ISTANBUL: First ceremony in Surp Hac after 95 years

First ceremony in Surp Hac after 95 years
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sorrow marked the historic ceremony at Surp Hac Church in Van, as the
cross that was set to be placed atop the dome of the church before the
service had not yet been erected.
As the dome remained without a cross, the bell tower also remained without
a bell. Bell chimes were broadcast through a sound system around
Akdamar Island where the church stands.
Following a decision to not send spirituals to the service if the
cross was not been erected, the Armenian Apostolic Central Church of
Armenia wanted to erect a cross weighing 100 kilograms late Friday
with the help of four experts from Armenia, leading local officials to
intervene in the situation.
According to local officials the Central Church did not have the
appropriate permission from the Van Chamber of Commerce and Industry
to erect the cross. While the Central Church considers the Turkish
Patriarchate responsible for the erection of the cross, the exclusion
of the Armenian experts from participating increased tensions.
The Turkish Armenian Patriarchate blessed the church Saturday evening
according to the Armenian Apostolic Church, under the auspices of the
Van Governor’s Office. The blessing ceremony was held quietly, with
neither local nor foreign press informed.
A meters-long sacred table made by Turkish Armenians from Istanbul bearing
a depiction of the Virgin Mary was placed as the altar. The sacred
table was to be removed from the church after the ceremony and placed
in the Van Museum, to be returned to the church for the next ceremony.
The first service to be held in the Church after 95 years started
Sunday around 11:00 a.m. under the blessing of Archbishop Aram
Atesyan. Around 3,500 people came to the island for the service,
according to official data. The atmosphere was quiet despite security
At the opening of the church in 2007 after its restoration, a huge
Turkish flag was hung on the front of the church. This time, however,
the flag was nowhere to be seen.
At the 2007 opening, then Minister of Culture Atila Koc was
present. However no high-level officials attended the 2010 historic
service. The Deputy Gov. of Van, Atay Uslu, Mayor of Van’s Gevas
district Nazmi Sezer, and provincial head of Van Museums and Cultural
assets Osman Fırat Süslü were present at Sunday’s ceremony and
together they hosted the U.S. Consul to Adana Daria Darnell, Germany’s
Ambassador to Ankara Eckart Cuntz, Netherlands ambassador to Ankara
and diplomats from Sweden and France. Murat Akyuz, head of the German
Armenians Chamber of Commerce, also attended the ceremony.

No crane for cross
The Istanbul choral group Feriköy Surp Vartananzs Armenian Acappella
Chorus sang at the ceremony as visitors were transported to the island
early Sunday morning. Both domestic and foreign media paid intense
attention to the service with more than 200 reporters following the
As the church was not sufficiently large, only high-level participants
were allowed inside while others watched the ceremony on screens
`The cross was too heavy and we could not bring a crane here,’ Sezer
told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review before the ceremony.
`It is diffcult to bring the cross up without a scaffold. It was
obvious that the work to place the cross on the dome would not be
finished before the service,’ he said.
Sezer said the base was not appropriate for the cross the Patriarchate
brought as it was made to support the original cross.
Regarding questions as to why the issue of the cross had still not
been solved since 2007, Sezer said Armenia needed to contribute more
to dialogue with Turkey. `Armenia does not respond to Turkey’s
positive steps,’ Sezer said, adding that if Armenia had accepted
Turkey’s conditions and took positive steps for dialogue, the cross
would possibly already have been erected.
>From Diaspora and Armenia
Despite the pressure of tours to Van for the ceremony being canceled,
some groups came from Armenia, the U.S. and Beirut. Verjin
Mermerciyan, who came from California, said it was an emotional
day. Mermerciyan said no one in the local Armenian diaspora wanted to
miss the historic occasion, but there were still perhaps more pressing
concerns facing Turkey and Armenia and Armenian Turks in
particular. `The reality of genocide cannot be rejected, but dialogue
is what is needed now,’ she said.
A group calling themselves `Muslim Armenians’ also attended the
event. `We could not live in our true identities for generations.
Although my grandfathers turned to Islam to save their lives during
the painful events of their times, they secretly kept their identities
as Armenians,’ said Hacı Mehmet Ali, a spokesperson of the group.
The ceremony was led by Domingo Fringo, who came from France
specifically for the event. `Although permission to hold an annual
ceremony has been given for the first time in 95 years, it is a great
deficiency that the cross has not been erected,’ he said.

© 2009 Hurriyet Daily News

From: A. Papazian

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