Turkish, Greek premiers stress fraternity after historic mass at Sumela Monastery, Trabzon
Following Sunday's historic Mass at Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, both the Turkish and Greek prime ministers expressed hope for improved ties. The mass, the first one since 1923, drew 3,000 Orthodox Christians from Greece, Russia, Georgia, and other countries. It was officiated by the Istanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at critics of allowing the ceremony, saying their arguments were refuted by the peaceful atmosphere at the historic church. "We're determined to maintain our good ties with all nations," he said on Sunday at a fast-breaking dinner. "We have to do it. Christians visited Sumela Monastery and performed a religious service there. So what happened? What did we lose? On the contrary, we're winning." The monastery was abandoned after the foundation of the Turkish Republic and the subsequent population exchange between Turks and Greeks. It has since become a major tourist destination along Turkey's Black Sea coast. The government recently approved Bartholomew's request to hold this year's celebration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on Aug. 15 at Sumela, in line with its stated policy of addressing the issues of religious minorities. Erdogan also expressed his government's intention to pursue friendlier relations with other countries. "We will also move forward," he added. "We pursued the same policy on Cyprus. We said we would take the first step with the Greek Cypriots. What did we lose?" Also speaking on Sunday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou hailed the "historic and important" mass, calling it a sign of Turkish-Greek rapprochement reflecting "a spirit of cooperation and peace" between the two neighbors.