The Holy Cross Cathedral on Aghtamar Island is welcoming the faithful once again. On Sunday, September 9, acting Armenian Patriarch Aram Ateshian led a mass reportedly attended by hundreds since its closure in 2015.
Turkey has been under a state of emergency after a failed coup attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Services were stalled ostensibly for security reasons.
The church was built in the 10th century. It was looted and remained vacant since the Armenian Genocide. Then in 2005, the Turkish government renovated the historic and sacred church.
Since 2010, the Armenian church has been allowed one mass per year. A number of Turkish officials attended last Sunday’s mass, including Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy and Van Governor Murat Zorluoğlu as well as a number of deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Ersoy claimed that Turkey “continues to respect, support, and protect Armenians’ religious freedoms.” He said security concerns caused the suspension of the annual mass on Aghtamar. However, the U.S. State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom states “all religious groups that are not Sunni Muslim suffer discrimination and persecution in Turkey.” Armenians have long complained about the limitation on religious services at Aghtamar, among other religious abuses, and its usage as a propaganda tool of the Turkish government.