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Cablegate: Turkey Reopens Armenian Akdamar Church

VZCZCXRO3106
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDA #0047/01 0931442
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 031442Z APR 07
FM AMCONSUL ADANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4482
INFO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 1028
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0884
RUEHYE/AMEMBASSY YEREVAN 0005
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 1085

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADANA 000047

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV TU
SUBJECT: TURKEY REOPENS ARMENIAN AKDAMAR CHURCH

ADANA 00000047 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Following a year and a half of restoration
work, the 10th century Armenian Akdamar Church was reopened in a
March 29 ceremony attended by a GOAM delegation and members of
the diplomatic establishment from Ankara, as well as members of
Turkey's Armenian population. In opening remarks, Culture
Minister Koc said the reopening of the church as a memorial
museum was to perpetuate world culture. Armenian Patriarch for
Istanbul and all of Turkey Mesrob II saw the opening as a
positive development in Turkish-Armenian relations and called
for annual use of the church as a pilgrimage destination and
festival site and place for a Holy Liturgy, paving the way for
dialogue between Turkey and Armenia. The GOT maintains that
Akdamar will remain a museum but is considering Mesrob's request
that it display a cross. End summary.

Akdamar Reopens as a Museum
---------------------------------

2. (U) On March 29, the ancient Armenian Akdamar Church, also
known as Surp Khach or Holy Cross, located on a small island on
Lake Van in southestern Turkey, was reopened and designated as a
monument museum after an 18 month long GOT-funded, YTL 2.6
million (USD 1.9 million) restoration project, led by an
Armenian architect..
Armenian Deputy Culture Minister Gagik Gyurjyan led a 20-member
Armenian delegation to the reopening celebration, which included
Turkey's Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II, as well as other
Armenians who traveled to Turkey from Yerevan for the occasion.
The U.S. Charge and Ambassadors from Israel, Germany and other
countries also attended the ceremony, for which the GOT provided
a chartered aircraft from Ankara. Archbishops Museg
Mardirosyian and Sempad Lapaciyan from Los Angeles, and Hacag
Barsamyan from New York also participated. Earlier in the week,
the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church, Karekin II, refused to
attend the reopening because the church will operate as a
museum, and not as a holy place.

Koc: Perpetuating Cultural Heritage While Keeping Politics and
Religion Separate
--------------------------------------------- --------------
-----------------------

3. (SBU) In opening remarks at the ceremony, entitled "Respect
the History, Respect the Culture," Turkish Minister of Culture
and Tourism Atilla Koc emphasized Turkey's rich "cultural
geography in which different cultures have blended" throughout
history. Using the official GOT-designated name and spelling
["Aghtamar" is the alternative spelling preferred by Armenians]
of the church, Koc said that "the main purpose of the
restoration of Van Akdamar Church Memorial Museum is to
perpetuate a world cultural heritage." Koc later told the press
that the opening was intended as an exercise in good will, an
effort to show that Turkey bears no ill will toward Armenians
despite many political problems. Koc emphasized that he was
trying to do his best to maintain a separation between the
political and the sacred.

Patriarch: Positive Development in Turkish-Armenian Relations
--------------------------------------------- ------------------

4. (SBU) Striking a conciliatory note in his remarks, and "on
behalf of the Armenian citizens of Turkey," Patriarch Mesrob II
offered "profound thanks" to the GOT for completing the
restoration "despite much harsh and politicized criticism from
various opponents." He emphasized that the restoration work was
"a positive development in Turkish-Armenian relations, which I
hope will be blessed by the efforts of all people of good will."
The Patriarch called for the church to become "the focal point
of an annual pilgrimage," wherein "a special Divine Liturgy"
could be held once a year, and "an Aghtamar Festival linked to
it," to someday "pave the way for the longed-for dialogue, which
both sides have not achieved to date."

Comment
----------

5. (SBU) While the mood of the ceremony was positive, some
Turkish commentators noted that the Van Provincial Governor
neglected to welcome the Armenian delegation or Mesrob II in his
opening remarks. The press also noted that no one from the
Armenian delegation from Yerevan was asked to speak at the
ceremony. Going forward, critics will undoubtedly focus on the
request by the Armenian clergy to affix a cross to the church,
which various ministries in Ankara are currently considering.
For the moment, however, the GOT has earned some goodwill by
committing the resources to refurbish the site and by hosting a
high-level ceremony focused on cultural, political and spiritual

ADANA 00000047 002.2 OF 002


reconciliation.
GREEN

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