Archive for the ‘News’ Category


The Board of Directors of the United Armenian Fund announced that the non-profit organization ended its operations on November 30, 2015, following the recent passing away of its main benefactor, Mr. Kirk Kerkorian, preceded by the closing down of his Lincy Foundation.

After 26 years of providing humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh, the five major Armenian American religious and charitable organizations that formed the UAF have decided to concentrate their attention and resources on other projects that they sponsor and fund in Armenia and the Diaspora.

The leaders of UAF member organizations expressed their gratitude to Mr. Kerkorian for his generosity, who through his Lincy Foundation, contributed tens of millions of dollars over the past quarter century to fund the UAF’s operations, including the shipment of hundreds of millions of dollars of relief supplies to Armenia and Artsakh by air and sea.

The UAF was formed shortly after the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia to provide much needed humanitarian aid to the destitute survivors in the earthquake zone. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the blockade of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan, the UAF decided to expand its mission to include the entire population of Armenia and Artsakh.

Over the years the UAF acquired, shipped and distributed all types of relief supplies, including medicines and medical equipment, agricultural equipment, seeds, computers, books, toys, winter clothing and shoes to hospitals, clinics, schools, orphanages, and hundreds of charitable organizations throughout Armenia and Artsakh.

The UAF Board of Directors thanked the many generous donors who contributed large quantities of vital goods and supplies to the UAF ever since 1989. The Board also commended the UAF staff—President Harut Sassounian and Administrative Assistant Nouritza Abujamra—for their dedicated service to the organization and the needs of the people in Armenia and Artsakah.

In the past 26 years, the UAF has delivered to Armenia and Artsakh a total of $720 million worth of relief supplies on board 159 airlifts and 2,260 sea containers.

The UAF is the collective effort of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Relief Society, Diocese of he Armenian Church of America, and the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Source: Eastern Prelacy’s Crossroads E-Newsletter

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“The Dream Must be Continued”

Richard Hovanissian on Genocide and Denial

at Marquette Law School

By David Luhrssen


(Milwaukee, Wis.) Prof. Richard Hovanissian opened his Oct. 18, 2015, talk at Marquette University Law School by reflecting on this year’s centennial observation of the Armenian Genocide. The UCLA professor emeritus commented on the amount of good press and academic conferences the Armenian cause received in 2015, Pope Francis’ proclamation, and the unity shown by the Armenian community. But the events of a century ago and their ongoing implications, rather than the commemoration, were the primary subject of his talk. The event, sponsored by the Wisconsin Armenian Genocide Centenary Committee, drew an overflow audience.


Speaking extemporaneously from a deep well of emotion as he articulated the horror of the Genocide, Hovanissian recounted memories of growing up in California as the child of survivors. When he began his academic career he had no thought of becoming one of America’s foremost authorities on the Genocide and focused instead on Armenia’s First Republic. “I backed into this field because my father was called a liar,” Hovanissian said, referring to his work of refuting Genocide deniers. He denounced the Turkish Coalition of America, funded by a Turkish-American industrialist, for “expending millions of dollars to silence the Armenian case. It may be discouraging but one doesn’t stop. The dream must be continued.”


Hovanissian asked the question: “What have we learned after 100 years?” He began his answer by citing “utter admiration” for the resilience shown by the survivors. “After seeing such cruelty, how could they ever sing and dance and joke again? But most did recover and recreated an existence—a new space.”


The initial strategy of the Kemalists, not to deny as much as prevent discussion, crumbled after 1965 when Armenians from around the world from Yerevan to New York, took to the streets in protest on the 50th anniversary of the Genocide. He added that the trial of Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann “opened the door. The Holocaust is now not just part of Jewish history but part of human history. The Armenian Genocide should be remembered as the prototype for the mass killings of the 20th century. It set the model.”

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School


Hovanissian suggested ideology and technology as the causes of such mass killings. In the case of the Genocide, the ideology was the extreme nationalism of Turkism and the technology was the telegraph, which allowed Talaat Pasha to wire instructions to subordinates across the Ottoman Empire and to expect detailed reports in return. The outbreak of World War I gave the Turkish regime its opportunity. Without the cover of war, Hovanissian suggested, the Genocide might never have occurred.


He added that in every story he has collected of Genocide survivors, “there was a good Turk, or a good Muslim, who sheltered Armenian victims.”


Although the war against the memory of the Genocide continues to be waged by the present Turkish government and its lobbyists, Hovanissian sees reason for optimism. “There is a crack in the wall,” he said. “Young Turkish intellectuals are challenging the official narrative and using the ‘G’ word, which even the President of the United States is afraid to use.”

