Akhtamar Church, a medieval Armenian church in Turkey’s eastern Van province, opened its doors for its first religious service in three years on Sept. 9, the Hurrieyt Daily News reports.
The ceremony, led by the acting Armenian Patriarch Aram Ateshyan, was attended by hundreds of people, some of whom came from abroad.
The church, located on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van, was built between 915 A.D. and 921 A.D. by architect Bishop Manuel, under the supervision of Gagik I Artsruni, an Armenian king.
Following a restoration period between 2005 and 2007, the church was opened as a monument museum in 2007 and in 2010, an annual mass was held for the first time since 95 years ago.
The church hosted annual international religious ceremonies organized by the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul between the period from 2010-2014, but since then, the masses were suspended until this year based on security concerns.
Crowds who wanted to participate in the ceremony on Sept. 9 flocked to the Akhtamar harbor in the Gevaş district starting early in the morning. Following a 20-minute long boat ride, the guests landed on Akhtamar Island.
Among the attendees were also Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies Osman Nuri Gülaçar, İrfan Kartal, Abdulahat Arvas, Van Governor Murat Zorluoğlu and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu.
Following the ceremony, which started at 11 a.m., Ersoy made a statement to reporters.
“We continue to respect, support, and protect Armenians’ religious freedoms and life cultures. This will continue to be the case. As you know, we had suspended masses for the last three years due to security concerns. This year, since a secure environment has been ensured, we have again given the go-ahead for mass and we are very happy for this. Our hope is that masses continue uninterrupted at Akhtamar Church from now on,” he said.