Liturgy in Surb Khach: Turks expect many Armenians, local travel agencies don’t

Turkish media report that around 6,000 Armenians are expected to participate in the liturgy of the Church of the Holy Cross (Surb Khach) on Aghtamar Island, Turkey (Western Armenia) on September 19. The estimate, however, conflicts with numbers projected by tour agencies in Armenia, who say that not more than a few hundred have made travel plans.

Holy Cross, built in the 10th century was reconstructed by Turkish authorities in 2007 and in spring 2010, the government of Turkey agreed to let Armenians have a holy mass at the church once a year.

The issue of traveling or not travelling to Aghtamar is a hot topic of discussions in Armenia. The Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Echmiadzin has refused to participate in the mass, saying that Turkish organizers have failed on their promise to allow a cross to be erected on the dome of the church.

Those who oppose the ceremony, say the day is a publicity stunt on behalf of Turkey, wishing to put on a good face for the international community regarding tolerance and human rights.

There are a few tour agencies organizing tours to Western Armenia. Ashot Soghomonyan, Director of Narekavank tour agency, told ArmeniaNow that about 200 people applied to their agency to travel to Turkey to participate in the holy mass; however, the agency has not decided whether it will organize a tour.

“Our decision is determined by the decision of our government: if the government says, let them go, we will organize that tour, and if it says no, then we will not, because we are part of our State,” Soghomonyan says.
He adds that he is not quite sure how many Armenians will be eager to travel to Aghtamar after hearing the negative responses.

Karen Antashyan, Director of IMEGA Tour and Travel tour agency, said that they would organize a five-day tour for a group of 10, who are eager to participate in the holy mass, at a cost of about $450 each.

Within the framework of the Armenian-Turkish Journalist Exchange Program, funded by the Hrant Dink Foundation, 10 Armenian journalists will travel to Turkey to report on the day’s events.