Akdamar Island

Akdamar Island

Akdamar Island (also known as "Aghtamar", "Ahktamar", and "Aght'amar"; _tr. Akdamar Adası; Armenian: Աղթամար, Kurdish: Aghtamar ) is a small island in Lake Van in the Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey, 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 10th 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 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 current official name of the island, but the original "Aghtamar" pronunciation is still used by the Kurds who live in the area (there is no "gh" sound in Turkish, but there is in Kurdish).


During his reign, King Gagik I (908-943/944) of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan chose to reside on Akdamar Island, where he founded a settlement; erected a large, square palace; laid out streets, gardens, and orchards; and planted trees and designed areas of recreation for himself and his court. The only surviving structure from that period is the "Palatine Cathedral of the Holy Cross". 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 Akdamar Island was the location of the Armenian Catholicosate of Aghtamar. Khachatur III, who died in 1895, was the last Catholicos of Aghtamar.cite book | last = Hewsen | first = Robert H. | title = Armenia: a historical atlas | year = 2001 | publisher = The University of Chicago Press | isbn= 0-226-33228-4 | pages = p. 208 ]

In 1915, during the Armenian Genocide, the monks of Aghtamar were massacred, the cathedral looted, and the monastic buildings destroyed. [cite book | last = Hewsen | first = Robert H. | title = Armenia: a historical atlas | year = 2001 | publisher = The University of Chicago Press | id = ISBN 0-226-33228-4 | pages = p. 232 ]

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. 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 scholarsSee 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] 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).

The Restoration

Between May 2005 and October 2006, the church underwent a controversial [cite news |first=Vercihan |last=Ziflioğlu |title=Koç: Turkey has undertaken its cultural, historical responsibility |url= |date=March 30, 2007 |work=Turkish Daily News] restoration program. The restoration had a reported 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. [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6505927.stm |title=Ankara restores Armenian church|author=|authorlink=|work=British Broadcasting Corporation|accessdate=2007-03-29|date=2007-03-29]

Various Armenian religious leaders, including Catholicoi Karekin II of All Armenians and Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia, boycotted the event due to the church's being reopened as a secular museum. Controversy surrounds the issue of whether a cross, which was on top of the dome until 1915, should be replaced. Some Armenians say that the renovation will not be finished until the cross is placed to complete it, and that they should be able to hold the divine liturgy there at least once a year. In fact, a cross was 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. [ [http://www.haberturk.com/haber.asp?id=19772&cat=110&dt=2007/04/10 "İşte Akdamar haçı"] , April 10, 2007, "Habertürk" tr icon] Turkish officials say it would not be appropriate to have a cross on or hold a mass in what is now a secular museum. "Hürriyet" columnist Cengiz Çandar asserted that the attitude of Turkish authorities is a move to deprive Aghtamar of its Armenian past. In his article he also criticised the changing of the island's name from "Ahtamar" to "Akdamar". [ [http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/6225448.asp?yazarid=215&gid=61 "Ahtamar Kilisesi ya da sözde Akdamar Müzesi"] , Cengiz Çandar, March 29 2007, "Hürriyet" tr icon] Cengiz Aktar, an academic of Galatasaray University also took a critical stance towards the re-naming in his article titled "White Vein church and others" ("Akdamar" means "white vein" in Turkish). [ [http://www.agos.com.tr/index.php?module=news&news_id=2882&cat_id=32 "Beyazdamar kilisesi ve diğerleri"] , Cengiz Aktar, March 23 2007, "Agos" tr icon]



*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.
*cite book | last = Mnatsakanian | first = Stepan | coauthors = Rainer K. Lampinen | editor = Varteres Karagozian | title = Aghtamar | year = 1986 | publisher = Editions Erebouni | location = Finland | id = LCC|86-80509
*Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Aght'amar, Church of the Holy Cross, Cambridge, Mass., 1964.

External links

* [http://www.sacredsites.com/middle_east/turkey/akdamar.htm Information about Akdamar Island from Sacred Sites, Places of Peace and Power]
* [http://www.westernarmenia.net/index.files/Aghtamar_en.htm The Surp Hach (Saint Cross) church on Akhtamar Island]
* [http://www.pbase.com/andrys/lake_van1 Andrys Basten's photo gallery]
* [http://www.pbase.com/dosseman/akdamar Dick Osseman's photo gallery]
* [http://www.virtualani.org/aghtamar/index.htm Virtual Ani - A detailed study of the reliefs on the east facade of the Holy Cross church on Aghtamar island]
* [http://www.virtualani.org/aghtamar/2005restoration.htm Virtual Ani - Observations and comments on the 2005-2006 restoration of the church]
* [http://www.littlearmenia.com/html/poetry/poem.asp?id=1 Hovhannes Toumanian's poem "Akhtamar"]

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