Armenian Theology of Liberation – Vol. 1, No. 2

View the PDF version of this issue: Window_Vol1_No2_Armenian_Theology_of_Liberation

view of the Armenian Church

Spring 1990         Volume I, Number 2





© 1990 The Armenian Church Research and Analysis Group
(The Group)

Write to:

The Group
P.O. Box 700664, San Jose, CA 95170

or on the

Electronic Bulletin Board Service

WINDOW is published by The Armenian Church Research and Analysis
Group (The Group).  Use of original articles, art work or
photographs is prohibited without permission of the publisher.
The views expressed within are solely those of the individual
Publisher    The Group
Editors        Fr Vazken Movsesian
Dn Hratch Tchilingirian
Art director    Yn Susan Movsesian
Circulation    Alice Atamian
Distributions    Brian Krikorian, Esq.
Layout & Printing    SRP
Subscription information: $22/year. Send remitance (payable to
SRP), name, address, zip to The Group, P.O. Box 700664, San Jose,
CA 95170   Letters to the Editor should be addressed to The Group,
P.O. Box 700664, San Jose, CA 95170 or e-mail:



-Message of His Holiness to the Armenian Nationalist Movement
-Kharabagh: The Islamic Factor
-Armenia: A Historical Survey
-Khrimian Hayrig: The Paper Ladle
-Liberation & Witness
-Toward a Diaspora Theology



“RISE!  Take up your pallet and walk!”

Fr. Vazken Movsesian

A mass grave was opened on December 7, 1988, not only to bury the
victims of the Armenian earthquake, but also the disunited
diaspora. The suffering and death of the innocent quickly united
Armenians in an effort to aid, console and rebuild the
homeland.  The reality of disunity became apparent in the
immediate disfunctionality of the diaspora. (Small town newspapers
printed lists where readers could send donations.  The lists
sometimes ran ten, sometimes twenty, organizations long.)  But
soon, that disfunctionality ceased and efforts became one.  Calls
for a united church and people came from our siblings in the
shattered fatherland and from our Catholicoi. Armenian religious
and secular organizations joined forces in assistance.
Once “banned” from serving together, clergymen began praying in
unison.  Today, the diaspora is seemingly united, at least in its
commitment to rebuild Armenia.
The reconstruction effort is only one part of Armenia’s woes.
Since February 1988, Armenians have been in a life or death
struggle over the  Artzakh (Nagorna-Kharabagh) dispute.  With
atrocities unparalleled since the 1915 Genocide, over 300 lives
in the region have been lost.  Once again, we see the diaspora
heeding the call from the homeland, united in a voice of
It is evident that the events in Armenia are directly influencing
and defining the diaspora.  In turn, the Armenian Church also
subscribes to a definition in relation to the turmoil in Armenia.
For the Armenian Church, a new generation has arrived
at Her doorsteps, seeking the direction that allowed for the
survival, endurance and liberation of their forefathers. For the
most part, however, that direction has come by way of caring for
the physical needs of the
people in Armenia. In the post-earthquake period, the Church has
been involved in fund raising and collecting supplies, essential
to the recovery effort.  But so have all Armenian organizations.
The Church has not stood apart, but joins the united
rush to aid, as another Armenian organization.
The earthquake rocked much more than Armenia, it had measurable
casualties throughout the world.  The psyche and soul of Armenia,
which transcends geographical boundaries, which exist in the
hearts of Armenian children throughout the world, has
been shaken from its foundations.  As the lamentation over our
1915 casualties was coming to an end and we were beginning to
enjoy a renewed vigor, proclaiming to be a resurrected people, we
were thrown back into mourning.  The impact of the
earthquake shook the Armenian psyche back 75 years.  No more are
we heralding the “good news” of resurrection, rather we are once
again singing the songs of lamentation.  One day, when the
building finishes and all the mouths are fed, we may come to
a rude awakening that we have survived but are far from living.
Armenia, the country, will be reconstructed, but Armenia the
spirit, Armenia the people, will need to be resurrected.
Only the Body of Christ has the power to heal and ultimately
resurrect from the ruins of death. Unfortunately, in favor of
being “another Armenian organization,” the Church has placed her
conquering and liberating message of hope and resurrection
on a back burner.  This action is seemingly justifiable.  The
tense political atmosphere and immediate physical needs of the
homeland, coupled with talk of unity among Armenians has excited
the Church in this direction, while the spiritual welfare
of the people is dismissed as a secondary concern. As the living
Church, we must be alarmed that our brothers and sisters in
Armenia, as well as in the diaspora, find their hope of salvation
from the political realm.  Political parties, with a
renewed sense of nationalism have become the new messengers of
hope while the Church has been “granted” a small jurisdiction
within the cast of the nation. In a morbid way, the Church finds a
comfortable niche in burying the dead.  The offering of
the Holy Communion, the “life and hope of resurrection” has been
overshadowed by the requiem service in our parishes.  The anthem
of the Church, Krisdos haryav ee merelotz (Christ is risen from
the dead!), has been replaced by Ee verin Yeroosaghem
(from the requiem service).  This “practice” by the people,
consciously but mostly unconsciously, reflects upon the Armenian
clergyman, who is recognized as the shepherd of a dead flock, of
sheep who have been sacrificed.  As such, he has lost his
sense of usefulness.  And the sheep who remain are fair game to
secular trappings and unorthodox schools of thought (sometimes
under religious guise) that capitalize on the shortcomings of the

With this issue of Window we begin our search for an “Armenian
theology of liberation.”  We are not interested in re-inventing
the wheel.  The message of the Armenian Church has always been
liberating in all its manifestations.  This terminology
addresses the relevant message that has spoken to the people
throughout the centuries, that can, and must speak to the people
today in times of persecution and bondage (both physical and
spiritual).  We must acknowledge that the physical security of
a people cannot be guaranteed without first waking the spirit.
Only thus, can the Church be considered relevant
and therefore alive for today’s generation.  By liberating the
Armenian people spiritually, they gather the strength to be
liberated physically and in so doing the Church finds Her
liberation from the non-relevant to the relevant.
We begin our quest for an Armenian theology of liberation with He
who liberates: Jesus Christ.   Our Lord began His earthly ministry
with a simple, yet poignant proclamation, “The Spirit of the Lord
is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the
captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty
those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the
Lord” (Lk. 4:18f). With this quote from the Prophet
Isaiah, not only did Christ set the stage for His mission
throughout Judea, but he aligned His Holy Body, the Church, in the
direction of social action, with justice as a goal.  The Mission
of the Church is and always will be Christ’s mission.
We are hindered in actively joining Christ’s crusade because all
too often we find ourselves viewing Christianity as a religion
disengaged from the ordinary.  Our h
eros, the saints, are removed from our lives by time and by
relevancy. We have placed our saints on such a high pedestal that
they have lost their humanity.  Furthermore, our perception of
Christ is distorted by “Hollywood” images of a fair-skinned,
blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, who aside from turning the tables
in the Temple, refrained from displays of anger, advocated turning
the other cheek and promised eternal bliss as reward for suffering
through social inequity.   We live in a real
world with real problems.  We are overwhelmed with worry, debt and
disease, yet in reality, we are flesh and bones.  We live in a
world that is cosmetic and stress-filled.  We expect our wants to
be immediately gratified. And so, we are reluctant to
turn our  problems over to the Christ for any real rectification.
After all, afflictions such as poverty and disease do not warrant
a “pie in the sky” response, but are in need of real solutions.
People have true afflictions for which the Church must provide
answers.  Poverty, hunger, disease, captivity are all issues
demanding an answer from above and therefore from the Church, the
mouth of God on Earth.  Indeed, we start our daily liturgy
with “Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth thy
praise” (Ps. 51:15).  Criticism about the efficacy of religion to
bring about change is usually based on this false impression of
Christ.  Karl Marx argued that religion is mere
illusion and therefore cannot solve man’s problems.  Christianity
in particular, says Marx, preaches “cowardice, self-contempt,
abasement, submission, humility — in brief, all the
characteristics of the canaille [the rabble; mob].”  If we were to
take Christ as defined by a “Hollywood Jesus,” then Marx’s
assessment has validity. But the Church has recognized a Jesus
that is part and parcel of our living reality, a Jesus who suffers
and conquers with us.  Our Faith, as transmitted through our
Holy Church is something quite different from fiction.  In fact,
it is a faith that not only instructs us but provides examples and
demands us to follow and do likewise.
Announcements by our Lord such as, “I have not come to bring
peace on earth, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34) –albeit out-of-context,
nevertheless stirring– paints a different picture of this
“Eternal Pacifist” and His message.  Over the past few decades
alone, we have witnessed the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin
Luther King Jr., Ceaser
Chavez grab that “sword” of Christ, by adopting His principles to
seek the liberation of their particular communities.  More
recently we have seen church leadership actively involved in the
struggle for freedom, by offering support and hope, by
turning concepts into action.  Bishop Desmond Tutu has been
outspoken against apartheid in South Africa. The Polish Roman
Catholic Church in supporting Lech Walesa and the Solidarity
movement, provided intellectual leadership, spiritual succor and
sanctuary while the movement went underground.  For more than a
decade, the East German dissident movement was sheltered in the
Lutheran Church in East Germany.  Only last December, in
Czechoslovakia, a dissident Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Vaclav
Maly rallied the opposition and crystallized the demand for a new
government. And finally the Roman Pontiff, John Paul II held a
meeting with communist leader Mikael Gorbachev.  And the list
continues, in Eastern Europe, in South America, in Central
America, etc.  Why not in Armenia?  Why not for Armenians
throughout the world?
Black liberation theologian James Cone prefaces his work, A
Theology of Black Liberation, “_ Christianity is essentially a
religion of liberation.  The function of theology is that of
analyzing the meaning of that liberation for the oppressed
community so they can know that their struggle for political,
social and economic justice is consistent with the gospel of Jesus
Christ.  Any message that is not related to the liberation of the
poor in the society is not Christ’s message.  Any
theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not
Christian theology_ Christian theology is a theology of
liberation.”  Cone’s definitive avowal may leave much of
Christendom searching for new nomenclature, but assuredly
Marx’s “opiate of the people” argument.  Christ and Christianity
provide movement toward liberation.  We the Church cannot proclaim
to be the arms, legs, hands, feet of Christ if we are stagnant or
if we are merely another secular organization.
Christ is unique, awake and moving and so must be His Body.
Our discussion need not be limited to large scale concerns
either.  If the “Spirit of the Lord is upon [us]” and if we, as
the Church, have been “anointed _to preach good news to the poor”
then we must expand our perception of the captives, the
blind and the oppressed.  The object of our action cannot be
confined by ethnic nor geographic boundaries.  We must include
ourselves in the list of these “handicapped” people of whom Christ
speaks.  We are the captives of materialism.  We are the
blind.  We have eyes yet do not see the love of God.  We are the
oppressed.  We are free by liberties guaranteed by our government,
yet we are oppressed by the self-imposed shackles of pettiness and
self-glory.   We remedy global problems by first
healing the self.  The resurrection of the Armenian nation is
contingent on the liberation of the Armenian soul from its
Christ’s message is a message of liberation.  It provides for the
self, for the people, for the nation and for the world.
In this issue of Window we have selected articles to begin our
search for an Armenian theology of liberation.  We hope the
material we provide will stimulate the minds of our readers and
possibly be the building blocks on which our Church can
develop and guide Her people as does no other organization.
The message of the Catholicos to the Armenian National Movement
has been translated for our readership.  It provides a unique
insight into the problem plaguing our Church.
Next, we have presented some excerpts from Islamic newspapers,
Kharabagh: The Islamic Factor.  In a joint statement issued by
leaders of the Armenian Church and American Muslim communities
(Feb. 1990) the Kharabagh dispute was dismissed as “not
based on religious differences.  It is a direct result of a
territorial struggle_” Nevertheless, Armenia is labeled as a
Christian nation and is surrounded by countries that profess Islam
as their religion.  The fundamentalist mentality made
infamous during the Khomeni regime continues to fuel the masses.
The Mulah in the Kharabagh region proclaimed Jehad (religious
war).  The question arises, if Armenians were Muslims, would this
dispute have surfaced?  Would there have been this type
and manner of crime between neighbors?  Would the outcome have
been the same? We can only guess at the answers to these
questions.  The fact remains that Armenians as Christian have been
nurtured for centuries with the message of resurrection and
freedom through Christ.  This message has denied Armenians a
peaceful existence in their homeland.  We are convinced that
today, only this message, if pronounced uniformly, can be a weapon
strong enough to break the sword of oppression.
Armenia: A Historical Survey, by Adrienne Krikorian, (p. 11)
provides the historical context to many of our discussions.   As a
Patriarch of the Armenian Church, in 1878, Khrimian Hayrig gave
specific direction to the Armenian people (p.15)
concerning their physical liberation and salvation.   “Weapons,
weapons and again weapons,” was his direction. Heeding the call,
in Liberation & Witness, (p. 16) Dn. Hratch arms the Church with
the necessary vocabulary for an Armenian liberation
theology that is every bit as real and as powerful as the weapons
of the world.  Finally, Prof. Guroian steers us Toward a Diaspora
Theology, (p.22) offering both a descriptive and an interpretive
study of such a theology.  In so doing, we come to
understand the interplay between church and state.
We trust the issues presented on these pages will instigate
healthy discussion.  The Armenian Church has guided our people
spiritually and moved them towar
d liberation.  This continues today to be among the duties of the
Body of Christ, the Church.  The secular cannot be allowed to
usurp the duties of the sacred.  Armenia needs healing, as does
the soul of every Armenian.  We are the captives, the
blind, the poor and the oppressed.  The Church can no longer
afford to hand out crutches but must loudly exclaim, as Christ
did, “Rise!  Take up your pallet and walk.” (Jn. 5:8).

