The Turkish scheme of luring Armenian Church leaders to participate in a religious show at Holy Cross (Sourp Khatch) Church on Akhtamar Island, Lake Van, backfired last week.
The heads of three Hierarchical Sees of the Armenian Church—in Armenia, Lebanon, and Jerusalem—will neither attend nor send representatives to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at Holy Cross Church on Sept. 19. All three turned down the invitation of Archbishop Aram Ateshyan, deputy patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey.
Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia, headquartered in Antelias, Lebanon, was the first to announce that he would boycott the Sept. 19 ceremonies. In this regard, the Catholicosate announced: “In an attempt to convince the European Union and UNESCO that Turkey safeguards the cultural heritage of its occupied lands, the Turkish government restored the Holy Cross Armenian Church, but instead of keeping it as a church, transformed it into a museum.” It described the ceremonies orchestrated by Turkey as “an attempt to obscure its consistent policy of denying the Armenian Genocide and the rights of its survivors.”
The Holy See of Etchmiadzin, on the other hand, had initially announced that it would send to Akhtamar two high-ranking clergymen. In an earlier column, this writer had expressed the wish that Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, would reconsider his decision. Last week, after the Turkish government broke its promise to place a cross atop the Holy Cross Church, the Catholicos, as expected, withdrew Etchmiadzin’s participation from the Sept. 19 ceremonies.
The third Hierarchical See, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, had initially decided to dispatch to Akhtamar Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, the director of ecumenical and foreign affairs and chairman of the Patriarchate’s Holy Synod. When questioned about his planned attendance, Archbishop Shirvanian told this writer on Sept. 5 that in line with the decision of Holy Etchmiadzin, he would not participate in the church service, because of Turkey’s refusal to install a cross on the dome of the Holy Cross Church.
All three church leaders now have a unified position on this issue. They are to be commended for their decision not to support a political show sponsored by the Turkish regime, under the guise of a religious ceremony.
Regrettably, the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, the fourth Hierarchical See of the Armenian Church, is still planning to participate in the Sept. 19 show, despite the fact that the Turkish government lied to Deputy Patriarch Aram Ateshyan, and refused to restore the promised cross on the church’s dome. The governor of Van made the ridiculous claim that the Turkish state did not have the technical means to lift the 400-lb. cross to the top of the church. All those who bought airline tickets and booked hotel rooms, misled by Turkey’s false promises, should promptly cancel their trip, demand a refund and an apology from Turkish authorities for their deceptive bait and switch tactics.
Even though Archbishop Ateshyan is a hostage of the Turkish regime, and therefore does not have the freedom to take independent decisions, he risks losing all credibility with Armenians worldwide and all three Hierarchical Sees should he go ahead and celebrate Mass in what Turkish officials describe as the “Akdamar Memorial Museum.” He should threaten not to show up at the Holy Cross Church on Sept. 19, unless Ankara installs the promised cross. Turkish officials would have to take his threat seriously, because without him there would be no religious ceremony. His absence would turn Turkey’s expected propaganda coup into a public relations nightmare!
The last important actor in the Sept. 19 “extravaganza” is the Armenian government. While large segments of the public in Armenia have reacted strongly against Ankara’s once-a-year church service in the Holy Cross “museum,” little has been heard from Yerevan officials on this subject. Last month, the Armenian Foreign Ministry announced that it has not received an official invitation from Turkey. It is generally assumed that Armenian officials would refuse to participate in such a scandalous show, particularly after Ankara tricked Armenia’s leaders into signing the Armenia-Turkey protocols without any intention to ratify them.
Just as the Turkish government inadvertently protected Armenia’s interests by refusing to ratify the protocols, this time around, Ankara is causing Armenians to refrain from participating in this charade by breaking its promise to place a cross atop the Holy Cross Church.