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SOAR-Wisconsin Field Trip to Armenia
April 19-29, 2015


Our Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) Wisconsin chapter delegation included the two chapter co-presidents (Dr. Chuck and Mary Kay Hajinian), the vice president (Harry Aghjian), and the treasurer (Leon A. Saryan).   SOAR is a charitable organization recognized by the US government under applicable law. The purpose of our visit was to visit an orphanage to which our chapter has provided assistance and to evaluate the economic, historical and social makeup of the people to better understand the orphan situation in Armenia.


On our first day we met with the SOAR representative in Armenia, Siranoush Hovannesian.  She escorted us to the Mari Izmirlian orphanage in northeast Yerevan, which we first visited in 2013 and which our chapter has supported financially in the past.  This facility cares for children who are handicapped, disabled, or otherwise have special needs.   The number of children being cared for has climbed to 110 from 90 two years ago.  Staff salaries and basic essentials are covered by the government’s Ministry for Social Services, but very little money is allotted to capital needs and facility upgrades.

SOAR-Wisconsin vice president Harry Aghjian and his wife Casey at Lake Sevan, Armenia

SOAR-Wisconsin vice president Harry Aghjian and his wife Casey at Lake Sevan, Armenia


We were able to observe several improvements from our visit two years earlier, made possible in large part by donations from our SOAR chapter and other diaspora organizations.   Sinks now had faucets, toilets had seats, and damaged walls were painted.  Fire-damaged areas were repaired.  Medical and kitchen refrigerators donated by our chapter two years earlier have been installed.  Also, many children have been provided with new beds, mattresses, and closets for their clothing.  We noted that bronze plaques have been mounted acknowledging the Wisconsin and Chicago chapters of SOAR for their donations.


We met with the orphanage staff and found them deeply appreciative and committed to the care of these children. This is a government sponsored home where workers are not highly compensated.  To do this work of caring, cooking, cleaning up these kids requires a special heart.  This staff seems to have that.


We were also able to assess additional needs:  another forty new beds and mattresses, kitchen equipment (commercial blenders, a commercial bread slicer, food processors, large pots and pans etc.) are needed.  Another large commercial refrigerator is also needed (estimated at $5000) as well as some additional new washing machines and clothes dryers.


During our meeting with Siranoush, we delivered 14 large bottles of multi-vitamins for orphan children donated and carried to Armenia by the SOAR-WI chapter.  We also gave her over 5000 custom-prepared prayer cards in English and Armenian. These prayer cards were designed by Wisconsin SOAR members and Father Yeghia Hairabedian of Glendale, California thru Renewal in Christ Ministries. The cards have a picture of Christ with children and an encouraging spiritual prayer for the children to recite.  Some cards were also given to a pastor to take to Jordan and Syria for refugees and orphans.


We also delivered over $2000 worth of dental supplies to support the establishment of dental clinics in Armenia’s orphanages.  Partially at our initiative, the Mari Izmirilian Orphanage has a new two-operatory dental clinic operated by a Polish dentist who comes to Armenia twice a year to care for all the children at that orphanage.  Siranoush was instructed to distribute the dental supplies as she saw fit.


We also met with several Armenian institutional directors to discuss synergy with SOAR, including Vahram Kazhoyan (  Vahram wears multiple “hats” for the government and helps oversee NGO’s.  He is the hospitality spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry and works as a Goodwill Ambassador.  He was instrumental in working with businessman James Tufenkian in setting up a shelter for battered women in Yerevan.  We also met James Tufenkian and stayed at his hotel.

Casey Aghjian with SOAR sponsored orphans

Casey Aghjian with SOAR sponsored orphans

While in Yerevan, we also met with an NGO for Syrian-Armenian refugees. This “New Aleppo” group are relocating families and orphans. These numbers are as high as 16,000 people.  We met with families whose ancestors operated ran orphanages during the Genocide. Dr. Hajinian was interviewed on Armenian H3 television, a Danish newspaper and the New York Times published my comments.  Others in our group were also interviewed.


During the visit the Wisconsin SOAR officers were able to observe the general status of living conditions that make orphanage institutions essential for the social fabric of the country.


We returned with a new list of needs for the Mari Izmirlian Orphanage and introduced many to the work of SOAR.


Document prepared by Dr. Chuck Hajinian, President, SOAR-Wisconsin, and Dr. L. A. Saryan, Treasurer, SOAR-Wisconsin.

