Turkish Propaganda Campaign, Part II: Exploiting Akhtamar Church Onc

Harut Sassounian


Readers may recall that the Turkish government embarked on a worldwide
publicity stunt in 2007 when it renovated and reopened as a museum
the Armenian Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van.

At the time, Turkey had gone to great lengths to lure to the opening
ceremonies Armenians from around the world. Turkish officials did
not conceal that their real purpose was to exploit this event
for propaganda purposes. Even before the ‘Holy Cross Museum’
was inaugurated, a Turkish Parliamentary delegation had arrived in
Washington with a bulky photo album. Mehmet Dulger, then Chairman of
the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission, relayed the following
message to Members of the U.S. Congress: ‘See, the Turks, whom you
accuse of genocide, have renovated an Armenian Church with taxes
collected from Turks. And those photos are the evidence.’ The photo
album was distributed worldwide to all organizations advocating
‘Armenian genocide claims,’ according to the Turkish newspaper Zaman.

Furthermore, Turkey invited to the opening of the ‘Holy Cross Museum’
the culture ministers of all countries that had adopted or were
considering to adopt resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

In my column of March 22, 2007, I had asked that the Turkish government
designate Holy Cross, not as a museum, but a Church with a cross
on its dome, and place it under the jurisdiction of the Armenian
Patriarchate in Turkey. If not, I had urged Armenians to boycott the
opening ceremonies, in order to avoid being used as tools for Turkey’s
campaign of genocide denial. In the end, the Turkish propaganda effort
failed, as only a handful of Armenians from overseas traveled to Lake
Van to attend the event.

Now that Turkish officials have grudgingly allowed church services to
be performed for one day only — on Sept. 19, 2010 — and a cross to
be placed on the dome of this 10th Century Church, they have embarked
on Part II of their publicity campaign. All Turkish Embassies and
Consulates worldwide have been instructed to invite large numbers
of Armenians to this one-time church service in order to accomplish
three objectives: 1) Earn millions of dollars in revenue from 5,000
tourists expected on Sept. 19 and another million visitors during the
next year; 2) secure concessions from Armenians in return for Ankara’s
‘magnanimous gesture’; and 3) score propaganda points with Europeans
and Americans by presenting the image of a tolerant Turkish society.

Hakan Tekin, Turkey’s energetic Consul General in Los Angeles, told
‘Today’s Zaman’ that California’s ‘one million Armenians’ are looking
forward to take part in the upcoming religious worship. To impress
his bosses in Ankara, Tekin proudly announced that the ‘one-day
church service’ has caused ‘a stir’ among the Armenian community in
Los Angeles — no doubt the result of his hard work! He expressed the
wish that Armenia would take ‘reciprocal steps’ in return for Turkey’s
‘constructive policy.’ Tekin also hoped that such a ‘normalization
process’ would have a significant impact on Turkey’s relations with
the Armenian Diaspora, ‘especially with Armenians living in California
who are hard-liners.’

In sparing no efforts to publicize the planned ‘one-day worship,’
the Turkish government has undertaken the following preparations: —
Special solar panels are being installed on Akhtamar Island, so that
tourists can visit the Holy Cross Church by day and night.

— Since hotels are supposedly fully booked, plans are being made to
house tourists in school dormitories and private homes in Van.

— Large video screens are to be placed outside the Church so the
thousands of expected visitors can follow the services, as the building
can only accommodate 50 worshipers.

— A 90-page guidebook will be published in the Armenian language.

— A 10-day Turkish-Armenian Cultural Festival is planned in Van.

— The border may be opened for a few days, so that tourists can
directly travel from Armenia to Van, rather than spending a dozen
hours to get there via Georgia, according to the President of Van
Chamber of Commerce.

I urge all Armenians to boycott this new propaganda ploy, unless
Turkish officials take the following steps:

Officially designate Holy Cross as a Church, not a museum, opening
it for year-round worship services, rather than for one day only.

Place the Church under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate
of Turkey, not the Ministry of Tourism.

Allow Divine Liturgy to be celebrated regularly, after Holy Cross
Church is properly consecrated in accordance with Armenian religious

Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Locum Tenens of the Armenian Patriarchate
in Istanbul, is the appropriate religious official to present these
demands to the Turkish authorities, without whose participation they
would be unable to carry out the September 19 church services and
propaganda campaign. It is doubtful, however, that such demands would
be met by the Turkish government, given its traditional policy of
callous disregard for the rights of the Armenian community in Turkey.

From: A. Papazian


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