Address of
His Holiness Vazken I
to the delegates of the
Armenian National Movement
(Holy Etchmiadzin, November 9, 1989)
Translated by Dn. Hratch Tchilingirian

Editor’s note: For the first time, Window is providing the English
translation of  the address of His Holiness spoken to the
delegates of the Armenian National Movement.  The address is very
significant, because it underlines the Church-Nation
relations in light of contemporary developments in Armenia.  In
October 1989, the Armenian National Movement held its first
congress in Yerevan, with some 1500 people attending.  The
Movement was conceived by the Karabagh Committee, which also
hosted the congress.  The Movement was officially recognized by
the Soviet Armenian government and the Armenian Communist Party
leadership.  Although this was a speech, rather than a written
address, fidelity to the printed text and accuracy were
foremost in our mind.  Therefore, we translated the text with
minimal editorial input.  For those who are unfamiliar with the
terms “interior diaspora” and “external diaspora,” the first
refers to those Armenians who live in the various Republics of
the Soviet Union, and the latter refers to those Armenians who
live outside the Fatherland and the Soviet Union.

Dear friends,
You have come to this holy place as pilgrims.  Perhaps, for some
of you, it is the first time that you are in Holy Etchmiadzin.
Those of you who come from the internal diaspora, you are also
pilgrims as the beloved children of the Armen- ian
Nation and the Armenian Church. Unlike other churches, we are not
preoccupied with inquisitions (havadaknootyoon).  All Armenians,
whether believers or not, we consider them true children of the
Armenian Church without discrimination.
I greet your organization, your National Movement, and I am happy
to see so many of your delegates present here today. I wish that
after you leave, you take my greetings and blessings to all those
who could not be here today.  I know about you and
I feel the pounding of your hearts, the flight of your thoughts
and your dear expectations for the present and the future of our
people.  The fundamental idea of your organization, or movement,
has been expressed by the word National–by the
National concept.  That is very dear to our heart.
I do not know how familiar you are with the history of our
Church_ [or] with the achievements of our Church through the
centuries, from the perspective of strengthening and realizing the
national idea (kaghapar).  I would like to remind you that
since you are talking about the nation_ at this moment you are at
a historical Center which created and shaped the national idea
The national identity of the Armenian nation, the national ethos
of the Armenian people, [and] the national ideology of the
Armenian people have been forged here at Holy Etchmiadzin,
especially, in the fourth and fifth centuries. Let it not be
assumed that in the formation of the national ideology the
Armenian Church was a follower or a conformist. No. The Armenian
Church for the past seventeen centuries has been the author and
the leader [in these matters].
Until the fourth century–until the acceptance of Christianity_
[our] national ideology and national ethos were not yet formed.
The Armenian nation, in a total sense, took birth, formed and
started to radiate as a spiritual force throughout the
centuries, [with] three historical events or indicators: first, by
christianization in 301;
second, in the beginning of the fourth century with the creation
of the Armenian alphabet and the dawn of Armenian literature; and
third, in the middle of the same century, with the Battle of
Avarayre. These three dates, these three historical
events are the core foundations, they are the rock of formation of
the Armenian national consciousness.  And these three events are
directly related to our Church.
It is through our Church that Christianity finally spread
throughout the land of Armenia (historical Armenia). Through
Christianity the moral and spiritual identity of the Armenian
nation was formed.
The second milestone was in the beginning of the fifth century,
with the great work of St. Mesrob: the creation of the Armenian
alphabet, with the translation of the Holy Bible into Armenian by
the Translators, which is one of the most perfect
translations in the world, something that brings pride to our
nation in the world.  It was during these times that the national
spirit of the Armenian people took its final shape and the
Armenian literature took birth.
And finally, again from Holy Etchmiadzin, [the Armenian people]
in the holy hands of Vartan Mamigonian went to the battle field of
Avarayre. The battle of Vartanantz is a religio-national battle.
In the past, sometimes wrong interpretations have
been made concerning this.  In reality, as historian Yeghishe
mentions in his famous history book, the battle of Vartanantz was
a battle for faith and for national freedom.  And I could say that
the inspireer and the initiator, even before Vartan,
has been the priest Ghevont Yeretz.  I could even say that Vartan
followed the call of Ghevont.
Hence_ in the subsequent centuries, from the fifth century to
our days, to the battle of Sardarabad, all the significant events
in our history have been rooted in these three initial, anchored
emotions: anchored on spiritual foundations,
Christian faith, national literature, fortified culture and
liberation of the fatherland.
I believe that now, as new circumstances are created in the
Soviet Union, these truths should more forcefully be forged and
underlined, so that our people not only understands the essence of
the Armenian Church, not only understands correctly our
national ideology, but also understands himself correctly as an
Armenian person, that who he is as an Armenian in this world and
what kind of a calling he has under the new circumstances in our
days, and what kind of longings he has toward our
You could be assured that our Church, headed by Etchmiadzin, is
always ready to open her wings and heart before all those
Armenians, before those organizations who would be willing to
think, speak and work by this spirit and by properly understood
national realization.  This spirit, this spiritual national
realization has preserved also our Church in the last decades,
here in a Soviet country; even in the bad times of self-worship ,
though under isolated conditions, the Armenian Church has
always kept the light of this spirit lit in Holy Etchmiadzin and
in the diaspora.
And after the War [WWII], when the situation considerably
improved from the perspective of the Church, especially the last
30-35 years, during my tenure, we were able to accomplish worthy
tasks by rebuilding our church life in Armenia. Numerous
monasteries and churches were renovated and opened, of which you
all know.  It is that
fundamental work that we continued.  You might also be familiar
with the decrees of the Mother See during the past thirty years,
in my homilies, encyclicals,  pronouncements, by which you should
understand clearly that Holy Etchmiadzin has justly
proceeded in the same road. Allow me to say, perhaps a little
unmodestly, that in all the land of Armenia, we built the first
monument dedicated to the Genocide in Etchmiadzin, then our
government followed our example and erected the magnificent
monument of Didzernagabert.
Second, for a long time the battle of Sardarabad was not
remembered amongst us, it was left to forgetfulness.  In this case
also, for the first time in Armenia, the battle of Saradarabad was
proclaimed [as a national  holiday] publicly by the
encyclical of Vazken Catholicos. With
this I would like to show once again that not only myself
individually, but our Church in its entirety has remained the
bearer of the flag of the national spirit, also during the last
decades, both here and in the diaspora.
In the diaspora, where more than two million Armenians live, in
different countries, (my reference is to the external diaspora),
the Church is the  essential Armenian national organization.  It
could be said, without hesitation, that the Armenian
Church is the backbone of the  Armenian life in the diaspora.  It
is true, there are numerous organizations, political parties and
all have their reason d’etre, but the foundation of the Armenians’
life, in practice and legitimately, remains to be
the Armenian Church. Conclusively, this is what Armenian Aposotlic
Church means and this is what its historic center Holy Etchmiadzin
You have come forward in the name of a new movement and started
to be organized and you will continue to prosper, just as here,
perhaps also in the diaspora, especially in the interior Diaspora.
Naturally, amongst our people, not every Armenian individual
thinks in the same way about different issues, concerning national
issues, political issues, social issues or economic issues,
neither here nor in the diasopora.  That is a natural
phenomenon.  Yesterday, a well-intentioned fellow asked me that
now that there are different waves and streams among our people,
here and in the diaspora, which side is the Church with? I said
the Church is not with any side, the Church is with all
the sides.  In other words, the Church stands on the idea of unity
and it should remain so; because, the calling of the Church has
been to be a reconciling and peacemaking bridge among different

A question is raised: what do we mean when we say unity? The way
I perceive it, unity is desirable, but that should not be
understood as absolute uniformity.  As in the life of all nations,
also it is possible in the common life of our people to
exist different streams, different ways of thinking concerning the
same issues, for the benefit of the nation and the fatherland. In
fact it is good that such is the case.  It is also impossible in
the diaspora for the Armenians to be completly
united in the true sense of the word.  That is simply not
feasible.   Whoever thinks otherwise,  he does not understand the
diaspora.  Therefore, plurality exists and will  necessarily
remain so.  The wisdom is in the fact that in our plurality,
nevertheless, we can preserve a unity concerning fundamental
issues, fateful issues and in the vital issues concerning the
future of our people and the
fatherland.  I could even venture to express a bold idea, that
sometimes, in the history of nations, the children or groupings of
the same nation could walk separately, but strike the same target;
walking separetly but striking together.   I wished
that the children of our nation, in the fatherland and the
diaspora, could reach to the maturity of such political, national
thinking and effort.   I would like also to add another definition
expressing the same reality that is so often mentioned in
the sphere of religion, that is, “In essentials unity, in
non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” This means freedom
of thoughts and expressions, but unity in vital issues, that is
becoming one, and love for all, extended to all, towards
each other, without feelings of enmity towards the other. This is
extremely important.   We might all disagree on this or that
issue, there would always be debatable issues,  but we shall never
be enemies.  Indeed, this is the true spirit of
democracy; otherwise, democracy is void if one shows an intolerant
spirit towards the opinions of others; that is not democracy
anymore, that leads to dictatorship.
_.In my view, there are three important imperatives that we need
to consider.  First, [it is] the guarantee and the strengthening
of the political security of our Republic.  I consider this of
essential matter in view of the geopolitical position
of our country.  We should be very careful and realistic.   By all
means, whatever we think, we should first and foremost be
concerned with the political security and strengthening of our
Second, [it is] security of the economic reconstruction and
development of our country.  By economic I mean agriculture,
prosperity and rebuilding, especially after the tragic disaster
[of the earthquake].  The economic reconstruction of our
country has a vital significance.  We cannot survive with the
present situation. Particularly, now that new opportunities have
been created in the diaspora, to initiate new economic ventures
with Armenian and non-Armenian organizations, henceforth,
if we are able to utilize those opportunities, then great,
unprecedented economic successes could be called to life.
Third, the fundamental issue is the urgency to create a
uniformity to advance the prosperity of our national culture in
our fatherland.  We [have been] a people of culture for a several
thousand years.  That is one of our pride.  We, the Armenians,
have created kinds of cultural treasures on the level of universal
human history, that we are worthy of being called culture-creating
and culture-enduring people, with our literature, with our church,
with our architecture, with our marvelous
religious and popular music and other forms of artistic
expressions. Let me recall a famous pronouncement of a renowned
European historian, in the end of the last century, who said,
“there are no nations in the world, there are cultures.”  He
there are nations, but real nations are those who have created
cultures, and not robbed other cultures, as it is the case with
some [nations].  Our people has been a culture creating nation
from the very beginning, especially, as I mentioned
earlier, from the fourth century on ward.
Therefore, today also, we should bring forth all our efforts,
energy and genius, to preserve our dignified place, in this world
and throughout our small fatherland, by holding high the torch of
culture.  Of course, on the road of development of our national
culture, our mother tongue, the Armenian language has a decisive
place, for which you are also the defenders and you have recorded
in your program what is necessary concerning the
Armenian language.  Our language is one of the most important
treasures of our culture.  It is a genuine creation of the
Armenian people.  The image of the Armenian nation’s spirit is in
our mother tongue.  Without the Armenian language it is
difficult to remain and survive as Armenians, not to say even
impossible.  During the last 60-70 years, the Armenian language
was not dominantly defended in our country, and it remained to be
one of the languages.  Even sometimes I have met parents
who do not send their children to Armenian schools, considering
the Armenian language a dead language. Of course this is a painful
reality, a tragic mentality of some.  I am absolutely not against
the Russian language.  I greatly appreciate the
language of the Russians and their literature, to which I am
familiar through Romanian translations. There is no doubt that the
Russian language and literature are worthy of universal respect.
But that does not mean that we should consider our
language as some kind of a secondary or dead or imperfect
language.  The Armenian language is our existence, it is our
dignity, it is our identity, it is the fountain of our culture and
it is the mold of realization of all our  expectations.  We
cannot live without our mother tongue.  In my opinion, gradually,
a special policy should be adopted so that  increasingly  the
Armenian language becomes the operative language not only in the
families, not only in the Armenian schools, but also in
the institutions and the work place; [to make it the operative
language] by learning it better than the Russian and making it as
the language of intra-national relations in the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, it is desirable, that the Armenian
intellectual speaks freely not only in Armenian and Russian, but
also at least in a third foreign language.  The Armenian man
should be able to
speak with the world.

