By Emil Danielyan
Culture Minister Hasmik Poghosian said on Thursday that she has received and will likely accept a Turkish government invitation to attend the inauguration of a newly renovated 10th century Armenian church in what is now southeastern Turkey.
The Akhtamar church, one of the finest surviving monuments of medieval Armenian architecture, will again open its doors after a $1.5 million restoration ordered and paid for by the government in Ankara. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials are expected to attend the ceremony, scheduled for March 29, along with nearly 300 guests.
Poghosian confirmed reports that official Yerevan has also been invited to take part in the event. “Three or four days ago I received an official invitation from the [Turkish] culture minister to attend the opening ceremony for the church,” she told a news briefing.
“There are technical issues that need to be cleared up. For example, the issue of how to reach that location.”
“Maybe I will go or maybe my deputy will. But I will probably go,” said Poghosian. Some Armenian non-governmental organizations also plan to send representatives to the event, she added.
Akhtamar, officially known as the Church of Surp Khach (Saint Cross), is nestled on an island of the same name on Lake Van. It was built in 921 A.D. by King Gagik Artsruni, the most famous ruler of the medieval Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan that existed on the lands surrounding the big lake.
The mountainous region close to Iran and Iraq was home to dozens of ancient Armenian monasteries and churches until the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. Most of those churches are believed to have been destroyed since then.
The Turkish government initiated Akhtamar’s renovation in 2005 after being urged by the European Union to consider placing it on UNESCO's World Heritage List. It is not clear who will now control the historic church or whether the Istanbul Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church will be allowed to hold religious services there.