“Aghtamar: A Jewel of Medieval Armenian Architecture”, a bilingual Turkish and English book, was launched in Van on September 17th and in Istanbul on September 21st.
A co-publication between Gomidas Institute (London) and Birzamanlar Yayincilik (Istanbul), this work presented Turkish audiences with a fascinating history of Aghtamar and its 10th century Church of the Holy Cross (Surp Khach). The book was introduced by Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute) and Osman Koker (Birzamanlar Yayincilik). Prior to his introduction, Sarafian thanked his hosts in Van and Istanbul, as well as a list of people and organisations who made the publication possible.
Sarafian and Koker noted that in recent discussions surrounding Aghtamar (both in Turkey and abroad) very little had been said about the actual monastic complex and the Church of the Holy Cross (Surp Khach). The church deserved attention in its own right, as well as within the broader context of medieval Armenian architecture.
For example, the Church of the Holy Cross was based on an earlier church that remained standing in Turkey today. Historians also knew a great deal about Aghtamar because of contemporary written sources related to the church (ie from the 10th century), as well as several serious studies on the island prior to World War I.
One of the characteristics of Surp Khach was that it was more of a “royal” church than a “holy” one, as it primarily exalted the power of the Ardzruni dynasty of the (Armenian) Kingdom of Vasbouragan. This characteristic could be seen in the unique exterior carvings of the church, which mixed religious and secular themes depicting members of the Ardzruni dynasty. One good example was on the western facade of the church, where King Gagik and Jesus Christ faced each other: King Gagik was shown with greater stature and regal splendour than a simply clad Jesus Christ. ­­The royal dimension of the church could also be seen elsewhere, including in the special elevated section (lodge) inside the church for the private meditation of the king.
Sarafian pointed out some of the art and symbolism on the church and added that they clearly reflected the influence of Vasburagan’s Persian and Arab Muslim neighbours. The church even included a classic image of a Seljuk archer on horseback on its eastern facade. This was probably placed there during later restoration work. These peculiarities and eclectic characteristics were part of the rich history and beauty of the church.
In his concluding remarks, Sarafian thanked Turkish authorities for restoring the Church of the Holy Cross which remained something of an exception. Most Armenian antiquities in Turkey, some older than those on Aghtamar, have been destroyed and very few remain standing. Sarafian ended his presentation with the hope that Turkish authorities would stop the destruction of the few remaining Armenian cultural treasures in Turkey today.

BIBLIOINFO: Ara Sarafian and Osman Koker (comp. and eds.), “Aghtamar: A Jewel of Medieval Armenian Architecture / Ahtamar: Ortaçag Ermeni Mimarliginin Mucevheri,” (a joint publication of the Gomidas Institute (London) and Birzamanlar Yayincilik (Istanbul)), 168 pp, including 68 color photographs plus illustrations. ISBN 9781903656990 (UK and USA), and ISBN 9789756158166 (Turkey). UK£20.00 / US$30.00. Available from [email protected]

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