I have a special word of greetings to the representatives of the
interior diaspora.  Finally, it is time for the interior diaspora
to stand on its feet.  Glory to God, the movement has already
started now.  I am especially greeting the
representatives of the interior diaspora and I wish them strength,
enthusiasm and courage to be organized and to pronouce their words
in the life of our people.  If I am not mistaken, we have more
than a million Armenians in the interior diaspora.
But organization is needed, work is needed, dedication is needed,
love and faith are needed. Now those opportunities are provided,
we should take advantage of them.  In the past, before Word War I,
we had a strong interior diaspora througout Czarist
Russia. Even the culture of our western Armenians created its
rebirth in the interior diaspora: Tiblisi, Rosdov, Moscow,
Asdrakhan, Artzakh and other places.  Where are those Armenians
now?  I invite you to stand up and work together, always in
contact with the mother land and Holy Etchmiadzin.  This is a very
important matter for the present and the future.
The Armenians of the diaspora are an integral part of our people
in the mother land: just as the interior diaspora is, so is the
external diaspora.  I would like to end my words with an
anouncement: in order to encourage the use of the Armenian
language in educational
and other institutions, I wish to donate one hundred Armenian
typewriters, which will be under the discretion of your newly
elected committee.
I wish all of you strength, enthusiasm and inspiration so that
you may continue your mission in patience, with courage, balance
and wisdom; so that eveything is realized in their natural
progression and step by step, for the glory of the Armenian
people and our reborn Fatherland.
Love, peace and blessings to you all now and always. Amen.
Vazken I
Catholicos of All Armenians

Karabagh: The Islamic Factor

From the Armenian perspective, the turn of events in Armenia,
particularily the problem of Karabagh is definitly  not religous,
but rather a territorial problem. However, in as much as we want
to avoid religious characterizations or undertones to
the problem, the Islamic world in general, and the Azerbaijanis in
particular, perceive the issue to be a religious problem.  This
religious ferver is further agetated by the reaction and response
of the Islamic media, primarily by the
fundamentalist groups.
The false and provocative news accounts, written with religious
passion, is not only very damaging to the peaceful and just
solution of the Karabagh issue,  but it has already caused a
serious rapture between Armenian-Arab and Armenian-Moslem
relations in the Middle East.  In the event that such dangerous
sentiments continue to be voiced in the Islamic media, over one
half of a million Armenians who live in the Arab and Moslem
countries could face animosity and rejection by their host
countymen.  Presented here are some excerpts:

We read the following accusations in “Al-Shi’raa” weekly (Beirut,
January 15, 1990) signed by Husain Sabra: “When in 1988 Gorbachov
visited the United States, a group of Armenians, together with
immigrant Soviet Jews, organized a demostration asking
Gorbachov to take a concrete  possition towards the issue of
Nagorno-Karabagh, favorable to Armenians, against the Moslem
Azerbaijanis.”   Sabra continues his “analysis” by fabricating an
Armenian-Islamic issue and blames all Armenians for
cooperating with the Zionists.

In the January 21, 1990 issue of  “Al-Safir”, the second largest
Islamic newspaper in Lebanon,  we read: “Over the weekend planes
from Lebanon have been landing in Yerevan, loaded with heavy
weapons, rockets and bombs.  These weapons were being
unloaded under the supervision of the Armenian customs officers. .
. The gurella warfare is being launched by the Armenians, who have
arrived from Beirut and Damascus and are close to terroristic
circles and to the Lebanese Christian militiamen.
Lebanese Armenians, who have gained experience in street warfare,
have entered and spread throughout the capital of Yerevan and
border areas without permission visas, by the thousands.”

In the January 26, 1990 issue of “Al-Ah’hed,” the organ of “Hezb
Alla” (Party of God) reports that, “In Moscow, Azerbaijani sources
claimed in “Al Hayat” newpaper that the fighters of the ‘Armenian
Secret Army’ have joined the Armenians in Karabagh and
participated in the fightings. However, the Azerbaijani forces
have overpowered the fighters, among whom were ‘individuals who
spoke only Armenian and Arabic and did not know Russian.”   The
report continues: “Arab, foreign and Russian sources, who are
stationed in Moscow, have confirmed this report respectively which
the Azerbaijani sources we already mentioned.  In Beirut
the ‘Armenian National Movement’ has denied this rumorr  to
‘Al-Ah’hed’ (through contacts with [local] Armenian sources),
considering that the purpose behind such alligations is to leave a
negative view of Armenian-Islamic relations in Lebanon. . .
We in turn, in order to defend this relationship, ask the same
question surronding these issues to those non-responsible Armenian
forces and to the ‘Armenian Secret Army’ and await for a clear
answer, so that those who play with fire may loose their

In the January 29, 1990 issue of “Al-Kifah” weekly, an article
entitled “Very Important” reports: “Reliable sources in East
Beirut reveal that the ‘Lebanese Forces’ [Christian Militiamen]
have moved their struggle to the Caucases,  this time not
against federalism, but with separatist intentions.”  The report
not only disregards the territorial validity of Karabagh issue,
but it directly links it to the dilemma of Lebanese proposal for a
“federal administrative system.”

The January 19, 1990 issue of “Al-Ah’hed” considers the U.S.
Congress’ decision to consider a resolution on the Armenian
Genocide to be “a creation of the imperialist intentions of the
Americans, which targets the supression of the escalating
Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey.'” Furthermore, one of the most
dangerous declaration  comes from the Assembly of Islamic
Religious Leaders.   According to them, “The issue of unifying
Karabagh with Armenia is not realistic, it is unjust and not
attainable, because, the enclave is situated within the boarders
of the Republic of Azerbaijan like an island. . . Many Armenians,
escaping their areas for numerous problems and complications,
found hospitable refuge among Moslem Azerbaijanis  [and
they were welcomed], just as they were welcomed by the Lebanese,
Syrians and others [in the past].”   The declaration continues,
“The demand of Azerbaijan concerning the enclave is legal and that
legality is rooted in geographic and historical
evidence. . . the Csarist armies concured Armenia and separated it
from Turkey and the Soviet armies concured and separated
Azerbaijan from Iran.”  The Assembly finds certain Armenians
guilty of provocting  and  instigating an unjust demands for
Karabagh.  Then, it calls upon  all Armenians, to stop their
demand for Karabagh  and warns them to avoid being insturments of
Soviet arrogance . . . Armenians should try to come to a realistic
and just understanding with Azerbaijanis to realize the
flight of the two nations for independence.


A Historical

Adrienne Krikorian

The history of the Armenian nation is a story of survival. The
continuous struggle for autonomy, fueled with determination and
persistence, has been inspired by common religious beliefs and the
perpetual desire to preserve a rich and unique
cultural heritage.
Armenia has been a republic of the Soviet Union since 1920. The
remainder of historic Armenia, including Mt. Ararat, the biblical
site of the resting place of Noah’s Ark (Gen.8:4), is part of
Eastern Turkey.  For Armenians, the return to an
independent homeland is only a dream to be realized.
But, what if the opportunity presented itself and an sovereign
state was formed?  The obstacles facing an independent Arme
nia would be many.  As an independent nation, it would have to
govern itself in a world of strong political dilemmas. Armenia’s
geographic location would result in a need for constant
self-protection by its people.  By what law would it be governed?
What effect, if any, would the religion play in this government?
My object here is to take a brief look at the political history
of Armenia, the history of the Armenian Church and present an
introduction to a more detailed analysis of the law by which “an
Armenia” might govern itself if the dream of independence
were to come true.


The Armenian uplands are on the northern borders of the Near
East, above Syria and Mesopotamia.  At its greatest extent, two
thousand years ago, the territory of Armenia, i.e., Greater
Armenia covered over one hundred thousand square miles,
extending East from the Mediterranean Sea to the Caspian Sea, and
South from the Caucasus Mountains to what is know today as Iran.
Armenia has been continuously inhabited by civilized man since
the fifteenth century B.C.  However, it was not until the ninth
century B.C. that the first know state, known as the kingdom of
Urartu emerged.  The area was ruled by a succession of
rulers from Assyria and Persia from the end of the seventh century
B.C. until Alexander the Great’s victory over Persia in 331 B.C.
With the rule of Alexander came the influx of Greek civilization
into Armenia and it remained an influence over
Armenians for several centuries.
The Armenian kingdom grew and flourished, along with the
neighboring Parthian and Roman Empires, until it reached its
greatest size under the rule of King Tigran the Great (95-55
B.C.).  During this period, Armenia consisted of several
kingdoms and principalities as well as vassal kings.  Its links
with the Roman Empire and its active expansionist policy resulted
in cultural and linguistic consolidation of the Armenian people.
The Armenians had a language; however, until the
development of the Armenian alphabet in the fourth century A.D.,
all works of literature, religious texts and government decrees
were recorded in Syriac characters or in Greek. Paganism was the
practiced religion in the area until the adoption of
Christianity in 301 A.D..
After the death of King Tigran the Great, Armenian royalty
continued to reign over the next several hundred years, creating
alliances with the Romans, Parthians, Persians and the Byzantines,
being influenced by the Arabs and subjugated by the
Turks.  While the constant invasions by these empires reduced the
amount of land which belonged to the Armenian nation, Armenia
continued to evolve as a nation with its own language, culture and
civil law, and its people endured the constant
struggle for autonomy.
The nation suffered its final loss of independence in the
twentieth century.  From 1894 until 1915 the Armenians suffered
mass deportations and Genocide by the Ottoman Turkish Empire. By
1915 over a million and a half Armenians had been killed.
In 1918, the political situation allowed for the formation of an
independent state on a small portion of the historic homeland.
However that independence was short lived and in 1920, amid
divisive political dissension, the independent nation lost
its final struggle and became one of the republics of the Soviet


Historians trace the introduction of Christianity to Armenia to
two of the original Apostles of Christ, Saints Thaddeus and
Bartholomew. Hence, the Armenian Church is “apostolic.” During the
first two centuries after Christ, Armenia had regular
commercial and cultural relations with the great city of Antioch,
and the Christian religion found its way to Armenia through the
church in Antioch and from the nearby Christian centers of Edessa
and Ceassaria in northern Mesopotamia.
The Armenian nation was converted to Christianity in
approximately 301 when King Tiridates accepted Christianity
through baptism.  St. Gregory the Illuminator, who was responsible
for the king’s conversion, was unanimously elected by the people
Catholicos of the newly established Church. The Armenian Church
grew outside Roman jurisdiction and independent of the churches of
the Byzantine Empire. Subsequently, the Armenian nation declared
Christianity as its state religion several years
before the conversion of Constantine and the Roman Empire.
Armenians proudly claim to be the first nation to accept
Christianity as a state religion.
In the early years of the Armenian Church, there was no specific
administrative structure per se.  As the Church developed, a
formal hierarchy emerged which consisted of a catholicos, bishops,
priests, deacons and local community members.  The
church leadership established local schools and seminaries from
which the tenets of Christianity were passed on to the people.
Christianity became the unifying element of the Armenian nation
and the Patriarch shared political influence with the
Following the death of King Tiridates in 330, his successors
struggled with continued political invasions and were ineffective
rulers. Widespread religious reforms took place against a
background of economic and social crisis at home with political
and military threats from outside.  The Armenian monarchy
ultimately fell in the middle of the fifth century, and Persian
rule returned to Armenia. The Persians attempted to bring their
Zoroastrian religious beliefs back
to Armenia in order to unify their empire. However, the Armenians
resisted and remained Christian.


