this Armenian church. There were thousands of Armenian
churches and monuments before the genocide of 1915 throughout today’s Turkey. Most of
them were confiscated and converted to non-religious use, abandoned to the
ravages of time or outright demolished by Turkish officials. To deserve any
credit, Turkey should restore these churches and monuments and return them to the
Armenian Patriarchate.
Until the Turkish authorities implement the above four stops, no
self-respecting Armenian should in any way assist or support Ankara’s use of the
renovation of an Armenian church for Turkish propaganda purposes.

Having also read one of the Turkish invitations to the “Armenian Diaspora” – a few hundred individuals – I realized I would not wish to attend the opening ceremony.  The letter made no reference to Surp Khach, and used the dearmenianized genocidal term of the island – Akdamar – that word by word translates to white/clean vein in Turkish.  Thanks to David Davidian for sendming me a scan of his personal invitation (that he rejected).  The only “positive” thing in the opening is perhaps the fact that a few hours ago the Turkish Today’s Zaman newspaper started referring to the island with its historic and Armenian name – Akhtamar – as opposed to using the Turkified Akdamar.