June 1, 2015

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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)




Death of Hamo Ohanjanian

(July 31, 1947)

Ohanjanian was a prominent member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the first half of the twentieth century and also served as Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia.


He was born in Akhalkalak (Javakhk, nowadays Georgia) in 1873. After his elementary studies in his birthplace, he moved to Tiflis, where he graduated from the Russian lyceum. He entered medical school in Moscow (1892), where he joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and because of his participation in student agitation, he was left out of the university. He returned to Tiflis, and in 1899 he continued his studies in Lausanne (Switzerland), which he finished in 1902. He returned to Tiflis in 1902, where he became a leading figure of the party, and in 1905 was elected a member of the Eastern Bureau of the A.R.F. He would coordinate the popular action that opposed the confiscation of the properties of the Armenian Church in 1903 and he established relations with Russian and Georgian revolutionaries during the revolutionary movements of Russia in 1905-1907. He played an important role in the crucial A.R.F. Fourth General Assembly (Vienna, 1907), where he helped preserve the unity of the party by stopping extreme-left and extreme-right wing dissension.

Hamo Ohanjanian

Hamo Ohanjanian


In 1908 the Czarist government launched a persecution against revolutionary parties, including the A.R.F. Ohanjanian, together with 160 party members, was arrested. He was sentenced to hard labor in Siberia during the infamous “Trial of the Tashnagtsutiun” in 1912. Roubina Areshian, one of the organizers of the failed attempt against Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1905, followed him there and married him.


In 1915 Ohanjanian was set free thanks to the intercession of Catholicos Kevork V and Caucasus viceroy Ilarion Vorontsov-Dashkov. He returned to Tiflis and assisted the volunteer battalions as a physician, as well as the refugees from Western Armenia.


After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he departed to Petrograd and Kharkov to exhort Armenians to bring their help to the refugees. In May 1918 he participated in the battle of Gharakilise, where his elder son (born from his first marriage to Olga Vavileva) was killed.


After the birth of Armenia, Ohanjanian became a member of the Delegation of the Republic presided by Avetis Aharonian to participate in the Peace Conference in Europe. He remained in the West until the beginning of 1920. In October 1919 he was elected member of the A.R.F. Bureau during its Ninth General Assembly held in Yerevan.


He returned to the Armenian capital in January 1920 as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of Alexander Khatisian. Following the failed Bolshevik uprising of May 1, 1920, Khatisian resigned, and Ohanjanian was charged with forming a new government on May 5, 1920. It was called the Bureau-Government, because all of its members were members of the A.R.F. Bureau.


Ohanjanian’s premiership coincided with the most crucial period of the Republic of Armenia, which would practically lead to its demise. The Treaty of Sevres was signed on August 10, 1920, but the following Armeno-Turkish war, started in September, ended with the defeat of the Armenian army. Ohanjanian resigned on November 23, 1920. Simon Vratzian would become the fourth and last prime minister, and ten days later the Soviet regime was established.


Ohanjanian, with other A.R.F. leaders, was imprisoned in January 1921 during the wave of terror that followed the Sovietization. The prisoners were saved by the popular rebellion of February 1921. After the end of the rebellion in April 1921, Ohanjanian moved to Zangezur and then to Iran. In the end, he settled in Egypt, where he would live until his death.


Besides his political activities as a party member, Ohanjanian, well-aware of the importance of language and culture for the preservation and development of the Armenian identity in the Diaspora, became a founding member of the Hamazkayin Cultural Association in 1928 and its chairman for the next 18 years. He also provided important support for the establishment of the Armenian Lyceum of Beirut in 1930.


The former prime minister of the Republic of Armenia passed away on July 31, 1947 in Cairo, where he was buried.


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Armenian Fest a Success

By David Luhrssen


The 2015 Armenian Fest (July 19) was St. John’s most successful picnic in recent years. The Cultural Hall was packed for much of the afternoon, the tent outside was crowded, food sales were brisk and many church-historical tours were given. This year, MidEast Beat provided music outside and Stepan Frounjian performed Armenian melodies on electric keyboards indoors.  


As usual, Armenian Fest was an opportunity for fellowship among Armenians of Southeastern Wisconsin; many regulars from the outside community returned, complementing our crew the delicious food. Especially gratifying this year was the large turnout by non-Armenians who came for the first time as a result of advanced publicity. 


Special thanks to Diane Blinka and Jan Kopatich for organizing the event and to all the volunteers who prepared the food, set up the hall, pitched the tent and staffed the event. 