The body of ecclesiastical rules and regulations which govern
matters of faith, morals and discipline with the traditional
Christian Churches (Orthodox, Roman, etc.) is known as canon law.
This corpus of law grew gradually during the early
centuries of Christianity.  The documents which comprise Canon Law
date back to the first century, and were sanctioned to be used by
church councils which convened to settle matters of uncertainty or
dispute on matters of doctrine and discipline.
Canon law is historically continuous from the early Christian
Church to the present.  However, as a result of doctrinal and
ecclesiastical differences, various, though often similar,
patterns of codification have developed in the churches which
have incorporated canon law into their frameworks.  Amidst
doctrinal and political disputes in the Christian world during the
fifth through the seventh centuries, the Armenian Church developed
a corpus of canon law which often reflected local needs.
Canon law has had an essential role not only within the Christian
church, but also in the transmission of ancient Greek and Roman
law, and in the reception of Justinian law in Europe in the Middle
Ages. Canon law had a lasting influence during the
Reformation in the 17th century, namely on the secular law of
marriage, property, wills, crimes and the law concerning proof and
evidence.  International law also owes its origin to canonists and
theologians and the modern concept of state goes back
to the constitution of the church.
The Armenian Church participated with other Christian churches in
the early ecumenical councils which developed and codified canon
law. The Nicean Council in 325 was the first of a series of synods
which systematically collected ecclesiastical
legislation that would bring order and discipline where
uncertainty had prevailed.
When the Council of Chalcedon assembled in 451, the Armenians
were engaged in a life and death struggle with the Persians, and
thus unable to be represented.  It was at this council that the
two natures of Christ was discussed.  There were two
conflicting views expressed at the Council.  The Armenians refused
to accept the view ultimately accepted by the Council and promoted
by the Patriarchates of Rome and Constantinople.  This difference
in belief, coupled with the establishment of an
independent calendar (still in use today), resulted in the
Armenians breaking off doctrinal unity with those who accepted the
resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon.
Along with the canons of the ecumenical councils, Eastern Chri
stian canon law also consists of canons of local councils and the
Canons of the Holy Fathers (e.g., the Canons of the Holy
Apostles), letters and authoritative answers written by the clergy
to individuals or communities. Church leaders of the
various patriarchates, including the Armenians, met regularly in
local councils from the 4th century on, issuing decrees and
regulatory provisions which addressed local matters.
During the Middle Ages the Eastern Christian Churches lived
within the tight framework of the Byzantine Empire.  Once the
became a member of the Church, it was universally accepted that he
had a responsibility for managing the practical affairs of the
Church. Practical necessity led to a codification of church canons
together with state legislation and religious
discipline.  the resulting nomocanons had a profound influence on
the development of the Eastern churches.  In fact, Justinian
himself ordered that canons have the force of law and it was
generally known that the emperors were above neither the
dogmas nor the canons of the Church.
The Armenian Liber Canonum, the original collection of Armenian
canon law (which includes accepted Byzantine canons), was compiled
in one edition by the Catholicos John of Ozun (717-728).


In the twelfth century, amidst a period of internal and external
national turmoil, emerged a young monk, Mekhitar Kosh, who was
known as an intellectual giant.  He was frequently called upon to
offer a solution to a problem or to settle a dispute.
Mekhitar Kosh dedicated his life to the moral and spiritual
enlightenment of his people.
While in sanctuary at the monastery of Quedag, Mekhitar spent
many hours considering the insufficiency of the existing laws and
customs in affording protection to the Armenian people.  He
believed there was an urgent need of a set of rules to
determine and safeguard individual and collective rights and
obligations of the inhabitants of the country.  Christian beliefs
and canons were inadequate to protect the rights of all without
discrimination and prejudice.  What concerned him the most
was the fact that the absence of national jurisprudence or a body
of law compelled Armenians to humiliate themselves by seeking
solution of their own problems under foreign laws.  Civil and
religious leaders who were asked to judge and decide
controversial issues were often bribed or were so corrupted that
they often distorted the facts and penalized the innocent.
During this time, feudalism was the accepted system, and many
Armenians had lost their independence under ruthless lords, who
neither tolerated nor accepted interference by the church
hierarchy. In approximately 1184, Mekhitar, in response to his
growing concerns, yielded to the urgent requests of the Catholicos
and Prince of the local province. He embarked on the monumental
task of preparing, classifying and compiling a complete set of
laws which became known as Mekhitar Kosh’s Corpus Juris.
Mekhitar recognized the need to formulate a code of laws within
the principles of Christian beliefs and concepts; laws based on
ethics, that the right and the moral were one and the same.  He
was inspired by natural law, laws of Christian nations
including Byzantine codes, Islamic laws, the Bible, and Armenian
Canon law.  He recognized two tribunals: secular and
ecclesiastical, with the right to appoint members and jurisdiction
for enforcement reserved to each group, respectively.
The code contained provisions for the establishment of courts,
the methods of conducting trials, administering oaths to
witnesses, and confession of crime by the accused. It also
contained several chapters on wills, descent and distribution of
intestate properties, rights of widowers and widows, children and
next of kin.  There were chapters devoted to laws of real and
personal property, ownership and
use of land, and feudal lords and serfs.  The final chapters
related to subjects such as purchases and sales, contracts,
property rentals, partnerships, trusts and securities for loans.
Mekhitar’s code could not be compared in scope or content to the
codes of Justinian and Greek jurists, but this monumental work was
the only one of its kind for the Armenians, and his efforts have
earned Mekhitar Kosh the gratitude of Armenians.
While he held no position of importance in the church hierarchy,
he was considered one of the most influential and authoritative
jurists of all the Armenian clergy. The Justinian of Armenians
died around 1213, leaving behind a legacy which is
influential even in present day Armenia.
During the tenth and eleventh centuries a number of Armenians
migrated West into the western area of Turkey known as Cilicia.  A
secondary center of Armenia known as Cilician Armenia became a
leading commercial center. Subsequent internal and
political disruptions resulted in a divided Armenian society and
Armenian Church, the Eastern factions loyal to the ancient
traditions of St. Gregory the Illuminator and the Western faction
faithful to the Papal and Frankish influences brought in by
the Crusaders.  The establishment of Cilician Armenia opened the
door to the West for Armenians and eventually led to their
migration to Europe, the continent of Africa, and the United
During the 19th century the eastern and western sections of the
Armenian church were under the rule of the Persians and the
Ottoman Empire, respectively.  Political and social events
resulted in the eastern part of Armenia being occupied by the
Russians and incorporated into the Csarist Empire in 1828.  This
resulted in the severing of the link between Caucasian Armenia and
Persia dating to the pre-Christian era.  In 1836, Russian imperial
authorities regulated the Armenian Church by a
decree commonly known as bolojenieh (constitution).  The document,
ratified by the Catholicos, gave the Church a large measure of
internal autonomy and dictated a precise, democratic procedure for
electing the Catholicos.  At the same time, it gave
greater, more extensive powers to the synod, which previously only
advised the Catholicos.  This body, consisting of eight priests,
was placed under the control of the Csar; it was virtually
impossible for the Catholicos to act independently of its
decisions and ultimately those of the csarist secret police.
Nevertheless, it was a liberal document in the context of Russian
autocracy and worked in practice to the benefit of the Armenian
people, thus returning some of their cherished autonomy.
In Western Armenia, under Ottoman rule, a National Constitution
was established in 1863.  This constitution was based on the
principle that a religious community, millet, as a people and as
an ethnic minority is in itself a juridical entity and has
the inherent right to administer its own internal affairs in
accordance with its own customs and usages and its rules of
inherent organization.  The Constitution recognized the democratic
rights of the people for its internal self-government, the
adjudication of matters of civil status by community courts being
included in those rights.  The National Constitution, by applying
these principles, reduced the traditional canonical authority of
the Patriarch of Constantinople, the bishops and the
clergy in general.  It established the rule for popular election
of all candidates for the hierarchy of the Church, and
created organs for the government of the Church almost completely
dominated by laymen, irrespective of the degree of their
commitment to the Christian faith.
During its brief struggle to establish a republic from 1918-1920,
Eastern Armenians established political parties with their own
constitution. (Some of these parties continue to function today.)
Western Armenians who survived the Turkish massacres
either fled to the West or assimilated into Turkish society.
What remains of Armenian today, is part of the U.S.S.R.   As one
of its republics, it enjoys a measure of autonomy within the rule
of the Soviet Union.  Since the election of President Mikhail
Gorbachev and as a result of his move toward government
reform, the Armenian Church is enjoying a new religious revival an
d freedom.  Several religious leaders in the  Soviet Union were
elected members of the Soviet parliament, including Catholicos
Vazken I.

Armenia has rich cultural, religious and political history upon
which it can build a new, independent nation.  The Armenians enjoy
a solid foundation of civil and canon law unique to their beliefs
and traditions.
An independent Armenia might establish its government by relying
on its historic canon and civil law, the Constitutions by which
its people have been governed, including those of the Western
democratic world, on general principles of Socialism
under which the nation now exists, and on the strong religious
principles which have provided the foundations for the eternal
endurance for which Armenians are so well known.  Such a
government would serve the unique needs of Armenians living
throughout the world, and make it possible for re-unification of
Armenians who were forced to scatter in the early 20th century.


Khrimian Hayrig:
The Paper Ladle

Editor’s note:  Affectionately called “Hayrig” by the Armenian
people, Megerdich Khrimian was the Catholicos of the Armenian
Church between 1892-1907.  In 1878, at the request of Patriarch
Nersess and the National Assembly, Khirimian represented the
Armenians at Congress of Berlin.  Upon his return to
Constantinople he recited this message at the Cathedral. (Haig
Ajemian,  Hayotz Hayrig, page 511-3; translated by FVM).

