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Surb Khach, Akhtamar Island, Van, Turkey

The church of Holy cross, situated on Akhtamar Island, was built in 915-921 during the reign of King Gagik I Artsruni (Vaspurakan kingdom) by the architect-monk Manuel. In XIII century a chapel was built in the east part of the church and later in 1296 the chapel in the south west part was added. The bell tower was placed in the early XIX century. It has a domed, clover leaf type cross plan. The outer walls are decorated with rich figures. They show scenes taken from the Old Testament and the Bible. From 1116 to 1895 Armenian Catholicosate, with the last Catholicos Khachatur III, was located on Akhtamar Island. During the Armenian Genocide in 1915 the Turks looted the monastery, destroyed the church and killed the monks.

The roots of the island's name are not certain; according to Armenian old legend, Armenian princess Tamar was in love with the commoner. She lived on the Island and the boy on the mainland. In order to meet his beloved he swam to the Island every night, directed by the light that Tamar lit for him. However, soon, the princess's father found out about the visits of the commoner and put out the fire, therefore, leaving the boy without any chance to reach the island. According to the tail, the boy's cry "Akh, Tamar" (Oh, Tamar) was heard that night. In 2005 Turkish Government financed the renovation of Surb Khach and in 2007 the renovation was completed. However, Turkish officials refused to place the cross on the dome of the church, explaining that more research is needed to clarify the original existence of the cross there. The research showed that the cross really existed there, but was never in its right place. The liturgy was conducted in September 19, although 90% of visitors, who intended to visit Akhtamar on that significant event, were canceled because of the cross absence. The officials explain that as a "technical problem" which recurred at least 1.5 month to fix. On October 2 the Governor of Van Munir Karaloglu and Armenian Deputy Patriarchate of Constantinople Archbishop Aram Ateshyan organized an event of cross installation on The Holy Cross.


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