The Story of the Salvation of the Surb Khach Monastery by Yaşar Kemal

The Story of the Salvation of the Surb Khach Monastery

Today, the Surb Khach (Holy Cross) Church built in the 10th century located on Akhtamar Island on Van Lake in Turkey continues to be admired by everyone.

Over the last decades, the church could have met the fate of many architectural monuments of Western Armenia. However, it by a miracle escaped complete demolition.

The general public is probably not very familiar with the fact that famous Turkish writer of Kurdish origin Yaşar Kemal (1923-2015) played a unique role in the preservation of the church. It was thanks to his efforts that the program of the Turkish authorities to demolish the Surb Khach Church was suspended in 1951.

For his pro-Armenian activities and on the occasion of his 90th birthday in 2013, Yaşar Kemal was awarded the “Grigor Narekatsi” commemorative medal by the Armenian Ministry of Culture. Officially, the award was presented to him in Istanbul in the presence of cultural figures of the Armenian community. It should be also noted that Yaşar Kemal has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature several times.

In June 1951, when Yaşar Kemal worked as a special correspondent for the newspaper Cumhuriyet and already was a fairly well-known publicist, he visited Lake Van on behalf of the editorial board. Here, he met a military surgeon, a colonel named Javit Bey who had accidentally learned that the Turkish authorities, following the order of the Ministry of Defense, were going to destroy Surb Khach Church on Akhtamar Island.

The colonel, an architecture connoisseur, was outraged by this fact and suggested Kemal, as a reporter for the Cumhuriyet newspaper, to use all his connections to save the church from destruction.

Despite the difficulties, together, they arrived at the island and urged the specialists to stop working until a special order. Yaşar Kemal would write in his memoirs that by that time, the workers had already managed to partially demolish the building adjacent to the church.

During the following days, Yaşar Kemal made great efforts to completely stop the demolition works of the church. The editor of the newspaper Cumhuriyet helped him in this matter.

Kemal managed to highlight this problem and present to the general public the fact that the Surb Khach Church was a monument not only to the Armenian but also to the entire Turkish heritage and therefore must be preserved.

This whole process, in which officials of different levels were involved, brought positive results – an official decision was made to suspend the demolition works, and thus, the Surb Khach Church was saved.

Receiving the commemorative medal “Grigor Narekatsi”, Yaşar Kemal said: “I myself come from Van, and I am proud that I am a compatriot of Grigor Narekatsi.

These lands at the same time are territories that have seen tremendous pain and slaughter. Tragedies were survived, great values were destroyed, but today, efforts are also being made to clear all human disasters.”

Ruben Shukhyan

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