Turkey has invited members of the Armenian diaspora and Armenian religious leaders to the opening of a restored ancient Armenian church in April, but Culture Minister Atilla Koç is careful to dispel any political connotation, saying the restoration is simply part of Turkey's effort to revive its inherited cultural legacy.
The Akhtamar Church on an island off the southern shore of lake Van in eastern Anatolia is expected to be opened on April 15 after completion of an ongoing renovation. Turkey has already spent YTL 3 million (nearly $2 million) to restore the church, Koç said in an interview with Today's Zaman. Asked whether the renovation was an attempt to counter Armenian genocide claims, Koç clearly dismissed it.
"We repair the houses of worship of not only monotheistic but also polytheistic religions," said the minister. "We consider them our inherited legacy. … We consider them as our wealth."
Koç's Tourism Ministry has already invited important figures from the Armenian diaspora and leading Armenian religious leaders and it plans to extend invitations to the culture minister of Armenia and countries that host significant Armenian population at home, such as Lebanon, Ukraine, Russia and the United States. "We will host 200 distinguished guests," he told Today's Zaman. The guests will be taken to Van on airplanes chartered from Turkish Airlines. The 10th-century church fell into near ruin during the events of the World War I years, which Armenians say amounted to genocide of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire. Turkey categorically denies these claims.
Though Koç says the renovation is out of respect for Turkey's cultural inheritance, opening of the renewed Akhtamar Church may come as a further incentive to ease acrimony between Turks and Armenians after a funeral for slain journalist Hrant Dink in Ýstanbul, which drew 100,000 people raising banners that read "we are all Armenians."
In his lengthy interview, Koç also responded to criticism over a new tourism promotion campaign featuring human figures replacing the letter "T" in the word Turkey. He said this was simply a matter of taste and that what some people like may not be liked by others. He also said his ministry was determined to go ahead with efforts to move fish farms away from sea tourism sites and dismissed as "nonsensical" charges that Turkey has turned into a "cheap tourism paradise."
What was the cost to restore Akhtamar Church?
We spent YTL 3 million on restoration. The old mosques in Anatolia are restored by the Foundations General Directorate, while churches and synagogues are restored by our ministry. Our restoration projects are not limited to temples of the three monotheistic religions. Places considered sacred by polytheistic religions have also been restored. With respect to restoration, Turkey has turned into a worksite.
How many churches and synagogues were restored?
Between 2005 and 2006 we restored 10 churches. These restoration projects include Giresun's Virgin Mary Monastery, Kars' Ani Þehir, Karaman's Çameli Church, Ürgüp's Mustafa Paþa Aya Nikola Monastery, Trabzon's Sümela Monastery, Trabzon's Hagia Sophia Museum, Akhtamar Church in Van, the ancient church in Akdaðmadeni, the Armenian church in Amasya's Merzifon district and Kars' Tigran Honest Church.
Will there be other projects related to Armenian structures?
We will launch the restoration of the Ani ruins in Kars. Ani has some interesting characteristics. There are eight mosques and eight churches. Their dates of construction are parallel. Muslims and Christians have lived in the same neighborhood in peace for years. To date, no project has been implemented with respect to the Ani ruins. We will be the first one to tackle this issue.
For the first time, you have invited representatives of the Armenian diaspora. Who else are you planning to invite?
We have invited the culture ministers of EU countries. We will also invite the culture ministers from Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Georgia, the US and Canada, which have significant Armenian populations. We have invited important figures from the Armenian diaspora, Armenian religious leaders and representatives from cultural organizations. We will host 200 distinguished guests.
Some argue that the restoration on Akhtamar and Ani is a counter move against the Armenian genocide claims. What would you say?
No, it has nothing to do with the genocide claims. We repair the houses of worship of not only monotheistic but also polytheistic religions. We consider them as our inherited legacy. These lands have seen hundreds of nations and governments. We attend to all of their legacies. There are more than 600 compositions in this cultural blend. These composers include Armenians, Jews and Greeks. We consider them our wealth.
There is criticism against the usage of human figures to replace the letter "T" in Turkey. Employing a foreign company in the advertising process has been criticized as well.
