Thursday 30 September 2010
Church bells rang out on the island of Akdamar in eastern Anatolia for the first time in 95 years yesterday as thousands of Armenians from Turkey and other countries gathered for a historic religious ceremony in a region that was a centre of Armenian life until the massacres of the First World War.
Live pictures from Turkish television stations showed a procession of clergymen dressed in robes and carrying flags and candles filing into the church that was built in the 10th century and rescued from decay by a government-sponsored renovation programme five years ago.
The ceremony on Akdamar attracted about 3,000 guests, said Mustafa Aladag, a lawyer in Van who organised an initiative to welcome the Armenians. Most came from Istanbul and the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir, but there were also Armenians from Armenia itself, as well as from the United States, Europe, Iran and Syria. The church on Akdamar is officially designated as a museum. But from now on, Armenians will have permission to celebrate mass in the church once a year.
The permission to hold the mass followed a similar church service for Greek Orthodox Christians in an ancient monastery in north-eastern Anatolia last month and was seen as a gesture by Ankara towards Turkey’s Christian minorities.
Akdamar carries special significance for Kurds, Turks and Armenians. The region around Van, predominantly Kurdish today, had a sizeable Armenian population until the First World War. The Armenians were killed or driven out and many atrocities were committed by both Turks and Kurds. The situation in Van was different from other Anatolian towns and cities, where hundreds of thousands of unarmed Armenian civilians were killed or sent on death marches in 1915. In Van, Armenian rebels also killed Turks and Kurds.