Armenian Archbishop Challenges the U.S. to Do More in the Middle East

Armenian Genocide Memorial Church blown up by ISIS [Photo: The Armenian Weekly]

This week in Washington, DC, 600 persecution victims and advocates from 130 countries gathered for the first ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians to create partnerships that can help bring about change. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association hosted the event, where religious freedom leaders and influencers sought solutions and encouraged and prayed for those who are beaten, tortured, imprisoned and raped because of their Christian faith.

During the summit, I had the opportunity to speak with Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America. The Archbishop is a Turkish-born priest who represents the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) in Washington, DC. The genocide taking place in the Middle East today weighs heavily on him.

One hundred years ago, the Ottoman Turks had a vision of a new Turkish state that included Armenia, so they vowed to annihilate Armenians who had occupied the land for more than 3,000 years. In 1915 the Turks began deporting, starving and murdering; when they were done, more than one-and-a-half million Armenians had suffered from the genocide. In a sermon delivered to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2015, Archbishop Aykazian stated, “Sadly, such brutality set the tone for the 20th century: a tone which would be heard again in the Nazi death camps, in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Rwanda and Darfur. And it echoes in our own days, in the Middle East, in Syria, in Iraq, in Africa, and other desperate places.”

In what he called the most difficult trip of his life, in early 2017 Archbishop Aykazian visited Baghdad and the northern Kurdistan region as part of a delegation. “When I visited a refugee camp in Iraq, I thought it was 1915, visiting the same people only 100 years ahead.” Archbishop Aykazian met with 70 young adults at the refugee camp and asked how he could help them rebuild. A somber young woman stood up and said, “I am married and have three children. You look at me and I look like a human being, but I am not. They have destroyed everything in me. You see my body, but it is empty. They have taken my identity. Bring that back for me.”

“My colleagues and I were so depressed that we could not continue our conversation with these young people,” Archbishop Aykazian said. “I want to believe what Vice President Pence told us yesterday at this summit, that the U.S. very much cares about Christians, but it is easy to say.

This week, President Erdogan of Turkey is coming to meet with President Trump. It is time to ask him: ‘Why don’t you open the Christian seminaries in Istanbul? Why are you putting pastors in prison? Why don’t you allow the Armenians to elect a Patriarch?’”

In Armenia, there were 1.7 million Christians before 2003; today, there are fewer than 200,000. In 10 years, maybe there will be no Christians. “What this means is that the nativity is going to be a museum. All those churches that have been there for centuries will be a museum for the Western world.

“And here in America, the shining city on top of the hill, the light is only in words, not in actions. You have to act.”

Lou Ann Sabatier, Director of Strategy and Communications

Take Action:

1. In light of the Armenian Genocide and the continuing genocide, Click here and see if your representative is supporting it.

2. Learn more about the history of the Armenian church.

3. Write to President Trump and ask him to raise religious freedom issues with the President of Turkey.