Akdamar Island: Wikis


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Akdamar Island
Armenian: Ախթամար
Turkish: Akdamar Adası
Akdamar Island From Near Gevas.JPG
Akdamar Island seen from the south shore of Van Lake, near the town of Gevaş.
Location Gevaş district, Van province, Eastern Anatolia region
Coordinates 38°20′N 43°02′E / 38.333°N 43.033°E / 38.333; 43.033
Total islands 1
Area 0.7 km2 (0.27 sq mi)
Length 0.7 km (0.43 mi)
Width 0.6 km (0.37 mi)
Coastline 2 km (1.2 mi)
Country  Turkey

Akdamar Island (also known as , Akhtamar, and Aght'amar; Turkish: Akdamar Adası; Armenian: Ախթամար, Armenian pronunciation: [ɑχtʰɑmɑr]) is a small island in Lake Van in the South of the Armenian Highlands in Turkey (sometimes called Eastern Anatolia region), about 0.7 km2 in size, situated about 3 km from the shoreline. At the western end of the island a hard, grey, limestone cliff rises 80 m above the lake's level (1,912 m above sea level). The island declines to the east to a level site where a spring provides ample water. It is home to a tenth century Armenian church, known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross (915-921), and was the seat of an Armenian Catholicos from 1116 to 1895.



The origin and meaning of the island's name is unknown, but is often attributed to an old Armenian legend. According to the tale, an Armenian princess named Tamar lived on the island and was in love with a commoner. This boy would swim from the mainland to the island each night, guided by a light she lit for him. Her father learned of the boy's visits. One night, as she waited for her lover to arrive, he smashed her light, leaving the boy in the middle of the lake without a guide to indicate which direction to swim. They say his dying cries of "Akh, Tamar" (Oh, Tamar) can be heard to this day at night. The legend was the inspiration for a famous Armenian poem by Hovhannes Tumanyan.

Akdamar (meaning "white vein" in Turkish) is the official name of the island, but the original "Akhtamar" pronunciation is still used by many of the Kurds who live in the area (there is no "kh" sound in Turkish, but there is in Kurdish).


General view of Akdamar Island in springtime.

During his reign, King Gagik I Artsruni (r. 908-943/944) of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan chose to reside on Agthamar Island, where he founded a settlement, erected a large square palace richly decorated with frescoes, built a dock noted for its complex hydrotechnical engineering, laid out streets, gardens, and orchards, and planted trees and designed areas of recreation for himself and his court.[1] The only surviving structure from that period is the Palatine Cathedral of the Holy Cross (Armenian: Սուրբ Խաչ Եկեղեցի). It was built of pink sandstone by the architect-monk Manuel during the years 915-921, with an interior measuring 14.80m by 11.5m and the dome reaching 20.40m above ground. In later centuries, and until 1915, it formed part of a monastic complex, the ruins of which can still be seen to the south of the church.

Between 1116 and 1895 Aghtamar Island was the location of the Armenian Catholicosate of Aghtamar. Khachatur III, who died in 1895, was the last Catholicos of Aghtamar.[2] In 1915, during the Armenian Genocide, the monks of Aghtamar were massacred, the cathedral looted, and the monastic buildings destroyed.[3]

The Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross

The Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross
The Cathedral
A detail of David and Goliath from the cathedral

The architecture of the church is based on a form that had been developed in Armenia several centuries earlier; the best-known example being that of the 7th century St. Hripsime church in Echmiadzin, incorporating a dome with a conical roof.[1]

The unique importance of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross comes from the extensive array of bas-relief carving of mostly biblical scenes that adorn its external walls. The meanings of these reliefs have been the subject of much and varied interpretation. Not all of this speculation has been produced in good faith - for example, Turkish sources stress alleged Islamic and Turkic influences behind the content of the reliefs and minimise native Armenian influences. Some scholars[4] assert that the friezes parallel contemporary motifs found in Umayyad art - such as a turbaned prince, Arab styles of dress, wine imagery; allusions to royal Sassanian imagery are also present (Griffins, for example).[4]


Between May 2005 and October 2006, the church underwent a controversial restoration program.[5] The restoration had a stated budget of 2 million New Turkish Lira (approximately 1.4 million USD) and was financed by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. It officially re-opened as a museum on 29 March 2007 in a ceremony attended by the Turkish Minister of Culture, government officials, ambassadors of several countries, Patriach Mesrob II (spiritual leader of the Armenian Orthodox community of Turkey), a delegation from the Republic of Armenia headed by the Deputy to the Armenian Minister of Culture, and a large group of invited journalists from many news organizations around the world.[6]

Özdemir Çakacak, the Governor of Van, described the refurbishing of the church as "a show of Turkey's respect for history and culture".[7] A Turkish state department museum official added, "We could not have ignored the artifacts of our Armenian citizens, and we did not."[7] Signs heralding the church reopening declared "Tarihe saygi, kulture saygi" ("Respect the history, respect the culture").[8]


Armenian religious leaders invited to attend the opening ceremony opted to boycott the event, because the church was being reopened as a secular museum. Controversy surrounded the issue of whether the cross atop the dome until 1915 should be replaced. Some Armenians said that the renovation was unfinished until the cross was replaced, and that prayer should be allowed inside at least once a year. A cross had been prepared nearly a year before the opening, and Mesrob II petitioned the Prime Minister and Minister of Culture to place the cross on the dome of the cathedral.[9] Turkish officials said it would not be appropriate to have a cross on or hold a mass in what is now a secular museum.

