- Title: TURKEY: Armenians hold historical mass at ancient Church in eastern Turkey
- Date: 20th September 2010
- Summary: CHURCH
- Embargoed: 5th October 2010 01:01
- Location: Turkey
- Country: Turkey
- Topics: International Relations,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA2GTDRPNU64UM8Z12K52ATM0C5
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: The first Armenian Orthodox ceremony in nearly a century at a church in eastern Turkey was overshadowed on Sunday (September 19) by a partial Armenian boycott because of the Turkish authorities' refusal to place a cross on the roof of the building.
Nearly a thousand Armenian Orthodox worshippers out of the expected 5,000 people attended the service at the Church of the Holy Cross, which the government has hailed as a sign of growing religious tolerance in the predominantly Muslim country, which is a European Union candidate.
The church, which has been closed for services since the 1915 mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman troops, has become a symbol of Turkey's troubled past with its Armenian minority and a painful process of reconciliation.
Earlier this year Turkey agreed to open the site, which sits on the island of Akdamar in Van Lake, for services once a year.
The service is the second of its kind this year allowing religious minorities to worship in once-banned holy sites. Last month thousands of Greek Orthodox flocked to Sumela Monastery on the Black Sea for the first mass held there in nearly 90 years.
The Armenian Church of the Holy Cross, or Surp Khatch in Armenian, was opened officially as a museum in 2007 following a 1.5 million USD restoration by the government.
Turkish authorities said a 200-kilogram cross made for the 1,000-year old church was too heavy for the roof, sparking outrage among some Armenians. The Armenian Church in Yerevan had planned to send two bishops to the Lake Van service but reversed the decision in protest at the failure to mount a cross on the church.
Many other people cancelled plans to make the 20-hour bus trip from Armenia, through Georgia, after news that the cross would be placed at the door of the church.
The Archbishop of Istanbul's Armenian Patriarchate speaking in front of the remains of faded frescoes inside the restored church told worshippers authorities had promised to place the cross atop the church 'as soon as possible' after the ceremony. Worshippers were also expecting the cross to be placed on the top of the dome.
"We are very happy to be here today. We are very glad that we decided to make this trip to our ancestors' church. So, we just heard that the cross is going to be on later on which would make us more happier; otherwise we are very happy," American-Armenian worshipper Taki Torgyon said.
"Whatever Turkey is doing, it is good, it helps to correct misunderstandings. This was a very good experience for me" Armenian worshipper Armen Aroyan added.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Muslim ally Azerbaijan over its war with Armenia.
Last October there were a series of accords to normalise relations, but the process fell through after both sides accused the other of trying to rewrite the agreements and setting additional conditions.
Armenia, backed by many historians and world parliaments, says some 1.5 million Armenians died during the upheavals that accompanied World War I and labels the events as genocide.
Ankara rejects the term genocide and says large numbers of both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks were killed.
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