Today this church has become a symbol of a struggling reconciliation process between Armenia and Turkey, which the latter conditions with Armenia's relations with Azerbaijan. Akdamar is a state museum and as a gesture the authorities say they will allow a church service on September 19 of this year.
Yet, allowing services in a church once a year will not help to improve the relations. In fact, many Armenians have said thanks, but no thanks. A bolder and more righteous step needs to be done.
If a certain forgetting and forgiving is to take place between the Armenian and Turkish people for the sake of a better future one of the most important things that is need is o allow the estranged people to come closer and to learn about each other. Only then the matters of justice ad truth will be addressed and only after this a certain healing type of forgetting and forgiving will take place between the people. Yet, how can these people learn about each other when the border is closed by Turkey for no good reason and the average people don't have an easy access to trade and to learn about each other.
One overlooked factor may come to help. It is the distance between Yerevan and Van, where the Akdamar monastery is located. The average distance between Yerevan and Van is only 131 miles or 211 kilometers. By driving it will take about 3-4 hours depending on the roads and by flight it will only take about 15-20 minutes.
Turkey, which aspires for EU membership, should act like a European country and differentiate its relations with Armenia from that of Azerbaijan. This is especially important now, after yesterday's ICJ ruling on the legality of Kosovo's independence. In fact, even the top Turkish newspaper writes that the verdict may help Northern Cyprus to gain independence. Thus, Turkey should re-orient itself and show certain appreciation of Armenia's position in regard to the right of self-determination of the people of Nagorno Karabakh
Now back to the proximity of Yerevan and Van. Two bold steps by the Turkish government would fundamentally change the future of the entire region.
1. Return the Church and allow services without restrictions.
2. Open the border with Armenia and don't church for two-day trips.
If Turkey returns Akdamar to the Armenian church and allows full religious life there the Armenian church would probably send several monks to restore and reignite the monastic life on the island of Akdamar. The region itself is already a touristic destination. If he border is opened it is easily imaginable to see many Armenians taking few hours of drive to say a prayer in Akdamar and return back home. Groups of tourists would com every day. Pilgrims would take weekend trips and stay from Friday to Sunday. It's only 3-4 hours of drive.
This move would reinforce positive signals between the Armenians and the Turks. People's movement and freedom of worship would change the economic landscape of the South Eastern Turkey and show hat this is a European country an there is no difference in overall values between Turkey and EU countries when it comes to freedom of worship and movement of people. The distance between Yerevan and Van is only 3-4 hours.