Deniz Çiyan – VAN
In a city that has been home to various civilizations since the 9th century B.C., the historic Armenian churches in Turkey’s eastern province of Van await visitors and hopefully restoration - in order to stop them from being forgotten.
One of the most well-known Armenian churches in Turkey, the Surp Haç (Holy Cross) Church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, has stood in all its glory for the past 13 centuries and was renovated and opened as a museum in 2007. But other historic churches in the region have not been as lucky.
The Gduts Church on Lake Van’s Çarpanak Island, which dates back to the 9th century, stands as the only structure on the island, as the other parts of the monastery complex were ruined over time.
Having undergone restoration in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Gduts Church was most recently renovated in the 17th century. With the church’s bell tower and ceiling still standing, the scenery of the island with the church, seagulls flying in front, and Mount Süphan in the background is worth seeing.
Çarpanak Island, which is a preserved site both naturally and historically, is home to many seagulls. The tour guides warn visitors to watch out for seagull nests full of eggs to both preserve the natural habitat and also avoid an Alfred Hitchockian scene from his film “The Birds.”
Another historic Armenian church in the region, the Saint Bartholomew Church, is located in the Albayrak village of Van’s Başkale district and offers visitors a great example of how big and glorious the constructions of the 9th century were.
The church was built on the burial place of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, who is believed to have brought Christianity to Armenians in the 1st century.
The two bell towers and ceiling of the church collapsed during a strong earthquake in 1976, a local villager told the Daily News, adding the church had not been destroyed by treasure hunters, a fate which the Gduts Church could unfortunately not escape, as the Saint Bartholomew Church had been inside the Turkish army’s territory for years.
Faith tourism model in Van
Aiming to make the province a popular attraction for tourism by offering the region’s many hidden treasures to explorers, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Burhan Kayatürk said they have initiated a faith tourism model for Van.
“Van has a high tourism potential and various concepts can be developed to revive this potential. Thus the Faith Tourism to Van model is one of these concepts,” said Kayatürk.
He said they aimed to use the Akdamar Church as a key to attract tourists from all over the world but especially Armenians, who would want to see the churches built by their ancestors.
An interesting story comes up about the Akdamar Church, which entered UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2015, when one realizes the dominance of the color blue on the frescos inside the church.
When the Armenian community living in Van left the region for Armenia following the 1915 incidents, they covered the frescos with a special mixture, as they thought they would return to their homes soon. When they could not do so, the mixture started to meddle into the frescos and thus today they have a bluish appearance.
Hasan, a 25-year-old car tire repairer in Güzelsu village, which is located right under the Hoşab (sweet water) fortress, said he supports the initiatives taken to revive tourism in the region, as there are many hidden beauties which are not known.
“We would want tourism to develop in Van and tourists to come see these places,” said Hasan, citing economic reasons as his primary support for the cause.
Hasan is married with a child and another one on the way and works seven days a week, though he says some days he earns nothing. He says his work has slowed down since last year, and it is especially bad right before the general elections on June 7.
Van not only offers ancient churches but also many other historic and natural beauties. Lake Van itself is a must-see, especially in the spring season when the mountain tops surrounding the lake are still covered with snow and the meadows are as green as ever.
The medieval fortress of Hoşab near the Turkey-Iran border, the Van fortress dating back to the Urartu Kingdom, which had Van as its capital between the 9th and 6th centuries B.C., and Lake Erçek during July and the first week of September, when flamingos migrate to the southern and warmer parts of the world, are some of the other amazing places the city offers its visitors.