The images in those posters are only a small part of our promotion initiative. There are lots of small promotional videos. These promotional activities are not restricted to Ýstanbul only but also apply to Ýzmir and Muðla. This is a matter of aesthetics. What you like much may not be liked by someone else. For instance, some people in Turkey argue that Orhan Pamuk is a good novelist, while others say he is not. But he won the Nobel Prize. That is it.
2007 will be the year of elections. Will the elections have an effect on Turkish tourism?
Why should it be affected? Tourism is influenced by terrorism and bird flu, but why should it be influenced by elections? There are elections in every part of the world. Are they criticized?
Has Turkey turned into a cheap tourism paradise due to package tours and high participation by Russian tourists?
These statements are without merit. The phrase "cheap tourism" makes no sense. Will those Russian tourists pay more if they go to Egypt? As long as the sea-sand-sun mindset is dominant in the Mediterranean, you have no choice but to arrange package tours.
In connection with the Varyag, you were expecting 1 million tourists from China. Have your expectations been fulfilled?
This is empty talk. No government can make promises about sending tourists. Tourists go wherever they want. You cannot force them to visit a particular country, can you? For Chinese tourists, we have the "Eight days for 8888 yuan" campaign. Last year, China sent 32 million tourists to various countries. We are planning to attract only 300,000 of them. We have no ambitions to attract 1 million tourists.
The number of American tourists declined after March 1, 2003, when the Turkish Parliament rejected a government motion to militarily cooperate with the United States on Iraq. What are the figures for this year?
After Sept. 11, for the first time, 500,000 American tourists visited Turkey. American tourists tend to spend more money. I hope there will be an increase in this figure.
Do you think that the pope's visit to Turkey will boast faith-based tourism?
The pope's visit to Turkey was an important event. It will have indirect effects on tourism. It would be too far-fetched to argue that Christians will show more interest in this country due to the pope's visit. Faith-based tourism is not a widely accepted concept. Only Muslims' pilgrimage to Mecca can be considered as such. Yet the number of tourists going there is about 5 or 7 million. Nevertheless, we are still trying to attract 23 million tourists to Turkey.
It seems you are determined to remove fish farms.
Yes, we are determined on this issue. However, we are not removing them but taking them away from sea tourism sites. The criteria we have introduced are in compliance with internationally accepted criteria. Fish farm operators should take no offense, but it is inappropriate to establish fish farms next to beaches.
Does your ministry have a cultural policy?
I have said it many times, and I now reiterate that I have no cultural policy. Cultural policies are drafted during the establishment of a new state or after revolutions. For instance, if you introduce communism, you will formulate a new cultural policy. This country has an 800-year-old heritage. This heritage will suffice.
Do you, as the culture minister, have fancies?
I have dreams, not fancies. Fancies are mirages. And mirages are lies; they will not come true. Dreams, on the other hand, may come true.
The ministry is preparing an inventory of our cultural assets, but we saw that museums were robbed.
We have prepared an inventory of our cultural assets. If you do not prepare an inventory, you will never know whether or not you have been robbed. To find out if any historical piece has been stolen or not, we must resort to the inventories or we must conduct inspections. The last inspection at the Afrodisias museum was conducted in 1955. Museums were once under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry, and the education minister would appoint teachers to tend to the museums. We do not even know if the objects registered by them from museums are real or not. Now we have a chance to discriminate between false and real objects as well as to identify what has been stolen.
Thanks to the movie "The Mummy," Egypt attracted a lot of attention. Why has Turkey failed to produce such a film, even though it has a richer historical heritage?
When asked, everybody will say they want to visit the Pyramids. Although everybody longs to go to Egypt, they will not go there for a second time since nobody wants to visit Egypt twice. On the other hand, there are tourists from Russia, the US and Europe who have visited Turkey for five or six times. Tourists visiting Turkey are intent on coming again. Annually, 5 or 6 million tourists visit Egypt. Turkey, on the other hand, was host to 20 million tourists last year. Why do you fail to see this fact?
today's zamanGüncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16