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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)



Death of Yervant Ter-Minasian
(July 12, 1974)

Yervant Ter-Minasian had a short and eventful ecclesiastic career (he left the Church at the age of 31), when he was already an important name in Armenian scholarship. He would still be active for the next six decades and leave a prolific legacy.



Yervant Ter-Minasian

He was born in the village of Harich, now in the province of Shirak (Republic of Armenia), on November 19, 1879, into a family of priests. He graduated from the school of the local monastery in 1892 and entered the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. After his graduation in 1900, Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian sent him to Germany, where he studied theology and ancient languages at the universities of Berlin and Leipzig with famous theologian Adolf Harnack among other professors. He defended his dissertation in 1904 with a study of the relations between the Armenian and Syriac Churches, published in German in the same year, which became the cornerstone of this field.


Back in Etchmiadzin, Ter-Minasian was consecrated celibate priest (vartabed) in 1905 and taught at the Kevorkian Seminary, becoming also the director of the printing house of the Holy See. He published a revised version of his doctoral dissertation in Armenian (1908), as well as half a dozen books, including several textbooks, between 1906 and 1909. An ongoing polemics between conservative and liberal members of the congregation about reform in the Armenian Church ended with an article by the young vartabed, published in the monthly Ararat of the Catholicosate, being publicly burned by order of the locum tenens, Archbishop Kevork Surenian (later Catholicos Kevork V), in 1909. This polemics led him to leave the Church in February 1910. He would later marry and have five children. Nevertheless, his relations with the Holy See soon returned to normalcy. In 1944 he even declined an offer from Catholicos Kevork VI to return to the Church and become a bishop.


Ter-Minasian devoted himself to his pedagogical vocation. He taught in schools at Alexandropol (Gumri, 1910-1917) and Tiflis (1918-1919). In late 1919 he was entrusted by the government of the Republic of Armenia to become one of the organizers of the University of Yerevan, and was a professor there in 1920. After the fall of the independent republic, he became scientific secretary of the Scientific Institute of Etchmiadzin (1921-1922) and then principal of the school of second degree of Vagharshapat (1922-1928) and teacher until 1930.


Ter-Minasian’s past both as a former ecclesiastic and as researcher in ecclesiastic history was not politically correct in the Soviet regime. He took as many precautions as he could to avoid unpleasant surprises: after 1930, when he moved to Yerevan, he earned his living as one of the most authoritative experts of the German language in the country. Furthermore, he would be one of the foremost translators and editors of Marxist classics (Marx, Engels, Lenin) from German and Russian. He initially taught at the Pedagogical Technical School (1930-31) and the Agricultural Institute (1940-1947) as German teacher and chair of the foreign language department. He also taught at Yerevan State University with the same positions from 1943-1948.


In 1945 Ter-Minasian was invited by the Academy of Sciences to deliver a lecture on “The Armenian Literature of the Golden Age,” which was published as a booklet in 1946. The word vosgetar (ոսկեդար, “Golden Age”), commonly used to describe Armenian literature of the fifth century A.D., became a pretext for political attacks, and the almost seventy-year-old scholar was fired from his position at the university in 1948.


Two years later, he was able to take a part-time job as a teacher at the Institute of Foreign Languages, and in 1951 he got a position as senior researcher in the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences. He became head of the section of dictionary writing in the same institute from 1955-1970.


Ter-Minasian left an important work in the field of bilingual dictionaries, but most importantly as a scholar of Armenian-Syriac relations, the origin of Christian sects, the doctrinal position of the Armenian Church in the 5th-7th centuries, and other related issues. He also prepared the critical edition of Yeghishe’s On Vartan and the War of the Armenians (the history of the war of Vartanantz), as well as its translation into Modern Armenian.


In his last years, Ter-Minasian wrote his memoirs, which remained unpublished until 2005. He passed away on July 12, 1974, at the age of 95.

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This Sunday, May 2, 2015, the Armenian Church commemorates the Feast of the Apparition of the Cross (Yerevoumun Sourp Khatchi). The Apparition of the Holy Cross is the first feast dedicated to the Holy Cross in the Armenian liturgical calendar. It is celebrated in remembrance of the appearance of the sign of the cross over the city of Jerusalem in 351 that remained in the sky for several hours. The apparition extended from Golgotha to the Mount of Olives (about two miles), and was brighter than the sun and was seen by everyone in Jerusalem. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cyril, used this occasion to remind Emperor Constantius of Byzantium of his father’s (Constantine the Great) orthodox faith. Cyril said the Apparition was further reason to return to orthodoxy.

