Armenia Reborn

by Sarkis Boghjalian
photos: CNEWA files

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After an unexplained delay of nearly a day in Bologna, our delegation – officials from the Vatican, Caritas Italy, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Italian press – arrived at Yerevan, Armenia, in the early morning of Oct. 4.

We had a tight schedule. In the afternoon a selected group of 15 was received by the president of Armenia, Levon Ter Petrossian. Achille Cardinal Silvestrini, prefect for the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and our delegation’s leader, exchanged words of cordiality with the Armenian president. In response, President Ter Petrossian praised the charitable work of Caritas Italy, particularly, the erection of a hospital in an area badly affected by the earthquake in 1988. He referred to the earthquake as a tragic event, but noted that such a disaster also opened new horizons.

“We are now the recipients of charity.” the president said. “But I hope in two years that Armenia will be a contributor to works of charity.”

This visit marked the first time the Holy See dealt with an independent Armenia. President Ter Petrossian welcomed this Catholic presence. At a brief press conference, which dealt mainly with political issues, he stressed that Armenia’s actual problem is not with Turkey, its traditional enemy, but with the Republic of Azerbaijan, where every day there are more victims of civil strife. He called the nations of the West to help establish democracy in the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Throughout all this I was privileged to act as translator between the parties.

After meeting with the president, a group of Vatican officials, including Msgr. Stern and myself, met with several health professionals to discuss the future of the hospital. One, Mihran Nazaretian, M.D., is the Armenian republic’s minister of health and a Catholic.

The next day we dedicated a new factory for manufacturing prefabricated building materials. Located about 20 miles outside Yerevan, this plant, which features advanced Italian technology, will help develop new housing projects.

The ceremony started with the raising of flags. It was my first experience as an Armenian of the diaspora to see the Armenian red, blue and orange tricolor rising into the sky as the national anthem played. I was deeply moved.

Later that afternoon we went to the Monument of the Martyrs – Zyzernakapert –dedicated to the genocide of Armenians in 1915 at the hands of the Turks. It was a clear hot day, and from the top of the hill we could see Mount Ararat rising majestically from the valley Nature reigns silently in this sanctuary.

At a tomb about 150 feet away a young man was holding his face in his hands. We approached him and I greeted him in Armenian, “Parev.” He moved his head acknowledging us.

“He is my brother Moushegh, killed in Azerbaijan,” he muttered, his eyes filled with anger.

We stayed with him. After a short while the dead man’s widow and daughter arrived and knelt. It was Saturday and, in keeping with tradition, both lit candles and prayed. Every Saturday evening Armenians celebrate the resurrection of Christ in this way. This family held on to its faith.

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Tags: Cultural Identity Turkey Armenia Catholic Armenian Apostolic Church