Akdamar service brings Turks, Armenians closer

Akdamar service brings Turks, Armenians closer
MESUT ÇEV?KALP

 



The historic Sept. 19 service at the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on the island of Akdamar in the eastern province of Van contributed to the recently improving ties between Turks and Armenians, who both agree it is high time that both sides bury the hatchet and revive the spirit of fraternity as brothers who have shared the same lands for several centuries.
The service was marked by controversy over the placement of a cross, which emerged after Turkish authorities failed to erect a cross on top of the church. However, many Armenians who attended the service were happy. They left Van with good memories, according to a piece that appeared in last week’s Aksiyon newsweekly.
Turkish residents in Van were also happy to host their Armenian brothers, mainly due to the economic vitality they brought to the province. A taxi driver said he was happy to see more visitors in Van on the day of the historic service. “People used to see Armenians as ‘bad people’ and Armenians used to hide their identities. But people in Van are different now. Armenians come to religious services in our city and we host them in our homes,” the driver added.
According to Armenian priest Zakar Koparyan, Van locals gave a heartfelt welcome to their guests. He said the historic service at the church was like a “dream come true.” He said he did not pay heed to a call from the Armenian diaspora to boycott the Akdamar service due to the cross controversy. “We are not engaged in debates or polemics. People who wanted to pray attended the service. We also want to pray for our [Turkish] state, which gave us the opportunity to pray at Akdamar,” Koparyan added. He also stated that more Armenians would have attended the service if the cross had been placed atop of the church.
Van Governor Münir Karalo?lu said the government was not a party in the cross controversy, and that the cross was not erected due to technical reasons. He assured the public that the cross would be placed atop the church in the days to come. “We exerted our utmost efforts in order not to create any reason to damage the peaceful atmosphere between Turkey and Armenia. We tried to convince groups that were opposed to a service at Akdamar beforehand. We told them that it is a significant issue for Turkey, and any negativity would damage Turkey’s image abroad,” the governor noted.
The service was also an opportunity for many Armenians, who had to leave Turkey for one reason of another, to visit the lands they were born in after many years. Gora Yal?c, who traveled to Van from France for the Akdamar service, said he left Turkey when he was only 11. “I am very happy to be back in Turkey after 24 years. My grandfather used to live in Van, but left for Mardin after the incidents in 1915. We still have relatives in Mardin. I am here because I wanted to see where my grandfather once lived,” he said.
Most attendees of the service said they prayed for stronger and friendlier ties between the two countries. “I prayed for all of us, for both Turks and Armenians. I will continue to pray for the ones who enabled the religious service at Akdamar,” said Sebika Kaplan, a 75-year-old Armenian. Anahit Mazman, another elderly Armenian who traveled to Van for the historic service, said she expects to be able to pray at Akdamar for years to come. “I live in ?stanbul. I am so happy to be in Akdamar,” she said in tears. “I will pray for all who allowed us to pray at the church. I will pray for the Turkish state, the government and the prime minister.” According to Mazman, such events help improve relations between the Turkish and Armenian residents of Turkey. “We need to get rid of all paranoia. Religious services at historic places help strengthen dialogue between the two nations,” she added.
More would attend if border was open

According to Kaan Soyak, co-founder and co-chairman of the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC), more Armenians would have been able to attend the religious service at Akdamar if the border between the two countries was open.
“We all expect the opening of the border. The barriers between the two nations, Turks and Armenians, need to be cleared away. The region will have a healthier economy if the border is reopened. And so will the political ties between the two countries. We expect steps for reopening the border to be taken in the near future,” he stated.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan, which was then fighting a war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. Nuran Akkaya, another Armenian visiting Van from ?stanbul, remembered the killing of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink with tears. He said he was deeply affected by Dink’s murder. “My baptismal name is Hrant. I wish Dink had not been killed,” he said. Dink was gunned down on Jan. 19, 2007, in broad daylight in front of the headquarters of the bilingual Armenian weekly, Agos, where he was editor-in-chief. Akkaya is still hopeful that the future will bring better relations between Armenians and Turks.


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