President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) on Tuesday spoke out against Armenian participation in a landmark mass to be held in a 10th century Armenian church in southeastern Turkey next month.
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, denounced the Turkish government’s decision to reopen it for a one-day religious ceremony on September 19 as 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’s Armenian service. “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 to be served 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 regretted in that regard 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 September 19 mass. “I’m not sure that’s the right step,” he said.
But a spokesman for Garegin rejected calls for the 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 reasons, we must use even that single day in order to assert our rights and ownership to the shrine with our participation,” Father Vahram Melikian told RFE/RL.
The mass will take place three years after the completion of a $1.5 million renovation of the church funded by the Turkish government. The latter has allowed Turkey’s surviving Armenian Christian 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 towards Armenians. Still, it has resisted calls to return the temple, perched on the legendary Akhtamar island in Lake Vane, to the Armenian Church.