YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The Armenian Apostolic Church on Saturday expressed outrage about a Muslim religious service held in an Armenian holy site in eastern Turkey, calling it a serious blow to efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations.
In a written statement, the Mother See in Holy Echmiadzin strongly condemned the Turkish government for allowing the country’s leading ultranationalist party to hold a Friday prayer session at the 11th-century Holy Virgin Cathedral in Ani, the ruined capital of the medieval Armenian kingdom.
“This action is a political provocation that has nothing to do with spiritual-virtuous feelings and religious freedom and rights,” read the statement. “At the same time it is an attempt to negate the Armenian origin of the Ani cathedral, which was deprived of prayer as a consequence of the  Armenian Genocide.”
“It is also absolutely unacceptable to make a Christian shrine available for ‘namaz’ (Muslim prayer) while consistently forbidding legal heirs to the Christian heritage [in Turkey] to perform worship in their own temples,” it said. “Thus, the Turkish authorities are continuing their steps aimed at destroying Armenian monuments and misappropriating historical Armenian holy sites and cultural treasures.”
“It is also evident that with this step Turkey is once again scuttling efforts by Armenia and the international community to establish Turkish-Armenian dialogue and normalize Turkish-Armenian relations,” added the statement.
The Armenian Church and its supreme head, Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II, similarly condemned Ankara for failing to restore a cross atop another medieval Armenian church located in the same region in time for a landmark mass held there on September 19. Karekin abandoned his earlier plans to send two highranking clerics to the ceremony, in protest against the delay.