Counterfeit Pilgrimage

What can we expect now that Turkey has organized an alleged pilgrimage for Armenians around the world, to occur on September 19?  A one-day religious service will be permitted at the newly renovated 10th century Armenian Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar Island in the Van region of present-day Turkey.

To promote its image of being tolerant of its minorities, Turkey has recently reopened this church as an income-generating secular museum and tourist attraction. As evidence of its alleged intention to “reconcile” with its genocidal past, and instead of providing restorative justice, Turkey has made known that Armenians must, in effect, pay for visitation rights to Aghtamar’s appropriated church on appropriated land.

The exquisite Holy Cross Church, studded with bas-relief sculptures of biblical scenes, was confiscated when Van was emptied of its Armenians during the Genocide. In the years that followed, the Church’s exterior became riddled with bullet holes made by local gun-toting Turks. Left to rot, Holy Cross had somehow escaped total eradication or conversion to mosques or animal stables like most other Armenian churches in Turkey.

Van was, at one time, the capital of Armenia. The Holy Cross Church was the seat of an Armenian Patriarchate from the 12th to the 19th centuries. As the Der Zor Memorial Museum states, “In 1915, the province of Van had 197,000 Armenian inhabitants, 33 monasteries, 75 churches, and 192 schools. The city of Van alone had 32,000 Armenian inhabitants and 8 churches.”

Unlike our recent pilgrimage to Der Zor and the Armenian churches along the way, this “pilgrimage” the Turks arranged for the Armenians to our captive Aghtamar insults the entire Armenian nation, not just those Armenians that Turkey itself victimized and dispossessed.

In the wake of Der Zor and our dreams for Western Armenia, perhaps Vicar Tanielian summarized the rebirth and mission of the Armenian people best in one of his sermons: “As with the death of Jesus Christ, the lands and the people of Armenia were lost to us. They each suffered, were crucified and buried. But in the end, Christ and Armenia were both resurrected.”

And so our struggle continues.

Lerner Hayreni (Mountains of my Fatherland)

Oh, how I have longed for you,

Proud mountains of Armenia,

Upon your bosoms I have run and grown tired,

My mountains, mountains, mountains of my fatherland.

From your peaks, clouds could have slid

Like sheep descending into a valley.

Now I wish to be in your midst.

To again embrace you, mountains of my fatherland.

Emerald mountains, I left my heart with you.

And instead took with me the fragrance of your rose.

In my veins is the strength of the mother soil,

My mountains, mountains, mountains of my fatherland.

— Music by A. Mirankoulian. Lyrics by V. Aramouni


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