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Turkish Police Break Up Children's Prayer in Armenian Church

Sandy Smith's picture

Turkish police ushered a group of Armenian children out of a 10th-century Armenian Christian church on the island of Akdamar in Anatolia after the children began lighting candles, singing hymns and engaging in prayer.

The church of Sourp Khatch, or Holy Cross, was a cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church dating back to the 10th century; its priests and monks were murdered and monastery at the church destroyed in the Armenian genocide of 1915. In 2005-06, as part of the fitful path toward reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey, the Turkish government launched a costly and controversial restoration of the cathedral building, which reopened in 2007 as a secular museum in a ceremony to which Armenian government officials and the international press were invited.

Since then, Turkish officials have been reluctant to allow any religious activities at the site beyond a service scheduled for the end of this month, a stance that has offended Armenian religious leaders. Meanwhile, some Muslim Turks have also protested the church's reopening on the grounds that a Christian place of worship, even if run as a museum, is inappropriate in a Muslim country.

Armenian children on field trip ousted for religious activities at Sourp Khatch church in Turkey

It was in this context that the visit of a group of Armenian schoolchildren to Sourp Khatch became an international incident. The children were on a field trip sponsored by an Armenian youth education group called Hay Aspeth (Armenian Knight). When the children began to light candles in the church, a Turkish policeman in the building told them they could not, as the soot from the candles would stain the church walls. The group then moved into the center of the room with their lit candles and began to sing and pray, at which point the police told them to leave the church.

VIDEO: Policeman in Turkey Breaks up Armenian Children's Prayer

The children and their escorts continued to sing and pray outside the building, on the church grounds, but police also disrupted their efforts to light incense and candles at gravestones and cross-stones in the churchyard.

The field trip, which ended Aug. 17, was sponsored by Hay Aspeth in order to introduce Armenian youth to the historic heart of Armenia, which lies today in eastern Turkey.

Some Turkish newspaper commentators have criticized the Turkish government's behavior in reopening the church as largely a publicity stunt to score points in the court of world opinion.

Comments

Submitted by Berge Jololian (not verified) on
We are coming in droves to take back our lands - we will take back what rightfully belongs to Armenians: Land, Reparation, and Restitution. We will *Never* give up the fight to take back Ararat, Ani, Kars, Ardahan, Artvin, Van, Erzurum, Erzingan. To the Turk occupier: Your predecessor Talaat Pasha promised to allow a single Armenian to survive the Genocide--as a museum exhibit. We have lived in Asia Minor for 4,350 years--millennia before your marauding Central Asian ancestors knew there was a world outside their wilderness homeland. We will reclaim our lands no matter how many diplomatic and intellectual gymnastics you indulge in to deny the undeniable.

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