Günay said historic places of worship such as the Sümela Monastery in Trabzon, the Church of St. Paul in Tarsus and the Church of St. Nicholas in Antalya have special significance for Christians and are maintained as museums to be preserved for the generations to come. If there is sufficient demand, Günay said, his ministry would permit religious services to be held at those locations and open them to the public for a limited period of time without hampering tourism.
“We will try to do this at each venue,” Günay said while answering questions from reporters at a ceremony in Ankara to celebrate the 46th annual Turkish Library Week. He was asked if the ministry would allow religious services at sites other than the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island in Lake Van.
“Developments regarding the Akdamar church are not new. We represent a democratic and secular understanding. That is what our Constitution requires. Respecting our belief systems is a natural attitude in our country,” he said. “We are only strengthened if our citizens and guests pray in different languages or different ways to the same Creator.”
The governor of Turkey’s eastern province of Van, Münir Karaloğlu, announced at the end of last year that the 10th century Armenian church located on Akdamar Island would be opened as a functioning church and museum by next September, inviting every Armenian Turk to the church when it opens for worship.
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross was in ruins and on the verge of collapse. However, a restoration project launched in 2005 has largely preserved the historical identity of the church. Already a hot spot for local and foreign tourists, the Akdamar church is expected to attract more attention when it reopens for worship. The Akdamar church opened as a museum when restoration work was completed in 2007.