Turkey: Armenians celebrate baptisms in symbolic church

Pilgrims outside the Church of the Holy Cross on Aghtamar Island
Image caption Armenian pilgrims travel great distances for the annual service

The first christenings in nearly a century have taken place in a symbolically important Armenian church in Turkey, it's been reported

A crowd of more than 1,000 pilgrims gathered at the Church of the Holy Cross on Aghtamar Island in eastern Turkey's Lake Van to see two adults and three children being baptised, the Armenian Weekly news website reported.

Among those taking part in the first baptisms in the church since 1915 was a woman whose family had been forcibly converted to Islam following the mass expulsions and killings of Armenians during World War I by the Ottoman authorities (see the BBC's Armenia profile timeline).

Highlighting long-standing divisions between the communities, a small crowd of Turkish protesters were kept away by a substantial police presence. One pilgrim who had travelled from Australia was in no doubt where this particular part of Turkish territory lay: "This was a dream for us. We have all been to Armenia, but not this part of Armenia."

While there are other Armenian religious buildings in Turkey, the 1,100-year-old church at Aghtamar is of particular historical and cultural significance. The Turkish government restored the building as a museum after years of vandalism and disuse, and in 2010 allowed an annual service to be held which attracts Armenian pilgrims from around the world.

Use #NewsfromElsewhere to stay up-to-date with our reports via Twitter.