Historic Akdamar church on the island in Lake Van will host visitors from all around the world on Sunday for a once-a-year religious service. Local authorities put final touches on preparations for the influx of guests, while businesses are excited for extra tourism revenues.
Walking lanes in the island located in the eastern province of Van were renovated and benches near the lanes were repainted, while crews from the local municipality cleaned up the island. Boat crews that will take visitors to the island work meticulously to keep the engines maintained to prevent any disruption.
The religious service will host high-ranking Armenian clerics as well as the faithful from Turkey and from abroad.
Muzaffer Aktuğ, head of Van's Culture and Tourism Directorate, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that all preparations were made for the event that would also host officials from the Culture and Tourism Ministry. Aktuğ said the municipality's Gevaş district where the island is located would host "a brotherhood lunch" for visitors. "Such events greatly contribute to promotion of Van. Last year, 152,440 people visited Akdamar, and this number was 162,000 in the first eight months of 2019. We think it will increase to 200,000 by the end of year. This is good news for Van," Aktuğ said. He said they also have more visitors staying instead of excursions. "Bookings in hotels reached 100% and hotels will be full by the end of September. They were all booked out in August as well. If more visitors come for Sunday's event, we plan to open the local dormitories for their accommodation," he said.
The church in Akdamar will host the seventh religious service for the Armenian community since it was reopened for visits in the 2000s. Although Turkey opened the church for religious services in 2010 for an annual mass that is traditionally held in September, the service has only been held seven times since then. After a four-year break, the religious service resumed last year. The four-year break was a result of the terror threat posed by the PKK, which has been active in eastern and southeastern Turkey for years. The church, also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Aghtamar and Surp Haç, was built between 915 and 921 A.D. by architect Bishop Manuel under the sponsorship of Gagik I Artsruni of the Kingdom of Vaspurakan.
After the 1915 incidents during World War I when the Armenian community in the area was subject to relocation, the church was abandoned. The building's restoration began in 2005 and opened as a museum two years later. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism approved a TL 4 billion budget for the project, which lasted two years and included several architects, engineers and archaeologists.
Believed to have been constructed to house a piece of the True Cross, which was thought to be used in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the church was restored in 2005 and opened in 2007.
The church is open to visitors as a museum but crowded events were barred due to terror threats. The ministry allows the church to serve as a house of worship one day a year, while it remains open as a museum.