Blessed and beloved Armenians:
Now, you have all perked up your ears, impatiently and anxiously
waiting to hear what sort of news Khirimian Hayrig has brought us
from the Berlin Congress, and what will he say about Article 61
which the powerful governments of the world have
bestowed upon the Armenian provinces.  Listen carefully to what I
am about to say.  Grasp the profound meaning of my words and then
go and contemplate on my message.
As you know, upon the decision of Patriarch Nersess and the
National Assembly, we went to Berlin to present the Armenian Case
to the great powers of the Congress.  We had great hopes that the
Congress would bring peace to the world and liberation to the
small and oppressed nations, among which we count ourselves.
The Congress convened, the statesmen of the great powers of the
world gathered around diplomatic tables covered with green cloth.
And we, the small and suppressed nations waited outside the
Congress.  In the middle of the Congress, upon a table
covered with green cloth was placed a large bowl of heriseh (a
thick and pasty stew-like meal) from which large and small nations
and governments would draw their portion.
Some of the participants pulled to the East, some pulled to the
West, and after long debates, in order, one by one, they called
the representatives of the small nations [into the meeting].  The
Bulgarian entered first, then Serbian and the
Gharadaghian.  The rattling of the swords hanging from their sides
attracted the attention of the assembly.
After speaking for some while, these three, pulled out their
swords, as if ladles made of iron, and dipped into the bowl, took
their portion of heriseh and proudly and boldly departed.
It was now the turn of the Armenian delegate.  I drew near with
the paper petition from the National Assembly, presented it and
asked that they fill my plate too with heriseh.  Then, the
officials standing before the bowl asked me, “Where is your
iron ladle?  It is true that we are serving heriseh here, but he
who does not have an iron ladle cannot draw from it.  Listen up.
In the future, if this heriseh is distributed, do not come without
a ladle or you will return empty handed.
Dear Armenian people.  Could I have dipped my paper ladle in the
heriseh?  It would have become wet and stayed there.  There, where
guns talk and swords make noise, what significance do appeals and
petitions have?
And I saw next to the Gharadaghian, the Bulgarian and other
delegates, several brave [men], blood dripping from the swords
hanging at their sides.  I then turned my head, as if I was
looking for the brave men from Zeitoon, Sasoon, Shadakh and other
mountainous areas.  But where were they?  People of Armenia, tell
me, where were those brave souls? Should not one or two of them
have been next to me, so that showing their bloody swords to the
members of Congress I could have exclaimed, “Look,
HERE IS MY IRON LADLES!  They are here, ready!”  But alas, all I
had was a paper petition, which got wet in the heriseh and we
returned empty handed.  Truly, had they compared me with the
delegates of the Congress, I was taller, my facial features
were more attractive.  But to what avail?  In my hand was placed a
piece of paper and not a sword.  For this reason we were deprived
of the heriseh. In spite of all, in view of the future, going to
the Congress of Berlin was not useless.
People of Armenia, of course you understand well what the gun
could have done and can do.  And so, dear and blessed Armenians,
when you return to the Fatherland, to your relatives and friends,
take weapons, take weapons and again weapons.  People,
above all, place the hope of your liberation on yourself.  Use
your brain and your fist!  Man must work for himself in order to
be saved_


Liberation & Witness
Dn. Hratch Tchilingirian

“The loud cry of the mobs . . . sounded like the clash of the
clouds above, and the thundering sound of the noises rocked the
caverns of the mountains. . .  The flashing of countless swords
and the swaying of innumerable spears seemed like an awful
fire being poured down from heaven. But who can describe fully the
tremendous tumult caused by these frightful noises – the clashing
of the warriors and the snapping of the bow strings -which
deafened everyone alike!” 1
–  Yeghisheh

These words were not written after the massacre of Armenians in
Baku on a tragic January day.  These words were not written to
describe the struggle of Armenians in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan,
Tadzhikistan, Karabagh_
These words were written 1500 years ago–by Yeghisheh, the eminent
5th century historian–to evoke the reality  of Vartanantz.  All
nations in the world have their turning points: in ancient times,
for Jews it was the Exodus, in modern times, for
the Germans, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall.  These events not
only mold and shape the on going life of a nation, but they
provide a point of reference and reflection in times of crisis.
Thus, Vartanantz is such a timeless  event in the history
of the Armenian people.  An event that does not exhaust itself in
the past, but perfects itself in the future.  Just as in the case
of the Exodus, Vartanantz is not simply an event, but a pattern of
deliverance that provides a key for interpreting
Armenian history and for interpreting present experience.
For the Jews the greatest miracle in the Bible was the Exodus
miracle, the crossing of the Red Sea.  Still this remains the
greatest miracle in the Old Testament.  The embellishments which
were added to the story through centuries of retelling were
intended only to underline the need to discern and  marvel at what
God had done for his people.2 In Exodus 3:7-9 we read: “Then the
Lord said, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people who are in
Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their
taskmasters.  I know their sufferings . . .behold, the cry of the
people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression
with which the Egyptians oppress them.”  Here we see a God who can
hear the cry of the oppressed, who comes down, and
who leads them to liberation.  Correspondingly, Yeghisheh reflects
on the oppression of the Armenians.  When the Persian Tenshabuh
(ambassador) asks the Armenians to submit themselves to their
demands, Ghevont the Priest eloquently responds saying,
” . . . You scorn us for our afflictions which have come upon us
against our own will, as they come to everyone according to the
nature of one’s body.  But Christ, the living and life-giving true
God, by His beneficent will became the healer of
souls and bodies and Himself first suffered tortures and pains to
cure the
entire human race.  Through His tenderness and mercy, moreover,
He granted us a second birth in health without pains and
afflictions; He healed the old sores secretly inflicted upon us by
the dragon and made us scarless and pure in body and soul,
so that we may join the hosts of angels and become warriors of our
heavenly King. But you, not  aware of this and not having enjoyed
God’s heavenly
gifts, are unwilling to learn from us; on the contrary, you wish
to misguide us, but that is impossible; it will not happen and you
will not succeed.”3

Our Witness

Today, like Vartanantz, the religious-national aspect of our
struggle is relevant perhaps more than anytime in our history.  On
a global level, the m#lange of religion, nationalism and
ultimately liberation has been  noticeable in most liberation
movements of the past few year.  For example, in Poland, the
church had a definite role in shaping the Solidarity movement;  in
East Germany, the New Forum  was conceived on the pulpits of the
church, in South Africa, Nicaragua, Panama_  The
current global atmosphere has reestablished the role of religion
in the life of the nations, as opposed to the hostile attitude of
the Cold War era.
It is apparent that, at least from a theological perspective, we
cannot be liberated if we are not ready to be witnesses first:
witness to our faith, witness to the suffering and cross of Jesus
Christ. Yeghesheh, describing the dynamics of
Vartanantz, explains our uniqueness: ” [The Persian King]
persecuted the Armenians more than all the others, because he
observed them to be the most zealous in the worship of God,
especially those who belonged to the families of the Armenian
nakharars who had sincerely adhered to the holy teachings of the
apostles and the prophets.”4 Today, are  we ready to follow in the
footsteps of our forefathers, who saw Christ above all else?  Our
nationhood was defined by our forefathers through
Christ. Unfortunately,  many of the Armenian leaders see little or
no value in our Christian faith, because politically  that is a
baggage of added burden for our “self-determination” and
“liberation.”  Armenian Christian faith is viewed as a
“custom” of the past rather than the source of potency of Armenian
identity.  It is as if we are reluctant to say we are Christians,
that we are determined to hold on the tenets of our Faith, because
otherwise, the world  might deprive us of our
rights.  But this was not the case with Vartanantz: for them
Christ was first, then  politics, Nation, then  self-glory.
Politics, outside the context of a national ethos, is
self-defeating. From a broader perspective, politics can be
considered a
chapter of theology.  “A true ‘political theology’ takes upon
itself serving man according to his nature and his truth; and
consequently serving the political nature of humanity–i.e. the
power of love, which is at the heart of existence and which
is the condition of the true communion of persons, the true city,
the true polis.”5
According to the Scripture, faith is the total response of man to
God, who saves through love.  In this light, “the understanding of
the faith appears as the understanding not of the simple
affirmation-almost memorization–of truths, but of a
commitment, an overall attitude, a particular posture toward
life.”6  This understanding and witness of Vartan and his
companions is illustrated in one of the dialogues between the King
of Persian and a young Armenian nakharar (nobleman):
” . . . References to Christ’s name, His torture, crucifixion,
death and burial irritated [the King].
“He made such demented boasts daily, that one of the youngest
Armenian nakharars disputed his words and asked: ‘Valiant King,
where did you learn the words which you utter concerning our Lord?
“The King answered and said: ‘The books of your heresy were read
before me.’
“The youth replied and said: ‘Wherefore, O King, did you have it
read only that far?  Have the reading continued still farther, and
you will hear of His resurrection, His appearance before many, His
ascension to heaven, His sitting at the right of
His Father, His promise of His second coming to cause the
miraculous resurrection of all men; and of His summary reward in
just judgment.
“When the king heard this he was deeply hurt, but, laughing
forcibly, said: ‘All that is deception.’
“The soldier of Christ replied and said: ‘If you take as true His
bodily sufferings, so must you yet more believe in His awesome
second coming.’
“Having heard these words, the king burned like the fire in the
glowing furnace of Babylon, and even those who were with him felt
themselves scorched like the Chaldeans.  Then he poured his entire
wrath and indignation over the blessed youth, whose
name was Karekin. Having his feet and hands bound, he subjected
him to tortures for about two years; and after having deprived him
of his dominion, sentenced him to death.”7
The importance of Armenian history, particularly Vartanantz, is
not in its temporality but in the eschatological dimension of the
event and its role as praxis.  Indeed, Armenian history is above
all else an opening to the future, hence it is a
task, a political occupation, through which the Armenian man
orients and opens himself to the gift which gives history its
transcendent meaning: “the full and definitive encounter with the
Lord and with other men.  ‘To do the truth,’ as the Gospel
says, thus acquires a precise and concrete meaning in terms of the
importance of action in Christian life.  Faith in God who loves us
and calls us to the gift of full communion with him and
brotherhood among men.”8

