hidden europe 25

The princess of Lake Van

by Karlos Zurutuza

Picture above: The recently restored Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van with the mountains of the mainland beyond (photo © Karlos Zurutuza).


The island in Lake Van, shown on modern maps with the name Akdamar, has a more historic name: Akhtamar. The island is rich with Armenian associations, but Turkey has been keen to distance the island from its cultural history. That change of name is part of a wider tale. Karlos Zurutuza reports from eastern Turkey.

From the small quayside at Geva? it is no more than a twenty minute boat ride to Akhtamar, an island in Lake Van. A short journey laden with meaning, for Akhtamar is full of heady symbolism. It is a peaceful spot. The island's rocky shores have never been beaten by violent waves. Here in a mountain basin at over sixteen hundred metres above sea level, Turkey's largest lake and its wild surroundings are all tranquillity.

A display of white painted stones on the slopes of Akhtamar Island proclaims a stark message reminding visitors that the Motherland is indivisible, and so alluding to the contested status of the island. Historically part of Kurdistan, politically part of Turkey, but spiritually part of Armenia. Whose Motherland?

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