The opening was controversial among some Turkish groups, who protested at the island and in a separate demonstration in Ankara. Police detained five Turkish nationals protesting against the restoration of the church at Lake Van, who carried a banner declaring "The Turkish people are noble. They would never commit genocide."[10] Demonstrators outside the Ministry of the Interior in Ankara chanted slogans against the possibility of a cross being erected atop the church, declaring "You are all Armenians, we are all Turks and Muslims".[7]

Hürriyet columnist Cengiz Çandar characterized the way the Turkish government handled the opening as an extension of an ongoing "cultural genocide" of the Armenians.[11][12] He characterizes the renaming of the church from Armenian to Turkish as part of a broader program to rename Armenian historical sites in Turkey, and attributes the refusal to place a cross atop the church as symptomatic of religious intolerance in Turkish society.

What do you think “our set” are trying to do? If you ask me, they would like “to appear righteous and benefit politically.” And naturally they make a mess out of it. The initial plans were for the opening of Ahtamar to take place on Apr. 24. A real cunning idea... As it is known to be the “Armenian genocide remembrance day in the world,” a trump for propaganda would have been used on that day.

Then the date became Apr. 11. According to the ancient Armenian calendar, Apr. 11 coincides with Apr. 24. They probably knew this also. They were still pursuing another cunning idea. At the end, it was decided that the opening of Ahtamar, now “Akdamar,” would take place on Mar. 29, as a restoration opening of a museum-church, without a cross or a bell.[13]

Çandar notes that the Agos issue published on the day of the murder of Hrant Dink featured a Dink commentary on the Turkish government's handling of the Akdamar issue, which the late journalist characterized as "A real comedy... A real tragedy..." According to Dink,

The government hasn't still been able to formulate a correct approach to the “Armenian question.” Its real aim is not to solve the problem, but to gain points like a wrestler in a contest. How and when it will make the right move and defeat its opponent. That's the only concern. This is not earnestness. The state calls on Armenian historians to discuss history, but does not shy from trying its own intellectuals who have an unorthodox rhetoric on the Armenian genocide. It restores an Armenian church in the Southeast, but only thinks, “How can I use this for political gains in the world, how can I sell it?”[11][13][12]

Historian Ara Sarafian has answered some criticism of the Akdamar project, stating that, on the contrary, the project represents an answer to allegations of cultural genocide. He has stated that the revitalization of the site is "an important peace offering" from the Turkish government.[14]

Ian Herbert, writing in The Independent, records his own experiences traveling in Turkey on an invitation from the Turkish government in the period of the opening of Akdamar:

So desperate is Mr Erdogan's government to demonstrate its tolerance of Turkey's 70,000 Armenian minority that it took journalists around the country this week. The trip revealed more than the government might have intended: Armenian schools in Istanbul where only the Turkish version of history - ignoring 1915 - is taught; Armenian priests who need metal detectors at their churches because of the threat of extremists; and, at the newspaper offices of the murdered Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink, a stream of abusive emails from nationalists.[15]

Cengiz Aktar, an academic of Galatasaray University also took a critical stance towards the loss of the island's original name in his article titled "White Vein church and others" (Akdamar means "white vein" in Turkish).[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b (Armenian) Harutyunyan, Varazdat M. "Ճարտարապետություն" ("Architecture"). History of the Armenian People. vol. iii. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1976, pp. 381-384.
  2. ^ Hewsen, Robert H. (2001). Armenia: A Historical Atlas. The University of Chicago Press. p. 208. ISBN 0-226-33228-4.  
  3. ^ Hewsen. Armenia, p. 232.
  4. ^ a b See additionally: Bivar, A. D. H. "Review of Aght'amar: Church of the Holy Cross" in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 30:2 (1967): 409-410
  5. ^ Ziflioğlu, Vercihan (March 30, 2007). "Koç: Turkey has undertaken its cultural, historical responsibility". Turkish Daily News.  
  6. ^ "Ankara restores Armenian church". British Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-03-29. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6505927.stm. Retrieved 2007-03-29.  
  7. ^ a b c http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.do?load=detay&link=106950&bolum=101
  8. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkish-restoration-of-armenian-church-leaves-no-room-for-apology-442512.html
  9. ^ (Turkish) İşte Akdamar haçı, April 10, 2007, Habertürk.
  10. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6505927.stm
  11. ^ a b http://www.azad-hye.net/article/article_view.asp?re=383shz11
  12. ^ a b (Turkish) Ahtamar Kilisesi ya da sözde Akdamar Müzesi, Cengiz Çandar, March 29 2007, Hürriyet (Turkish)
  13. ^ a b http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:GUB-W-YMIjYJ:www.aztagdaily.com/EnglishSupplement/20070330%2520TDN%25204%2520%281%29.pdf+Cengiz+%C3%87andar+cross+%22cultural+genocide%22&hl=en&gl=us
  14. ^ http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/english/6298039.asp?gid=74
  15. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkish-restoration-of-armenian-church-leaves-no-room-for-apology-442512.html
  16. ^ (Turkish) Aktar, Cengiz. Beyazdamar kilisesi ve diğerleri, March 23 2007, Agos.


  • Sirarpie Der Nersessian and H. Vahramian, Documents of Armenian Architecture, Volume 8, Aght'amar, Milan, 1974.
  • J. G. Davis, Medieval Armenian Art and Architecture: The Church of the Holy Cross, Aght'amar, London, 1991.
  • Mnatsakanian, Stepan; Rainer K. Lampinen (1986). Varteres Karagozian. ed. Aghtamar. Finland: Editions Erebouni. LCC 86-80509.  
  • Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Aght'amar, Church of the Holy Cross, Cambridge, Mass., 1964.

External links

Coordinates: 38°20′28″N 43°02′09″E / 38.3412°N 43.0357°E / 38.3412; 43.0357

Simple English

Akdamar Island (also known as Aghtamar, Ahktamar, and Aght'amar; Armenian: Աղթամար, Kurdish: Axtamar) is a small island in Lake Van in Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey.

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