Turkish nationalist party organizes Friday prayer in former church-mosque

turchia_f_1001_-_preghiera_di_gruppo_in_ex_chiesa2.jpgThe Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) prepares Friday prayer in the former Meryemana cathedral among the ruins of the medieval city of Ani on the border with Armenia. A ham-fisted response to permits received by the Orthodox and Armenians to celebrate in illustrious former places of worship.

Ani (AsiaNews) – The Turkish Nationalist Party (MHP) has organized a joint prayer among the ruins of Ani, an Armenian medieval town situated in the eastern province of Kars. The area contains the remains of several churches and mosques.

The Nationalist Movement Party’s move comes in response to a recent government decision, which authorized Armenian and Orthodox religious functions in two historic churches. The MHP has sought and received government permission to hold Friday prayers in the church-mosque of Ani, which is no longer open for worship. The Armenian cathedral, built in 1001, was converted into a mosque by Sultan Alparslan Fethiye in 1064. Over the centuries the place has been transformed several times in a church or mosque based on rotating rulers.

About 5 thousand people from various provinces in Turkey, are scheduled to attend the prayer organized by MHP. The government has declared it is not happy with this decision, and the Minister of Culture and Tourism ErtuÄŸrul Günay said: “We gave permission for the Friday prayers to take place there, but we do not approve of that group.”

Oktay Aktas, leader of the Nationalist Party, responded in a press conference: “Maybe the minister does not know that Friday prayer can not be exercised individually, however, is not our intention to turn the prayer into a political show.”

A less conciliatory response came from Cihan Paçaci, secretary general of MHP: “How dare the AK [Justice and Developement Party, currently in government, ed] deny us the right to prayer, when it consented to the holding of religious services in Akdamar and Sumela? “.

On 15 August the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I celebrated a Mass at the monastery of Sumela in the northern province of Trabzon, and the Armenian community organized a function in the Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar island in Lake Van, 19 September. Both functions have given rise to negative reactions from ultra-nationalists in the country, but the tolerant attitude of the government has received acclaim and praise nationally and internationally.