Traditionally, the Armenian translation of Cyril’s message is read on this feast day during the Antasdan prior to the Gospel lection. This event is celebrated by the Armenian and Greek churches. The Greeks observe it on the fixed date of May 7, while the Armenian date is moveable depending on the date of Easter. It is celebrated on the fifth Sunday of Easter, which is the fourth Sunday after Easter.

Cyril is a revered Doctor of the Church and he is remembered in the Armenian Church’s liturgical calendar. This year he was honored on Saturday, March 3.

 Here is a short excerpt from Cyril’s letter about the apparition:

 “In those holy days of the Easter season, on 7 May at about the third hour, a huge cross made of light appeared in the sky above holy Golgotha extending as far as the holy Mount of Olives. It was not revealed to one or two people alone, but it appeared unmistakably to everyone in the city. It was not as if one might conclude that one had suffered a momentary optical illusion; it was visible to the human eye above the earth for several hours. The flashes it emitted outshone the rays of the sun, which would have outshone and obscured it themselves if it had not presented the watchers with a more powerful illumination than the sun. It prompted the whole populace at once to run together into the holy church, overcome both with fear and joy at the divine vision. Young and old, men and women of every age, even young girls confined to their rooms at home, natives and foreigners, Christians and pagans visiting from abroad, all together as if with a single voice raised a hymn of praise to God’s Only-Begotten Son the wonder-worker. They had the evidence of their own senses that the holy faith of Christians is not based on the persuasive arguments of philosophy but on the revelation of the Spirit and power; it is not proclaimed by mere human beings but testified from heaven by God Himself.”

Posted from Armenian Eastern Prelacy weekly E-Newsletter

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Syria: Love in the Time of War

By Sarkis Balkhian

Special for the Armenian Weekly

Two years ago, Ani’s husband committed suicide, leaving behind a 3-year-old son and a 32-year old widow to endure the horrors of Syria on their own. To support her son, Ani started working as a saleswoman. But as the situation in Aleppo disintegrated, she was laid off and forced to survive on her husband’s savings.

Enduring the grotesque environment of Syria for two years was enough. Ani and her family moved to Lebanon with the hope that the conflict would soon subside and they would return back home.

In December 2013, Ani was ecstatic to have been allocated a cheap room in a shelter home administered by Catholic nuns. “My fortunes are changing,” she thought.

A few weeks later, she discovered that her son, Hagop, had developed a medical condition that required surgery. “I do not have the $2,700 needed for the operation,” she told me. “I spoke to the doctors and they informed me that the only way to secure a free of charge surgery is to bring medical documents from Syria. I have to go back!”

On Jan. 19, as politicians were convening in Montreux, Switzerland, to further demonstrate their diplomatic impotence at the Geneva II Conference on Syria, Ani was traveling back to Aleppo. Along the journey, she gazed upon a dozen corpses and hundreds of buildings that had turned into ruins. “Is my house still around,” she wondered.

Upon her return to Beirut, Ani had retrieved Hagop’s documents, but in the process had a near-death experience that would alter the course of her life forever. “If I had taken one more step, the bullet would have ripped open my skull,” she said. “I realized then, that Syria, my house, my properties have no value. The only thing that matters in this world is my son and his future.”

As she was leaving Aleppo, Ani brought with her all of the cash and jewelry she could gather. “I will run as far away from Syria as possible,” she said. “My son, my mother, and I will start a new life far away from this hell. I will never go back to Syria.”

The same week that Ani left Syria for the last time, Shaghig made the opposite journey back to Aleppo.

In April 2010, Shaghig was reciting a poem dedicated to the Armenian Genocide. Her recital was resounding and her stage presence was illuminating. Everyone at Aleppo’s Zvartnots Church Hall was mesmerized by her performance. Back then, she was a member of the AYF in Aleppo and a student of biotechnical engineering at the state university.

In 2012, her family fled the conflict in Aleppo and moved to the United States. Her father became a senior fellow at a highly reputable institute, while her mother was appointed to the regional director position of a women’s rights organization.

While living in a Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City, Shaghig completed her master’s degree in molecular biology. After graduation, she had everything one could hope for—money, education, connections, and a wealth of possibilities. But instead of pursuing the American Dream, Shaghig chose the Syrian nightmare.

In February 2014, she deserted the city that never sleeps, where blackouts are instantly associated with terrorism, and moved back to the hub of global jihad—Aleppo —a place where electricity and water are rare commodities these days.

