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MHP plans Friday prayer protest at eastern Turkey's Ani

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/29/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

A plan by Turkey’s most prominent nationalist party to hold Friday prayers at the ruins of Ani on the Turkish-Armenian border is a political ploy, an Armenian religious official says.

A plan by Turkey’s most prominent nationalist party to hold Friday prayers at the ruins of Ani on the Turkish-Armenian border is a political ploy, according to an important Armenian religious official.

Bishop Sebouh Chouldjian, a primate of the Church’s Diocese of Gougark in northern Armenia and a candidate for the next Istanbul patriarch, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that he would have respected the plan of Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli if he genuinely wanted to pray.

“But this is not the case at all,” he said. “He is just trying to make religion a tool for his politics.”

Bahçeli said the plan to hold Friday prayers at the Fethiye Mosque at the Ani ruins was being made in protest of the special Divine Liturgy at the Surp Haç Church on Akdamar Island on Sept. 19, the first Armenian rite performed on the island in 95 years.

The Fethiye Mosque was originally an ancient Armenian church and was converted to a mosque in 1064.

Chouldjian said the situation was proof that Turkey was still in a period of identity-seeking. “I hope one day Turkey can be courageous enough to admit where its roots lie.”

One of the architects working on the restoration of the Surp Harç Church, prominent Turkish Armenian Zakarya Mildanoğlu, agreed with Chouldjian and said nothing could change the fact that the Fethiye Mosque was a church.

“Even if they converted it to a mosque and now say the Friday prayer there, that is a historical church,” he said.

Aram Ateşyan, the deputy patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, declined to comment on the MHP’s preparations for the Daily News.

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