by Breanne White, ICCI intern
Armenians in Jerusalem and around the world commemorated the Armenian Genocide on Tuesday, April 22. On Monday, April 21, in conjunction with this commemoration and as part of ICCI’s “Encounters with Local Religious Leaders,” Archbishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian Patriarchate addressed a group at the Yedidya Synagogue in Jerusalem to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide.
The Armenians have had a presence in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas for more than 1500 years, and the Armenian church currently assists in protecting the sanctity of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Archbishop Shirvanian himself was born in Haifa, where his parents met after fleeing the horrors of the Armenian Genocide.
Archbishop Shirvanian discussed some of the difficulties that religious minorities often face, including keeping a religious and cultural identity and maintaining the faith of the people, avoiding the pitfalls that television and internet have introduced into society, and knowing how to help rising generations that are tempted to stray from the faith. In order to do this, he said, they focus on teaching their children about their faith and about the genocide, helping to raise a new generation in the culture and faith of their fathers.
His own mother, Archbishop Shirvanian stated, was the first to teach him about the Armenian Genocide, having seen the horrors firsthand. His parents’ generation wept in remembrance because the souls of those killed were still an ever-present memory in their lives. Although the archbishop stated that the genocide is not as personal for those in his generation as it is for those in his parents’ generation, they still remember and teach successive generations about the Genocide.
After discussing some of the details of the Armenian Genocide, the Archbishop stated that Armenians and Jews can have a special relationship and understanding because they have shared similar types of suffering. All groups of people who have endured wide-scale tragedies such as holocausts and genocides, he stated, should be able to look to each other for support and understanding because of the shared suffering they have all endured. Furthermore, he encouraged a more wide-spread recognition of the Armenian Genocide by those nations who have not yet formally recognized it and stated that in order to avoid such horrors in the future, an international criminal court for nations that commit genocide should be set up.
To close, Archbishop Shirvanian lit a memorial candle, chanting a prayer in honor of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Turks in 1915-1923.