Turkey allowed Armenians to hold mass Sept. 19 at the Church of the Holy Cross—an iconic 10th century landmark on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, southeast Anatolia—for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Turkish officials hailed the service as a sign of tolerance and reconciliation. But the mass was attended by only some 1,000—a fraction of the 5,000 expected. An Armenian boycott saw thousands cancel their trips after Turkish authorities refused to display a 440-pound cross on the church’s roof, claiming it was too heavy and could damage the structure. The 16.5-foot-tall cross instead was displayed next to the church’s bell-tower. Worshippers were largely from the Armenian diaspora. Protests against the event were held at the Armenian genocide memorial at Tsitsernakaberd in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital; and among Armenians in Jerusalem.
“Our mission for today was to show that the Turkish government should not use our heritage as a propaganda tool to pretend that they are tolerant,” said Hayk Demoyan, director of Yerevan’s Genocide Museum. The service was the second of two special church openings recently permitted by the Turkish government after Ankara in August allowed Christians to pray at a Greek Orthodox monastery in Sumela, in the Black Sea region, for the first time since the country’s creation. (Dow Jones, Today’s Zaman, Huliq, Aysor, Sept. 19; Huliq, Sept. 16; PanArmenian.net, Sept. 7)