Christian communities living in Turkey’s eastern province of Van (Wan) celebrated Easter with their prayers for peace amid increasing tensions in the country.
Even though Turkey guaranteed the protection of the rights of non-Muslim minorities with the Treaty of Lausanne, Christian communities still receive discriminatory treatment in Turkey. As a result the percentage of Christians in Turkey declined from nearly 25% in 1914 to less than 0.5% today.
The conditions that produced some reformist practices concerning the preservation of Christians in the 2000s, when Turkey undertook efforts to join the European Union, changed in the 2010s as the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, put his liberal policies aside in favour of nationalist populist policies.
Converting the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque was seen by some as the final straw and was criticised by the Christian communities in Turkey and around the world.
While the Turkish government’s authoritarian policies are in favour of the Turkish-Muslim identity, Christian minorities in the country try to preserve their existence amid the populist sectarian climate.
Christians living in Van celebrated Easter under such circumstances. The celebrations took place in the historical Akdamar Church (the Church of the Holy Cross), which is located on Akdamar Island in Lake Van.
“I prayed for the wars to end and the peace to reign over these lands’
As one of the most sublime examples of Armenian religious architecture, Akdamar Church has survived as the most important historical structure reflecting the culture and art of the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan, which ruled over the region of Van between 908 and 1021AD.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Christians living in the borders of Van were able to join the celebrations in the Akdamar Church.
“I prayed for the wars to end and the peace to reign over these lands,” said Gayana Gevorkyan, a Christian citizen, who lighted her candles in during the Easter celebration in Akdamar Church.
Gevorkyan is from Armenia, but she has been living in Van for many years now.
“During Easter we visit our churches. We light our candles and pray. We prepare special food to celebrate Easter. We pray for the peace,” she said.
One of the citizens joining the Easter prayers was Abdulhekim Karabıyık, the Chair of the Future Party’s Van office.
“I prayed for the ban on Kurdish language to be lifted,” Karabıyık said. “Nobody should face discrimination because of their religion, because of how they look or what they wear. The most important wish of mine is to speak Kurdish freely. I want education in Kurdish,” he said.