Over the past several years, jihadists from across the globe have arrived in Syria to spread their perverted fatwas via destruction and annihilation. In February, when Shaghig returned to Aleppo, she had a fatwa of her own: the fatwa of love.

She had met Antranig during AYF meetings in Aleppo. Initially, they were Ungers [Comrades], but in time, the relationship evolved into a love affair.

Due to financial limitations and commitments to his family, Antranig was unable to leave Syria to seek a new life with Shaghig elsewhere. The only place where the couple could reunite was this, the ghost city of Aleppo. After returning to Syria, Shaghig began working at a medical institution and got engaged to Antranig.




Ani’s love for her son and Shaghig’s love for her fiancé led them in opposite directions—in and out of Syria. But along their journey, they attained something that most Syrians have sought for a very long time: freedom.

In Syria, freedom is often associated with a change in the government, but a true form of freedom is only attained through the liberation of the mind from the shackles of fear.

In Ani’s case, her love for her son Hagop forced her to overcome her fear of the unknown world that awaited her outside of Syria. This prompted her to leave behind an entire lifetime of memories, friends, and family to pursue a safe haven far away from the satanic environment of Aleppo.

On the other hand, Shaghig’s love for her fiancé helped her overcome the fear of death and destruction, now common features of life in Syria.


The names of individuals have been changed to protect their identities.

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By David Luhrssen


(Greenfield, Wis.) The Mazmanian Family took its audience on a musical world tour with Armenia as the home base. At their Oct. 26 concert at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in Greenfield, the quartet journeyed across Eastern Europe, to Spain via Cuba, to Ireland and the U.S., but their repertoire’s heart and soul was rooted in the Armenian homeland.

Leading the San Francisco ensemble was violinist Greg Mazmanian, a veteran musician who has performed with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra along with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Ray Charles. He acted as the evening’s gracious host and humorous icebreaker in brief introductions for each piece on the program, and leading his three grown children through the selections. Ida anchored the quartet on piano with siblings Eddy and Rose joining their father on violin.

The Mazmanian Family

The Mazmanians harmonized virtuosity and entertainment in a program that included Gypsy music, a rendition of the jazz standard “Take Five” as never heard before and an original variation on the familiar melody of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The torrid flamenco rhythms of “Malaguena” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona provided lively contrast. The Mazmanians responded to an audience request by performing a medley of Irish jigs.

Much of the evening, however, was rooted in Armenian traditional music, especially the melodies collected at the turn of the 20th century by Gomidas Vartabed and transmuted into art songs. After a standing ovation, the Mazmanians concluded their concert with a rousing encore of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.”

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By Lauren Gelfond Feldinger | 09:23 29.06.13 |

‘We are third-class citizens,’

says Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem


‘If Israel recognizes the Armenian genocide it won’t be the end of the world,’ says the new head of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem, which dates back to the 4th century. It might even help making the community feel less cut off from the rest of the city and country.

On a recent afternoon in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Armenian Patriarchate’s new leader was treated as royalty. Black-robed priests and pilgrims young and old, visiting from Armenia, snapped photos and grinned excitedly, as they waited in line to kiss Archbishop Nayrhan Manougian’s hand during a reception.

Elected the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem in January, Manougian is now one of the top Armenian Christian leaders worldwide, in a community scattered over the globe. In Jerusalem, where the Armenian Christian presence dates back almost 1,700 years, he is also one of the most powerful Christian clerics. The Armenian patriarch shares oversight at the ancient Christian holy sites with the Greek Orthodox and Latin ‏(Roman Catholic‏) patriarchs.

But despite the historical presence, the tiny Old City Armenian community often feels sidelined, Manougian told Haaretz. As the number of community members relentlessly shrinks, and is now only a few hundred, he worries if there will be future generations. Day-to-day life, he says, is also a balancing act, finding a place between the powerful Jewish Israeli and Muslim Palestinian communities. Israeli scholars echo the same concerns.

At the core of Armenian insecurities are successive Israeli governments that have ruled over them since 1967 but never officially acknowledged the 1915 Armenian genocide or its estimated 1.5 million deaths by Ottoman Turkish forces.

Many of Jerusalem’s Armenians, including Manougian, are the children and grandchildren of the survivors of the genocide. His father fled Armenia through the desert that became known as the “death fields,” as he headed to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Born in Aleppo in 1948 and orphaned by age 5, Manougian grew up in that city, with poor relatives and the stories of the survivors around him. After seminary and ordination, serving Armenian Christians took him from Lebanon, across Europe and the United States, and to Haifa, Jaffa and finally in 1998, to Jerusalem.

