Turkish Nationalists To Pray In Ancient Armenian Church


Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Members of Turkey’s main nationalist opposition party are reportedly
planning to gather in an 11th century Armenian cathedral Friday for
a politically motivated Islamic prayer that is bound to infuriate
Armenians, RFE/RL reported.

Turkish newspapers reported on Tuesday that authorities in the
northeastern Kars region have received a formal permission application
from the local branch of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

They said its chairman informed dozens of local MHP activists and
supporters that the prayer service will take place at the Holy Virgin
Cathedral in Ani, the ruined capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom
located near the city of Kars, on the existing Turkish-Armenian border.

Built in 1001 A.D. by one of the most celebrated architects of medieval
Armenia, Trdat, the church was the largest building in the walled
and once prosperous city. It is one of the few surviving examples of
the ancient Armenian civilization that existed in what is now eastern
Turkey until the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

According to some historians, it was converted into a mosque after
Armenia was invaded by the Seljuk Turks in the late 11th century.

Official Turkish sources still refer to it as Fethiye Mosque.

Some Turkish newspapers suggested that the MHP’s intention to use it
as a Muslim worship site is a response to the September 19 mass in the
10th century Holy Cross Armenian church in Van. However, party leaders
attributed the politically explosive move to domestic politics and,
in particular, their tense relations with the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the words of Ara Gocunyan, editor of the Turkish-Armenian “Zhamanak”
daily, the AKP’s victory in Turkey’s recent constitutional referendum
was a serious blow to the MHP. “Apparently, the party is thus trying
to revive its fortunes,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenia service.

Citing the Turkish press, Gocunyan said Turkey’s Culture Minister
Ertugrul Gunay has warned that the Friday prayer at the Ani church
will be deemed illegal if it turns into a “collective demonstration.”

Turks can pray there only as “individual citizens,” Gocunyan quoted
Gunay as saying.

Newspaper reports also said that the MHP’s top leader, Devlet Bahceli,
will also attend the prayer. However, the party has not yet confirmed
those reporters, according to Aris Nalci, a journalist with another
Istanbul-based Armenian paper, “Agos.”

From: A. Papazian

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