Turkey has launched a project to conserve an ancient Armenian cathedral and a church in what is seen as a gesture of reconciliation toward neighboring Armenia.
Turkey and Armenia have been locked in a bitter dispute for decades over the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in the last years of the Ottoman Empire, and efforts to normalize relations have been dealt a setback by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan is a close Muslim ally of Turkey’s government in Ankara.
Turkey, however, says it is committed to improving ties with Armenia, and has already restored the 10th century Akdamar church, perched on a rocky island in Lake Van in eastern Turkey. It has also allowed once-yearly worship at the site as a gesture to Armenia and its own ethnic Armenian minority.
Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said Tuesday the new project was being launched in partnership with the World Monuments Fund to conserve the remains of the cathedral and the Church of the Holy Savior in Ani, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the eastern city of Kars.
Ani was one of the world’s great cities in the 10th century, according to the New-York based fund. Today it stands abandoned, and the remnants of its celebrated buildings are in a precarious state. The site, in an earthquake-prone area, has been listed on the World Monuments Watch, beginning in 1996.
“Ani, which is of global significance, presents particularly complicated challenges,” Gunay said. “We hope that giving new life to the remains of once-splendid buildings, such as the Ani Cathedral and church, will bring new economic opportunities to the region.”
Gunay did not say whether Turkey would also allow prayers at Ani once the restoration is complete.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, which they call the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey disputes this, saying the death toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.