Here, Armenians believe that Israel’s silence on the events of 1915 is based on maintaining favor with Turkey. “If you ask me, [recognizing the genocide] is what they have to do,” said Manougian of Israel. “What if they accept it? It won’t be the end of the world.”

Manougian also felt marginalized by Israel, while waiting five months for the state to officially recognize his title. Manougian was elected after the 2012 death of Patriarch Torkom Manoogian. Palestinian and Jordanian leaders recognized him days after the January election. Israel did not do so until June 23.

Initially, the patriarchate postponed Manougian’s inauguration, waiting for Israel to reorganize the government following its January 22 elections. But as months passed and the recognition application continued to be ignored, the patriarchate on June 4 held the inauguration anyway.

There is no law requiring it, but sending a formal letter of recognition is a Holy Land tradition dating to the Ottoman era, Manougian said. “The first [Israeli] letter was signed by Ben-Gurion.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson did not give a reason for the delay. But Dr. Amnon Ramon, a Hebrew University and Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies expert on local Christians, said that his impression was that the delay was caused by bureaucracy and lack of priority. In researching his 2012 book, “Christians and Christianity in the Jewish State” ‏(in Hebrew, published by the JIIS‏), he found that Israel’s relations with Christians and church institutions are among the lowest priorities in policy and practice of the local and national government bodies, he said.

While Ramon works on improving government relations with Christians, he also encourages Christians, including Armenians, not to allow caution to stop them from lobbying for their own needs. Christians “have to look at the Israeli side, the Palestinian side, be very cautious, and sometimes this leads them to inaction.”

Old City Armenians live more closely with the Palestinians and say their relations with them are better than with official Israel or some of their Jewish neighbors. Bishop Aris Shirvanian says that “they don’t spit on us,” referring to a phenomenon sometimes encountered by Christian clergy in the Old City.

“We have no legal problems with them,” said Bishop Aris Shirvanian. But the Palestinians have also not recognized the Armenian genocide. “The whole of the Islamic countries do not recognize the genocide because Turks are Muslims,” he said.

Being Christian in Jerusalem is complicated, he added. “When you are dealing with two sides [Israelis and Palestinians], you have to not take one side against the other.”


First to adopt Christianity

Armenians have a long, continuous presence in the city, from at least the fourth century, after Armenia was the first nation in 301 C.E. to adopt Christianity as its official faith, said Yoav Loeff, a Hebrew University teacher of Armenian language and history.

Until World War I, most of the Armenians here were monks or other church people. After the war, the numbers in Jerusalem grew, as Armenians fled the genocide and developed a vibrant lay community here. There were also artisans who came to the city in 1919 under the patronage of the British Mandate to renovate the vividly decorated ceramic tiles on the Dome of the Rock. Their craft of hand-painting tiles and ceramics deeply influenced Jerusalem’s artistic heritage. This can be seen still today on signs and architectural facades, and in the pottery in Israeli and Palestinian homes. ‏The patriarchate also opened a photography studio here in the 1850s, and the period portraits done by some of its photographers are still renowned.‏

Until the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, local Armenians lived mostly in Jerusalem, with some in Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Ramle and Ramallah too, numbering about 25,000 in total, Manougian says. While the majority fled the war to surrounding areas − Ramallah, Jordan, Lebanon − a few thousand ended up in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter. But with growing economic and political tensions and lack of opportunities, most left over the years.

There are no official statistics, but historians estimate that there are some 3,000 people of Armenian descent in Israel, but most do not identify with the community, coming from the former Soviet Union and having married Jews.

The community’s center of life today is in the Armenian Quarter, which has an elementary school, middle school, high school, a seminary, the 12th-century St. James Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Archangels, and the Armenian manuscript library. But barely 400 Armenians live there now, down from around 1,500 in 1967, said Manougian.

“I’m afraid that if things go on like this, there won’t be any Christians left in this country,” he said, alluding to the wider phenomenon of an ongoing exodus of Christians of all denominations from the Holy Land. The city and state are not helping Armenians to flourish, he added. “Nobody knows anything about Armenia or Armenians … It’s not even on the list of their [concerns]. We don’t belong to the community − they don’t [accept] us as members. We are third-class citizens.”

Fueling this feeling are occasional spitting incidents. On June 19, for example, an Orthodox Jewish man spat at the feet of patriarch Manougian, during a procession of senior church clergy as they walked toward the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Bishop Shirvanian, who was present, said that such spitting incidents have declined during the past year, but “you never know when it will happen while walking down the street …. Most Jews are respectful, but some of the ultra-Orthodox are obstinately spitting.”