The Current Situation

St. John Chrysostom, in one of his homilies, asserts that
“Familiarity causes admiration to fade.9  Surely enough, as we
become more familiar with the present reality of our church and
our rival Armenianism, it seems that our initial admiration is
gradually fading away.  There is a whole generation of Armenians
whose commitment to the Armenian church is shifting to other
directions.  A generation of young, enthusiastic, excited and
educated flock  of Armenians, who feel frustrated and
disillusioned, and mourn the inadequacy of their role models.
There is a whole generation of Armenians who escaping  the
reverent emptiness and misunderstood nationalism of the Armenian
Church, find refuge in other places.  The most tragic aspect
of this plight  is the fact that the new generation is unable to
find Christ in the Armenian Church–Christ, “The Son of God [who]
shares our nature so we can share His;  as He has us in Him, so we
have Him in us.”10   On the other side of the coin
are those who–without rejecting what is good in contemporary
Armenian Church life–are rediscovering the traditional sources of
the Armenian Faith.  It
should be noted that this phenomenon is not unique to the Armenian
Church.  It is happening also in other churches, namely, the Roman
Catholic Church.  In an article entitled “Coming Home to
Tradition,” a young Fr. Wood, 33, explains the dilemma:
“‘I consider myself very avant-garde in my methodology but very
traditional in the content.’ These young priests are rediscovering
the classic theologians, the Divine Office, community life_to
deepen and enrich their lives rather than to simply
protest against what they see as negative trends in the
contemporary Church.  One thing many of them have in common is a
problem describing themselves–a problem of identity.”11  In the
case of the Armenian Church there is some anticipation and
hope, but in the long run, the situation remains dormant.
One of the difficult questions that the Church must address, from
a theological perspective, is What or Who is an Armenian ?  We
proudly claim to be a national church, but never speak about the
theological implicatons of this nationalism or how
does it fit in the ecclesiology of the Armenian Church.
Evidently, “Armenian” is an adjective that describes the national
or ethnic identity of a person, by virtue of that person’s
association with that particular group and culture.  Yet, what is
it that makes this group distinct from other groups or
In order to deal with this question, we
need to examine its historical context.  From the crossing of the
Bosphorus by the Armeno-Phrygians, ca. 1250 B.C., to King Trdat
III, third century A.D.,  did not exist a distinct Armenian
culture per se, but there was what could be called a
“Hay-Armen Culture,” i.e. the culture of two principal ancestral
tribes of the Armenian people.12  Obviously, an indecisive and a
“shapeless”  culture and a language (means of communications)
existed, but without distinct national characteristics.13
Rather the people living in a specific geographic location,
within specific boundaries, constituted the people of Armenia,
i.e. the people who lived in a land called Armenia.   There was a
pagan culture  which sought to unify many deities and
cults under one earthly or heavenly monarch.14 “During the
Classical era, the Armenians laid the foundations of their rich
and splendid national literature. It is true that the distinctive
alphabet was not invented until after the introduction of
Christianity, but pagan  [all italics mine] Armenia was far from
being illiterate.  From Moses of Khorene, the national chronicle,
we have the texts of ancient ballads and legends, which were
earlier handed down by word of mouth.  Official documents
and inscriptions were written in Greek or else in Iranian using
Aramaic characters_.King Artavazd II, son of Tigranes the Great,
maintained a Greek theatre in his palace, and himself wrote dramas
in Greek to be staged there. Roman legionaries
brought Latin script with them, notably in the reign of Emperor
Trajan, though this failed to take root among the local
Until the 4th century, an Armenian culture  was in formation, but
without a national  character.  Each period and dynasty in history
contributed to this cultural evolution, however, it was the
Christianization of Armenia (ca. 301) that “determined
the entire future course of Armenian history”16.  It was after the
adoption of Christianity as the state religion that Armenia became
a NATION.  It was through Christianity that the people living in
the Land of Armenia became the Armenian Nation.
Moreover, with the establishment of the
Church, the entire Armenian nation was unified as the Body of
Christ. With the Good News of Jesus Christ, a new “formula,” a
new apparatus of defining Armenian nationhood  was provided. Thus,
the Church became a central institution in the life of
the Armenian nation.  And henceforth, the Armenian monarchy
prioritized the Church as one of the most important institutions
to secure the religious, cultural, social and political unity of
the Armenian Nation. Henceforth, Armenian culture (i.e.
Armenian-way-of-life) was defined and expressed within the context
of the Good News, the new message of Christ (avedis).  The
Armenian nation embraced Christ in its own land where Christ
himself descended, (etch-miadzin).  Whether the
Etchmiadzin-vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator was a legend or
real, its meaning is not negated in either case.  The vision of
St. Gregory is a definite expression of  the total  acceptance and
adoption of Christ by the Armenians.  Christ was not
only the Savior of the Jews and the gentiles, but distinctly the
Armenians.  As the new FAITH and the redifined  national identity
of the Armenians took roots in the life of the nation, the
invention of an Armenian alphabet was necessitated.
Otherwise, why an Armenian alphabet was not invented 200 or 300
years before Christianity?  Why was it that the necessity of a
unique Armenian alphabet was felt soon after the establishment of
Christianity?  Consequently, this was a significant
result of Christianization of Armenia.
With the invention of the Armenian alphabet, this newly molded
Armenian-Chrisitian  national identity was shaped and secured with
a unique Armenian spirit and quality.  It is siginificant that the
first book that was translated after the invention
of the alphabet was the Bible.   This indicates that the Armenian
alphabet was not invented primarily to record ancient  Armenian
culture, or to preserve the Armenian culture–the way we interpret
preservation  now– but rather it was invented to
translate the Scriptures, the new Faith and the message of Christ,
henceforth, making the Good News of Christ accessible to the
people and giving it a fundamental role in the Armenian national

The Good News of Christ is an essential part of our national
equation. It is a proof once again, that without this renewed
Faith, we cannot have a definition of Armenian nationhood.
Ultimately, if we want to understand the Armenian nation and
Armenian history, we need to understand the Good News of Jesus
Christ.  A full appreciation and evaluation of Armenian history
cannot be done apart from Christ.  And this is consistent in our
history: starting from the 4th century to the Persian
Rule (430-634 A.D.) and Arab Domination (654-851 A.D.), from the
Bagratid Dynasty (885-1079). . . to the Armenian Genocide. . .. It
could be argued, that if we were not Christians, we would have
been lost long ago in the winds of history.  Yet it
was because of our Faith and its implications to our nationhood,
that we survived.  It is indeed, Faith, the understanding of death
and resurrection, the way of the Cross, the suffering and victory
of Christ, that gives a nation perpetuity.  Without
that concept and understanding, a nation will be doomed to
disappear.  The message of Christ is central to this survival.
Many times we speak of Armenians as being survivalists. But what
is it that gives us the desire to survive.  It is that very
teaching of Christ, that “he who believes in [him], though he die,
shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in [him] shall never
die” (John 25-26), that “whoever follows [him] will not walk in
darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12).  It is
through His cross, suffering and resurrection that this
national Armenian survivalism is measured and qualified.
Without the Cross there is no liberation.  Liberation from all
types of tensions in the life of the nation and the life of the
nation in relation to the  world.  It is only through the process
and understanding of the Cross that a true liberation
can be assured.   A liberation that even a person locked in a
prison cell could experience, it is the liberation of Christ.
As Armenians, “confessing Christ is to receive His cross into our
lives and to translate it into action.  It implies a new form of
kenosis [“self-emptying”], a renewed discipleship of Him who
‘trampled down death by death’ and became and remained
our Way, our Truth and our Life. Confessing Christ today entails
not only continuous and conscious participation in His sacramental
presence in the church. . . but it demands a deeper commitment to
His liberating action in the world, an active and
sacrificial involvement in the struggle of social justice, and
authentic humanness.  Confessing Christ eventually orients us to a
community which transcends our own particularities, a world
community undergirded by the power of His cross and

Believing in Christ does not consist in pious exercises only, but
rather in a new mode of existing before God and in the light of
the movement  announced by Him.  Leonardo Boff, one of the notable
liberation theologians, convincingly presents this
thesis. “Conversion,” he writes,  “always implies a rupture: ‘Do
you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No. I tell
you, but rather divisions.  For from now on a household of five
will be divided: three against two and two against three
. . .’ (12:51-52). Nevertheless, this reversal in one’s mode of
thinking and acting is to be life-giving, it is to lead a person
to a crisis and to deciding for the new order that is already in
our midst, that is Jesus Christ himself (Luke 17:21).
“Jesus in not so much interested in whether a person before all
else observed all the laws, paid tithes on all things, observed
all the legal prescriptions of religion and society.  He is
primarily interested in whether a person is disposed to sell
all properties to acquire the field with hidden treasure; whether
one is ready to sell all to buy
the precious pearl (Matt. 13:4-46); whether, in order to enter the
new order, one has the courage to abandon family and fortune (Matt
10:37), risk one’s life (Luke 17:33), tear out an eye and cut off
a hand (Mark 9:43 & Matt. 5:29).  This no  to the
established order does not signify asceticism but an attitude of
readiness to comply with the exigencies of Jesus.
“Now therefore, it is urgent that one open oneself to God. This
demand goes so far that Jesus threatens us with the following
harsh words: ‘If you do not change your way of thinking and
acting, you will all perish’ (Luke 13:3,5). The flood is
imminent and it is the final hour (Matt. 24:37-39; 7:24-27).  The
ax has been put to the root of the tree; if it will not bear
fruit, it will be cut down (Luke 13:9).  The owner of the house
will close the door and those that are late
will hear these sad words: “I do not know where you come from
(Luke 13:25); it is already too late (Matt. 25:11).  For this
reason, those are called prudent who understood this situation of
radical crisis (Matt. 7:24;24:45;25:2,4,8,9; Luke 12:42)
and opted in favor of a kingdom, making a choice capable of
supporting and conquering all temptations (cf. Matt. 7:24-25).
The invitation is given to all. Most, however, find themselves to
be so busy with their affairs that they reject the
invitation to the nuptial feast (Luke 14:16-24). Chiefly the rich
are so installed (Mark 10:25; cf. Matt. 23:24). The gate is narrow
and not all make sufficient effort or work hard in order to pass
through it (cf. Luke 13:24).  The necessity for
conversion at times demands a rupture from the most rudimentary
ties of love for dead relatives that are about to be interred
(Luke 9:59f; Matt. 8:21f.).   A person who has opted for the
tidings of Jesus looks only ahead. . . The option for Jesus
cannot remain at some half-way point like the constructor of a
tower who laid the foundation but ceased work when it was half
finished.  It is urgent that one reflect before accepting the
invitation.  To say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ is easy, but one must also
wish to do what the Lord says (Luke 6:46).  Otherwise, one’s last
state is worse than the first (Matt. 12:43-45).  Conversion itself
is like a nuptial gown, like an oiled head and a washed face (cf.
Matt. 6:17), like music and dance (Luke 15:25),
like the joy of the son who returns to the father’s house (Luke
15:32), like the satisfaction one has on finding lost money (Luke
It is in fact a Christocentric reflection that would provide a
theological framework for Liberation.  Of course, words and
theories will always be inadequate.  In the final analysis,
Liberation is not a way of speaking or a way of thinking, it is a
way of living and it can only be adequately understood in a living
praxis.   Understanding Christ’s liberation is only meaningful in
so far as we try to live as he lived and to order our lives
according to his values.   Only a true practice of our
Armenian faith can verify what we believe.  We can refer to
history, tradition and experience, but what we believe can only be
made true, and be seen to be true, in the concrete results which
our faith achieves in this world, today and tomorrow.
Hence, an Armenian theology of liberation  is the attempt to read
the signs of our times as Jesus read the signs of his times.
There are similarities but there are also differences.  We cannot
merely repeat what Jesus said; but we can begin to
analyze our times in the same spirit as he analyzed his times.
Accordingly, searching for the signs of the times in the spirit of
Christ, will then mean recognizing all the forces that are working
against our nation as the forces of evil. After
all, is not the present world order ruled and governed by the
evils of men?
An Armenian theology of liberation would reaffirm the faith of
our forefathers, that goodness can and will triumph over evil.
Despite the system, despite the magnitude, complexity and apparent
insolubility of our problems today, our nation in
Christ can be, and in the end will be, liberated.  The power that
can achieve this is the power of our faith that believes.  It is
only through our witness to the power of Christ that would make
this possible.
With this kind of approach to our national problems, one will
surely come to recognize the impending catastrophes facing our
people as a unique opportunity for the coming  of the His Kingdom
and our
witness to it.   By shaking the very foundation of our lives,
Christ awakens in us the faith and the hope to see the signs of
His kingdom here in our midst, to see our eschaton as an either-or
event and to see our time as the unique opportunity for
the total liberation of his people.  God is speaking to the
Armenian people in a new way today. He is speaking in the events
and problems of our times.  Christ can help us understand this
voice of Truth, but ultimately, it is we who must decide and
In contemporary Armenian experience, fidelity to Armenian
nationalism and ethos should revolve around the themes of
remembrance, critique, affirmation  and witness, all within the
“limitations” of a  broken world.   As a Nation, presently our
choices are difficult, delicate and fateful.  Our collective
existence, particularly in Armenia, is threatened by political and
economic predicaments.  Yet, despite the fact that we are somewhat
dependent on regional powerbrokers, an Armenian
solution to Armenian problems has been most desirable.  It is at
this critical juncture that a new  Armenian theological
reflection is urgent –a theology that will be accountable to the
experience of the people.  An Armenian theology that will
articulate significant events in Armenian history; a theology that
will serve as a guide for direction and choice in the present; a
theology that will provide the resources necessary to create a
future for the Armenian people.19
There is no  Armenian nationhood in any meaningful sense without
a deepening of the WITNESS its values offer to the world.
1Yeghisheh, History of Vartan and the Armenian War,  (New York:
The Delphic Press, 1952.),  p. 74.
2cf. Albert Nolan, Jesus before Christianity,  (New York: Orbis
Books1978), p. 34.
3Yeghisheh, History of Vartan,  p. 110
4Yeghisheh, History of Vartan,  p. 10
5Christos Yanaras, “A Note on Political Theology,”  SVTQ Vol 27,
No. 1/1983. p. 54.
6Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation,  (New York: Orbis
Books 1973), p. 7.
7Yeghesheh, History of Vartan,  p. 7.
8Gutierrez, A Theology, p. 10.
9St. John Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family Life, (Crestwood, New
York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986), p. 49.
10ibid., p. 51.
11″Coming Home to Tradition,” Catholic Twin Circle, March 11,
1990, p. 4.
12cf. Vahan M. Kurkjian, A History of Armenia, (New York:
A.G.B.U., 1964), pp.19-21.
13There were local customs, manners and traditions but not a
universal Armenian culture. cf.  David Marshal Lang, The
Armenians,  (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1988), p. 44.
14cf. H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture,  (New York: Harper
Torchbooks, 1951), p. 8.
15Lang, The Armenians, p. 47
16ibid., p. 47
17Aram Keshishian, The Witness of the Armenian Church,  (New York:
Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, 1978), pp.
18Leonardo Boff, Jesus Christ Liberator,  (New York: Orbis Books,
1986), pp. 64-66.
19cf. Marc H. Ellis, Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation, (New
York: Orbis Books, 1987), pp.110-122. I have utilized Ellis’s
typology of a “Jewish theology of liberation,” which in many ways
is applicable to the Armenian experience. The author
provides an insightful and provocative study of Judaism and the
challenges it faces in the light of the Holocaust and the
emergence of the potent state of Israel. In so doing, he offers a
critique of certain Jewish political and theological
positions, and lay the foundation for an authentically Jewish
theology of liberation.


