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Jerusalem’s Armenians Mark Genocide a Century Ago

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Armenian Catholics John Ourfali, 77, and his wife, Azniv, 68, pose for a photo in their home in the Old City of Jeursalem on 25 March. Mr. Ourfali remembers how as a child he saw an elderly family friend break down and cry, unable to speak about what had happened to him and his family in the dark days of what today is known as the Armenian Genocide. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill) 

30 Mar 2015 – By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — John Ourfali, 77, remembers how as a child he saw an elderly family friend break down and cry whenever he met with Ourfali’s parents, unable to speak about what had happened to him and his family in the dark days of what today is known as the Armenian Genocide.

“He used to cry a lot and couldn’t talk about it so we never knew what happened to his family,” said Ourfali, an Armenian Catholic whose original family name is Khatcherian.

Ourfali’s father came to Jerusalem as an orphan just before 1915. He was among those who escaped the massacre at the hands of Turkish nationalists that left 1.5 million Armenians dead between 1915 and 1923. His mother’s family escaped the bloodshed only because her father had served in the Turkish army, making their way to Jordan and then to Jerusalem.

Millions of Christians were displaced and about 500,000 Assyrian, Syrian, Chaldean and Greek Christians perished as Turkish nationalists established new borders to the east while ridding the area of Christian non-Turks.

Armenia is considered the first country to have accepted Christianity as its state religion in 301 A.D. It has had four independent royal dynasties at different times since the 12th century B.C. In 1991, Armenia gained independence from Russia, which annexed the country into the Soviet Union in 1920.

On 12 April, Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass commemorating the 100-year anniversary. In February, he declared a 10th-century Armenian monk, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church. The Vatican also planned to release thousands of documents pertaining to the Armenian genocide from its archives.

Turkey denies charges of genocide — defined as a deliberate intent to destroy a nation or people — and maintains that those who died were victims of civil unrest and war in the Ottoman Empire at the time.

On the traditional date of commemoration, 24 April, Armenian communities in Jerusalem and around the world will hold local memorial ceremonies and Masses. Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church also is expected to recognize the victims on 23 April.

Although it is called the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide has yet to receive universal recognition. Some governments, such as Belgium, France, Cyprus, Canada and Russia, have adopted resolutions affirming events. Armenians believe that political interests — namely the need for a NATO military base in Turkey — prevent others, including the United States, from recognizing the genocide.

Because of the massacre, Armenians dispersed throughout the Middle East, the U.S., Canada, Australia and parts of Europe and many families lost touch, said Msgr. Georges Dankaye, patriarchal administrator of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate of Jerusalem and Amman.

Despite the challenges, he said, strong faith allowed Armenians to build anew where they resettled. He acknowledged that events of a century ago are not far from the thoughts of Armenians today.





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Tags: Jerusalem Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church Armenian Catholic Church