A spokesperson for the Jerusalem police spokesperson said that it received two spitting complaints from the Armenians this year. A 16-year-old and an adult were both arrested and held for several hours. “We only know about it if a complaint is filed;” added the spokesperson. “We always offer [church] processions a police escort, because of this problem.”

Freedom of movement in and out of the Old City is also unpredictable. Nestled inside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, the Armenian Quarter relies on the Jaffa Gate for access to the rest of the city.

But the city closes the gate to vehicular traffic for several hours at a time on more than 40 days a year, during large events like the recent light festival and car races, church officials say. On June 16, the Latin Patriarchate issued a statement on behalf of Old City residents, pilgrims, churches and patriarchates, which said that Jaffa Gate provides “the only access to our patriarchates, churches and convents. Instead of finding solutions to these interruptions that cause great inconvenience and disruption, the situation has gone from bad to worse.”
In recent weeks, Manougian said he had to get a police permit to travel through Jaffa Gate on the Feast of Ascension, cancel plans to attend an event at a Tel Aviv embassy, and console pilgrims denied access to the Old City holy sites, because of closures. The municipality, he said, “should have called the heads of the communities and asked them, ‘What do you think?’ Instead, they just announce and do it.”

A municipal spokesperson said that access is closed to residential vehicles only during certain hours announced in advance, during certain city festivals − such as the two days of the Formula One events and the nine days of the recent light festival. Additionally, there are sometimes temporary closures of Old City Gates on holy days of the city’s various religious groups. At those times, he said, residents with cars can use different gates.

In dealing with the Israel’s Interior Ministry, too, a frustrated patriarchate has to wait “months, or years,” says Manougian, to get visas to bring Armenians to study or teach at the quarter’s schools and seminary. Priests ordained for life to serve the Jerusalem patriarchate who do get visas find themselves having to return yearly to the Interior Ministry to renew them. Father Pakrad Derjekian, a patriarchate priest for 32 years, says that when he applied for Jerusalem residency, he was told that he had been living in the city for so many years on visas with no problem, so he should continue. Clerics are “most of the time refused for Jerusalem residency,” he said. “So we stopped applying.”

Christians of all denominations have problems getting visas to study and teach here, and those who have long-term assignments have trouble getting Jerusalem residency, confirmed Christianity researcher Yisca Harani.

There are even “Christian hospital directors and staff who dedicate their entire life to charity in state-recognized health institutions [who] are no more than temporary visa holders,” she said.


Improving dialogue

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who attended Manougian’s June 4 inauguration, said that she doesn’t think non-resident visa procedures for the capital are stricter than in other countries. Tsur says she considers improving dialogue between Jerusalem’s communities an important part of her job. A policeman was appointed liaison between Old City Christians and Muslims and the force, and there is also a liaison in the mayor’s office for minority communities, she said.

Tsur denied that City Hall sidelines the community. The mayor’s office meets often with Armenians, includes them in events, such as the recent “Green Pilgrimage Symposium,” and assists them with projects, she said.

However, she says, when it comes to closing certain thoroughfares during festivals that tens of thousands of people will enjoy, “you can’t please everyone all the time.”

“Of all the Christian communities in Jerusalem, the relationship of the municipality with the Armenian one is extremely positive,” Tsur says. “Their contributions to the city are immense.”

The Hebrew University’s Amnon Ramon says that while Israel does have many bodies dealing with Christians − police, Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, municipality − he doesn’t think the authorities show sufficient understanding in the way they serve the Christian communities. Israel, he says, ends up sidelining them for complex reasons: ignorance and lack of information, a memory of poor Jewish-Christian relations historically, ultra-Orthodox influence, the absence of a single body to coordinate Christian concerns, and especially a national agenda already overburdened with security, social and economic problems.

To help improve the situation, Ramon and other researchers and organizations like the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, an NGO, bring members of Israeli state and city factions to meet Christians; he sees the benefits as being mutual.

Reflecting on Israel’s relationship with Christians in general and Armenians in particular, Manougian shrugs.

“I don’t know what [Israel] thinks. I feel that they could care less about minorities. Maybe in the back of their minds they are trying to diminish our numbers so there won’t be Armenians. Maybe? I don’t know.”

Asked to sum up in one word how Armenians here feel, Manougian replies, “unimportant.”

The Hebrew University’s Yoav Loeff, who is close to the Armenian community, speculated that, for starters, “If Israel would recognize the genocide, Armenians would feel better, because it’s the right thing to do from the moral point of view.”

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