Toward a Diaspora Theology

Vigen Guroian

In his helpful and provocative book All the Fullness of God the
Orthodox theologian Fr. Thomas Hopko has argued that diaspora is
“a notoriously unchristian te
rm which betrays in its very utterance how far we are in practice
from what, by God’s grace, we still somehow retain in theory.”  In
so characterizing the use of diaspora by Christians, Hopko is
reminding us of Christ’s evangelical commission to the
Church to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo,
I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt.
28:19-20 RSV). For Hopko the only acceptable theological use of
the term diaspora is to have it refer to the salvific mission of
the Church in its temporal pilgrimage as a sign of the promised
Kingdom of God.  But as he so rightly points out, this
is not how Russian, Greek and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians or
Armenians have used it.
I agree with Fr. Hopko that diaspora has become a dangerous, even
heterodox, term in the hands of Orthodox Christians, who yet carry
the memory of forced dispersions from historical national
homelands. Often in these contexts the term diaspora has
legitimated a wholly unbiblical, even antibiblical, theology of
survival.  Repeatedly diaspora is employed by  Armenians in such a
way as to set forth a deceiving contrast between a so-called
normal Armenian religious existence in a pre-Armenocide
Turkey, or in present day Soviet Armenia or in the Middle East
with an entirely abnormal and peripheral religious life of
Armenians in America.   The deception in such thinking is that
there simply is no longer an Armenian religious culture which is
normal in the traditional sense; nor is it possible or desirable
to rebuild in this pluralistic secular society a religious ethnic
community which approximates the Armenian Christian order of the
Ottoman millet.
And yet how often does one hear the argument that if only
Armenians retain the use of the Armenian language in the liturgy,
teach Armenian to their youth, perpetuate idealized recitations on
St. Vartanantz Day about a once glorious Hayastan,  keep
eating the right
food, dance the right dances, they can preserve or recreate such
an order right in the midst of that abnormal odar  society in
which Armenian-Americans spend virtually all their waking and
sleeping hours, of which the vast majority are citizens, in
which they work, play, go to school, socialize and upon which they
rely for necessary information, goods, and services.  So much of
the talk of survival heard in Armenian religious and secular
circles is, in fact, the reification of this
self-delusion for which diaspora serves as a shorthand term.  I
say this without intending to belittle a rich cultural and
religious heritage to which even a third generation
Armenian-American such as myself owes so much of his identity and
strength, sense of belonging and personal worth.   Nevertheless, a
heritage such as this is a dead matter unless it projects those
whom it claims into a vital human reality.
Fr. John Meyendorff in this book Catholicity and  the Church,
has pointed out that diaspora is a concept belonging to the Old
Testament and rooted in Jewish faith.  “In the Old Testament,”
writes Meyendorff, “God acted in history through the
mediation of a ‘chosen people,’ Israel, to whom he had granted the
‘promised’ land of Canaan, where Solomon built a temple and where
the Messiah was to establish His reign.  The Chosen People were
called to cultivate this land and possess it, and
any exile from it was seen as cursed by divine wrath.” To this day
the notion of a diaspora therefore has a vital theological
significance for Jews for whom one particular place is identified
with the divine call.  For Christians this cannot be so.
They have taken their name from the very Messiah who revealed in
his life, death and resurrection that the “promised land,” the new
Jerusalem, is no longer to be identified with any single time or
place but is present and coming into existence
whenever and wherever two or three gather in His name.  This is
the tremendous import of Christ’s words to the Samaritan woman at
the well as reported by St. John in his gospel. “Woman, believe
me,” said Jesus, “the hour is coming when neither on
this mountain, nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  But
the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will
worship the Father in spirit, and those who worship him must
worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24).
The analogy sometimes drawn between the Armenian diaspora and the
Jewish diaspora, therefore, is imperfect at best and at worst
introduces a theological heresy.   Armenia might have been one
special place in which Christ established His Church.
But that Church’s identity ultimately cannot be defined by nor its
mission limited to the historic location of the Church’s
origination or even the historic culture which it Christianized
and nurtured.  Neither can the new life in Christ which the
Armenian Church promises and bestows through baptism and sustains
in eucharistic worship be meant solely for that people whose name
it took.  For no church is the universal catholic apostolic Church
if it is so limited and if its energies are
restricted to ethnic or national aspirations.
In this vein, I am reminded of two bits of dialogue in William
Saroyan’s play Armenians.   Early in the play, the priest Fr.
Kasparian says to his Armenian Protestant counterpart “[T]he true
church . . .is Armenia itself.”   Later a character who
carries the name of the historic Armenian region of Van exclaims:
“The water of Van is water.  This [Fresno’s water] is also; but it
is not the water
of Van.  It does not give life to the soul, it gives life only to
the body.”  These two characters express a religio-nationalism
common among Armenians.  This religio-nationalism owes much
obviously to Christianity.  In the clear light of the gospel
story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, however, Fr. Kasparian’s
religion errs in the same way that the Samaritan woman erred in
believing Jesus a prophet of that cultic religion which identified
God and his true worship with a particular place –
for Samaritans, Mt. Gerizim, for the Jews, Mt. Sion or Jerusalem,
for those like Fr. Kasparian, Mt. Ararat or Etchmiadzin.
Van’s statement certainly expresses a pathos familiar to anyone
brought up Armenian.  In that sense it is an accurate portrayal of
Armenian consciousness.  I cannot help thinking, however, that
Saroyan sought to embody in the character Van that
quintessential Armenian paganism which he once said sacralizes
Armenian family, community and nationhood through the use of
Christian symbols.  Van invokes these symbols quite sincerely.  He
does not consciously or cynically manipulate such symbols.
Of course, there are Armenians who, smitten with survivalism,
will use any strategy to save the Hye Tad.   Van, however, is
simply devoted to the religio-ethnic cult of Armenianism. He like
the Samaritan woman mistakes a local source of refreshment
or nourishment with that which truly gives life to the soul.  The
Samaritan woman would attribute such power to the water drawn from
that well called Jacob’s well.  Van thinks it is the water of Lake
Van.  But Jesus says that He Himself is the true
life-giving water. “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst
again, but whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never
thirst;  the water that I shall give him will become in him a
spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John
4:13-14).  The religion of the ethnic cult may go on even within
the body of the Church, but Christ has and is presently bringing
this to an end.
Van is the character who at the conclusion of Armenians exclaims,
“Long live the Armenian spirit.”  Yet, significantly, this is an
antiphonal to the exclamation, “Long live the human race,” offered
by the character named Bitlis.  Van is not a one
dimensional character. Saroyan endows him with a capacity to
experience the tension between universalism  and particularism in
human life.  He perhaps has even grasped, if only fleetingly, the
truth that a national church is not church at all if it
fails to embody also the Universal Church.  Near the close of
Armenians , Saroyan le
ads the reader to the brink of this theological truth.   Bitlis
admits that in his youth he went to the school of the Protestant
missionaries in order to get “a little education.”  Fr. Kasparian
responds: “It is desirable to acquire knowledge.  The
missionaries did not convert anybody to Christianity, they only
took some of the Christians away from the national church and put
them into their church.”  Van interjects with the remark: “The
international church, perhaps?  Isn’t it the aspiration
of civilized people to become citizens of the world rather than
merely citizens of one country?  I must say I am strongly tempted,
now, to such a citizenship.  Now that it does appear our long day
is coming to a close.”

Saroyan is not terribly interested in doing theology, and
probably that is just as well.  Nevertheless, he is a humanist who
articulates the tension between the human good of cultural
particularity and that of universalism.  Saroyan translated
theologically might say:  “There is no such thing as an accultural
and locationless church and likewise there is not such a thing in
history as a Christianity which is universally held by
all Christians.  There is, however, one Universal Church,
variously located, transforming in and through its eucharistic
life not some abstract human essence but the many particular
historical cultural expressions of that nature into the Body of
Christ.  Of course, Van might not be right that the Protestant
missionaries quite literally represent the “international,” or the
Universal Church.  We may be faced here with Saroyan’s impression,
having been brought up as a Protestant, that
Protestant Christianity has done better at presenting the
universal message of the gospel, even if at the significant cost
of having abandoned the human good associated with the cultural
particularity of the Armenian Church.   But Van’s comments and
the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well still
recommend some crucial insights for an Armenian theology in the
American diaspora.
For example, might we not conclude from what I have just reviewed
in Scripture and Saroyan that if the Armenian Church communities
dispersed here in North America continue to think of themselves as
primarily diaspora the Armenian Church will become
increasingly incapable of behaving as church and be increasingly
irrelevant for people seeking biblical religious meaning for their
lives.  Fr. John Meyendorff has said that “this does not imply at
all, as many would think, that Orthodox immigrants”
in other lands other than that of their origin abandon their
original cultural identity or forget their ties with the
motherland.  St. Paul himself “boast[ed] of being the seed of
Abraham (II Cor. 2:22), a faithful Jew, willing to die for his
(Rom. 9:3).  “And yet,” continues Meyendorff, “it is Paul who
[also] wrote and preached in Greek to the Greeks, and became  the
one, of all the apostles, to be the ‘apostle to the Gentiles.'”
Even if every Armenian Christian cannot be expected to
behave as St. Paul, the Church must, lest it lose all identity as
the body and mission of Christ in the world.
Presently, the survivalist mentality of both the Diocese and the
Prelacy has subordinated the catholic memory and evangelical
mission of the Church to other cultural or nationalistic purposes
as well as intra-and-extra ecclesiastical power
machinations.  In so doing they have encouraged especially those
who, finding it difficult to consciously adopt the ways of others
in order to be of service to them, circle the wagons of the ethnic
train to protect themselves from the aliens in
whose midst they have come.  Nor have the Diocese or the Prelacy
found a way to reach the increasing others who slip the wagon
circle at night and, never looking back, endeavor to become full
members of American society at the cost of all Armenian
and Apostolic Orthodox identity.
As long as the Armenian Church in America conforms itself to the
image of a church in diaspora, there can be no hope of mediating
these two extreme yet regular behaviors.  As Meyendorff has said
of churches, such as the Armenian Church, which
identify so totally with ethnic diasporas, “the problem is not
that [the church] helps immigrants to preserve their human and
religious identity, but rather that the church expects to be
limited by the immigrants’ particular interests and goals,
which in turn are defined and supported by
foreign ecclesiastical or political interests.”  Are  Etchmiadzin
and Antelias foreign?  In some real sense they are, unless we
believe the extraordinary myth that there is a singular Armenian
nation dispersed throughout the world, and that we here
in America belong in a more concrete way to that mystical nation
than to the society in which we live out our daily lives and in
which most of us expect our children and grandchildren and great
grandchildren to live out their lives.

