(Photo: The Church of the Holy Cross, an Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, September 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)
The first Armenian Orthodox ceremony in nearly a century at a church in eastern Turkey was overshadowed on Sunday by a partial Armenian boycott because of the Turkish authorities’ refusal to place a cross on the roof of the building.
Nearly a thousand Armenian Orthodox worshippers out of the expected 5,000 people attended the service at the Church of the Holy Cross, which the government has hailed as a sign of growing religious tolerance — see here and here — in the predominantly Muslim country, which is a European Union candidate.
The church, which has been closed for services since the 1915 mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman troops, has become a symbol of Turkey’s troubled past with its Armenian minority and a painful process of reconciliation.
Earlier this year Turkey agreed to open the site, which sits on the island of Akdamar in Van Lake, for services once a year. “I am so happy to be here. I want to thank the government for letting us be here at this historic moment,” one elderly woman, who identified herself as part of the Armenian community in Turkey told Turkish television.