Ankara steps up for minority rights
“This is a very meaningful development that should not be underestimated. It’s important that the monuments which were denied, had been taboo for decades, are now embraced and put forward. This is an example of a return to the culture of common life.”
These words were said by one of the elders of the Greek community in Turkey, First Representative of Minority Foundations Laki Vingas. The reason why he expressed these sentences is that the Presidency embraced and promoted to the world the Akdamar Church in Van, one of the most symbolic monuments of the Armenian community. Aya İrini Church, where Akdamar was promoted on Wednesday evening, smelled like “the spirit of common life” that Vingas mentioned.
Message to Armenians
The restoration of the 1,100-year-old Akdamar Church in Lake Van was actually started in 2005 under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule.
The church was opened in 2010, and there was a church service for the first time in 95 years. This was a key church for clergy until 1915, not only for Armenians but for the whole Christian world.
Now, the Presidential Communication Office, chaired by Professor Fahrettin Altun, is introducing Akdamar to the World. The website for “Akdamar Holy Cross Church” has been prepared not only in Turkish but also in English and Armenian languages. Moreover, this demonstration project is the first phase of an initiative to introduce all faiths, religious and cultural heritage of Turkey to the world. This first phase holds many historic firsts for Turkey. It gives critical messages to the whole world.
The first of these is that the government of Turkey officially uses the concept of “Holy Cross” for the first time.
“It is very impressive and has huge symbolic importance as Turkey’s most senior office adopts and presents the church with this expression and with this understanding,” Laki Vingas said. Moreover, this initiative, being done in the Christian church of Hagia Irene with Akdamar photographs taken by master photographer İzzet Keribar who is of Jewish origin, reinforces the message given. Invitations to the spiritual leader of the Armenian Patriarchate Gov. Sahak Maşalyan and Chief Rabbi of Turkey Jews Rabbi Ishak Haleva, were the manifestation of this message.
Another first is that the state has opened an official website for a church. Daily Hürriyet columnist Ertuğrul Özkök also pointed at this and asked, “Is this the first public service in Armenian by Turkey’s state?” Vingas is the one that would give the most competent answer. “The state had previously published Armenian books. However, this is the first Armenian website,” he replied.
Another issue that Vingas pointed out is that the assistance of the relevant minority in the process of renovation and opening of these monuments. In other words, with the spirit of the stakeholder. “But the Turkish people should also be the stakeholders of that monument,” he added. The positive atmosphere and awareness that it will create in the public opinion is preparing the ground for further progressive steps.
The increasing importance of monuments of different faiths in its territory emphasizes the strategic value of Turkey. The fact that a Muslim-majority country preserves and presents the Ottoman heritage for the Christian and Jewish world makes the country’s unique position in the world. President Tayyip Erdoğan’s message in the invitation, which emphasizes that he will continue his efforts for “our common cultural heritage to regain its deserved value” is foreshadowing such a vision.
So let’s finish with Maşalyan’s words: “Not now, but in the past, the peak of every civilization, the highest point it reached, was measured by the glory of its temples. So people were mobilizing opportunities of their wealth, to build and equip their temples.”
Turkey also grew and will grow to the extent that it embraces the temples of all faiths in its territory. This is exactly what makes a state great.