Likewise, it is no more helpful to say that the Armenian Church
in America is a national church than it is to say that it is a
church in diaspora.  Bishop Aram Keshishian of Lebanon has argued
in his book The Witness of the Armenian Church in a
Diaspora  that a theology of the diaspora is necessarily a
theology of survival.  He then goes on to define this survival as
“a continuous attempt to rediscover and reinterpret the ethos of
the Nation.”  Perhaps such a statement makes sense in
certain Middle Eastern contexts with which Bishop Keshishian is
far more familiar than I.  To be fair, he does go on to say that
such “survival is not religious ethnocentrism, a monological
existence.  It is basically an inter-dependent dialogical
co-existence.”  But the overall significance  of such a theology
of survival, however carefully nuanced, is that it substitutes a
projective myth of national restoration for the hope in the
in-breaking of God’s eschatological Kingdom, founded in the
person of Jesus Christ, expressed and experienced through the
Church’s liturgical life and in charitable deeds toward the
neighbor.  In such a theology the former myth not the latter hope
is the subject and goal of the witness of the Church.  Even
in America, the Armenian Church has been making this myth its
goal.  It has devoted the larger portion of its energies to
uniting the Nation.  But what would it take for the Church to
accomplish this end.  Armenian-Americans are not living in the
Ottoman millet, and the last remnants of an integrated Armenian
Christendom have long since vanished.  The Armenian communities of
the diaspora have gone the secular ways of the societies in which
they are located.  The nation will not be united on
Christian premises.  The Church inevitably discovers that in order
to keep the mystical nation alive it must subordinate its
Christian witness to cultural activities and political agendas far
removed from the praxis of prayer and worship by which it
is defined as church.  Who is transforming whom?
This matter of the secularization of the Church’s own
self-interpretation can be illustrated through a brief
consideration of how St. Vartanantz day functions presently.
Professor Kachig Toloyan of Wesleyan University has argued
persuasively in
several articles on Armenian terrorism how utterly secularized the
Vartanantz story has become and that the Church is fundamentally
to blame for this, thus even unintentionally having provided
Armenian terrorists with a narrative justification for
what they do.
Over the past several years we have witnessed hierarchs of the
Church liken the conflict over Karabagh with the Vartanantz War.
Yet that which has been happening in Soviet Armenia recently has
to do almost exclusively with nationalism.  Even the
innocent lives lost to Azerbaijani atrocities cannot easily be
counted as Christian martyrdoms as the deaths of Vartan and his
followers are depicted in the hagiographic accounts.  In
contemporary Armenian religious life this hagiography has
gradually been stripped of its christological
bearings and removed from its location within the larger biblical
narrative of salvation.  It is interpreted as an exemplary
narrative of virtuous action in defense of national identity.  Th
is has happened across diocesan and jurisdictional lines.  The
story of Vartan has been transformed into a model for a
post-Armenocide national struggle for survival in the diaspora.
In that struggle the ethnic goals of preservation of culture and
language or nationhood have replaced the Christian eschatology.
The national life which a particular geographical location might
provide Armenians has been valued above the life that Armenians
can bring to others as bearers of the catholic
apostolic faith.
Vartan transformed into a hero of survival and nationhood,
whether understood culturally or politically, has even eclipsed
St. Gregory the Illuminator in the consciousness of Armenians.
This I venture to say has primarily to do with the fact that
St. Gregory’s story of conversion and mission is not terribly
useful to a religion of ethnic survival.   Ironically, St.
Gregory’s story and those narratives of our other mission and
ecumenically minded saints are far more instructive in how
Armenians might behave as church in this North American location
than the Vartan narrative.  These hagiographic narratives have the
power to instruct and inspire Armenian Christians toward a renewed
understanding of themselves as apostolic witnesses
in a society whose suffocating secularism leaves so many people,
Armenians and non-Armenians alike, gasping for a faith greater
than the measure of man or nation.

How shall I put it?  As a church we are suffering from such
distortions of our tradition that our first act of theological
renewal may well require that we seek from other Christians to
whom we tell our story a critique of it, so that we can once
again tell it correctly.  And that critique most often need not
and probably will not come as a univocal address to our
circumstances but will be something that we ourselves must
conscientiously listen for in the midst of an ongoing dialogue the
concerns of which cross church or denominational boundaries.  For
this reason, I am persuaded that the Armenian Church’s involvement
in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of
Churches, in spite of all the theological and
ecclesiological booby-traps along the way, has been a good which
Armenian Christians have not the critical distance from their own
concerns to yet measure.   In a somewhat different though related
way, the positive side of the so-called mixed
marriages increasingly populating our parishes is that those
strangers whom we accept into our midst will by their involvement,
indeed by their very presence in the Church, require us to think
hard about how the Church can be instructing persons who
are not Armenian in the Christian life.   This may well be where
the rebirth of our sense of the Church as mission will begin.
In concluding, is there then any sense in which we might want to
retain the use of the word diaspora when reflecting upon the
future of the Armenian Church in America?  I would recommend a
sociological meaning which can be put to critical and
constructive use toward the renewal of Armenian theology and
church life.  Thus understood, diaspora describes an historical
dispersion of a people and its institutional forms from an
indigenous homeland.   Armenians came to
America not only as a church, but as an immigrant community.  And
over several generations and waves of immigration they have
continued to think of themselves and behave as a displaced or even
exiled religious ethnic community.  The term diaspora
correctly accounts for this experience and invites thoughtful
reflection upon the particular and universal dimensions of it.
This diaspora is both permanent and transitional.  It is permanent
because never will all Armenians return from whence
their ancestors fled or were expelled.  It is transitional because
it is a phase in an inexorable process of acculturation and
ecclesiastical adjustment by which the Armenian Church
increasingly becomes a mission to America and is no longer
identified even primarily with an historic culture to which it
once gave a Christian character.  As a permanent state the
diaspora challenges the Armenian Church to incorporate into its
divine remembrance and doxo-logical prayer some accurate
valuation of a past to which there is no return but from which
those who worship and pray as that church might seek wisdom and
guidance in living a Christian life.  As a transitional phase the
diaspora challenges the Armenian Church to turn its
energies away from a concern for preservation of old religious
forms and practices which have gotten hopelessly confused with
secular national aspirations and ethnic folk customs toward the
nurture of new forms of ecclesiastical life which are
demonstrably vivified by biblical faith and the greater Orthodox
Christian tradition from which the Armenian Church long ago
derived the marrow of its spiritual life.
At the end of an oral history conversation I had some years ago
with a survivor of the Genocide, a woman whom as a child saw some
seventy of her relations die on the march from Marash to the
Syrian desert, I asked: “How in view of all you have
suffered could you still believe in God?”  At first she demurred
saying that she was not a priest or a theologian.  But I pressed
her. Surely she had thought about this matter.  “Yes,” she said
finally.  Some of the men and women of her generation
who settled in Richmond had succumb to bitterness and resentment,
even anger at God.  They would accuse God: “Why did God do this to
us?” or “Why did he permit it to happen?”  She, however, had not
grown bitter.  There were, of course, moments of
doubt and questioning even so many years after.  But she would
remember Jesus on the cross.  “This,” she said, “is what gives me
hope and sustains me. And I believe in the resurrection and that
we will live even after this death on earth . . . .
Maybe God means for us, I mean the Armenians, to be an example to
the world.”  Here is the beginning of a diaspora theology, a
theology not of survival but of renewed witness to the crucified
and risen Lord.  For we can be like “the grain of mustard
seed, which, when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the
seeds on the earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes
the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that
the birds of the air can make nests in the shade.”
(Mark 10:31-32).


His Beatitude Archbishop Yeghishe Derderian (1910-1990), Patriarch
of Jeruselem passed to his eternal rest on February 1, 1990.  His
Beatitude was born in Van.  Ordained as a celebate priest in 1932,
he was consecrated a bishop in 1951 and in 1960 he was elected
Patriarch of Holy Jerusalem.

His Beatitude Archbishop Shnork Kaloustian (1913-1990), Patriarch
of Constantinople passed to his eternal rest on March 7, 1990 at
the Holy See of Etchmiadzin.  His Beatitude was born in Yozgat.
Ordained a celebate priest in 1935, he was
consecrated a bishop in 1955 and in 1961 was elected Patriarch of

His Eminence Archbishop Vazken Keshishian (1935-1990), Primate of
the Canadian Diocese passed to his eternal rest on March 27, 1990.
His Eminence was born in Alexandria.  Ordained a celebate priest
in 1959, he was consecrated a bishop in 1984 and
elected to the newly established Diocese of the Armenian Church of

His Eminence Archbishop Torkom Manoukian was elected as the
Patriarch of Jerusalem on March 21, 1990 by members of the
brotherhood.  His Eminence was born in 1919 in Baghdad.  Ordained
a celebate priest in 1939, he was consecrated a bishop in 1962.
Since 1967 he has been the Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the
Armenian Church of North America.

Letters to the GROUP

I received your first issue and have handed out many copies to
individuals whom I felt would benefit.  You have put together a
good piece of work; something that has been sorely (?) needed by
our people.  God grant you the wisdom and courage to
continue.  Love in Christ,
Fr. Tateos Abdalian, Watervliet, NY

The unannounced appearance of “Window” took me b
y surprise, but I enjoyed reading it.  The articles are
informative, the writing crisp and the layouts and illustrations
are pleasing to the eye.
However, after reading every word, I found myself search for the
publication’s raison d’etre.  Perhaps an editor’s note or policy
statement on page 2, above the masthead, would have been
appropriate to explain its objectives.
I commend The Group for the time and effort it took to produce
“Window.”  However, I wonder if the average parishioner
understands what you have written, despite occasional insertions
of an Armenian word I’m afraid the language is too difficult,
especially for newcomers.
In any case, I wish you success, because I am always in favor of
disseminating the printed word for the benefit of better
understanding among our fellow parishioners as well as the entire
Armenian community.
Charles R. Nazarian, Van Nuys, CA

The first issue was great, but it will be a tough act to follow!
May God be your inspiration.
David Madajian, Carlsbad, CA

Thank you for opening a new window on our church.  I look forward
to reading more specific ideas on how the Armenian Church can
better meet the great demands of its Christian mission.
Specifically on “A Pious Minimalism” [January 1990], I was struck
by the socio-economic approach you took to the church and its
current condition.  I am less ready to explain the church’s
difficulties in such secular terms, since I think the
problem is really a spiritual matter.  The church should be the
common ground and the high ground in the community’s life.  Its
only reason for existence to be the reconciler of the community,
since reconciliation with one another is a prerequisite
to reconciliation with God.  Instead it has become the propagator
of a kind of socio-political apartheid, which cannot be justified
by any amount of canon law or socio-economic analysis.  Our
leadership must once and for all repent, take
responsibility for perpetuating and reinforcing intercommunal
divisions, incooperation and even hatred, in direct contradiction
of the vows they took upon ordination and in complete violation of
Christ’s commandment to love one another and to seek
reconciliation with one’s brother before coming to worship God.
In short, it is this flagrant disregard for the fundamental tenets
of Christianity that have sapped the church of the strength to
carry out its mission, and maintaining the national
character of the community is neither a substitute for
spirituality nor an excuse for disobeying the Gospel.
Perhaps this theme will be reflected in succeeding issues.
Otherwise, I thought the layout was classy, the material fresh and
interesting.    I wish you well in all your endeavors.
Tom Samuelian, Harvard University

“. . . By now you’ve learned of Patriarch Kaloustian’s passing.
It was just awful. He fell down the stairs of the Veharan, face
first. Although he was conscious for another six hours, he didn’t
survive more than 15 hours after the fall.  Until he
became unconscious, he recited Psalms over and over again.  He
ended with “AZADYA INTZ, AZADYA INTZ” (give me freedom, free me).
(Quote from a letter received from seminarian Dn. Deron Petoyan,
dated March 8, 1990, from Holy Etchmiadzin.)


Subscription information: $22/year. Send remitance (payable to
SRP), name, address, zip to The Group, P.O. Box 700664, San Jose,
CA 95170   Letters to the Editor should be addressed to The Group,
P.O. Box 700664, San Jose, CA 95170 or e-mail: