2,000 Armenians flock to mass in ancient restored church
ANKARA - Agence France-Presse
Around 2,000 Armenians from Turkey and the diaspora flocked to a recently restored ancient church on a tiny island in the east of the country for an annual mass today, media reported.
Boats provided a shuttle service for pilgrims from all over Turkey, and some from Armenia and elsewhere in Europe, to the isle of Akdamar (Akhtamar in Armenian) on Lake Van, to the 10th century Church of the Holy Cross, Anatolia news agency said.
Turkish authorities restored the church between 2005 and 2007, which then opened as a museum. Mass was celebrated there for the first time in 95 years in 2010.
According to the Turkish tourism ministry, the church attracted nearly 30,000 visitors in 2010, and similar number in 2011.
Monsignor Aram Atessian, the acting Armenian patriarch, presided over this year's mass, attended by 2,000 faithful, of whom only a few dozen were able to watch inside the church, the rest following proceedings from outside.
The congregation prayed for peace in the world at a time when Turkey's neighbour Syria, which also has a large community of Armenians, is being torn apart by a conflict which has left thousands of people dead since it erupted in March 2011.
Today the Armenian community in Turkey, which numbers around 70,000, is concentrated in Istanbul.
Neighbours Turkey and Armenia do not have diplomatic relations and a move towards reconciliation launched in 2009 has not borne fruit.