For the first time in 95 years, Turkey allows Christian worshipers, including many Armenians from abroad, to attend a historic mass at the 1,089-year-old church on Lake Van’s Akdamar Island in eastern Turkey. Closed since 1915, Holy Cross Church was restored by the Turkish authorities between 2005 and 2007 and reopened as a museum.
Archbishop Aram Atesian of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul led the two-hour mass. With room for only some 50 congregants inside the church, the mass was broadcast outside on a large television screen as several thousand people visited the island throughout the day. Several priests came outside at one point to offer the gathered faithful communion.
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Yigal Schleifer is a freelance reporter and photojournalist based in Istanbul.