ANCA Telethon 2012 to Support Drive for the Return of Christian Churches
BY ARAM HAMPARIAN
Armenian National Committee of America
As Armenians, we join together this Easter in celebrating the resurrection of Christ and also, as Armenians – heirs of an ancient people that arose nearly a century ago from the ashes of genocide – in marking our own rebirth as a nation.
We recall with pride our rebirth as a people from the fires of hatred that nearly consumed us in 1915. And, once again, we are painfully reminded that the blind and irrational hatred by Turkish state – and sadly much of its society – toward Armenians still burns, and – if not quenched by the waters of justice – may light again to burn the surviving sons and daughters of our ancient but endangered homeland.
As a people who believe in the power of faith and promise of forgiveness, we seek a true and enduring redemption for the Republic of Turkey through repentance. For, just as scripture tells us that the truth will set us free, so too will justice lead us to peace.
For Turkey’s leaders, government, and people, the long and difficult path to true forgiveness must pass through a sincere confession of past sins and an apology for harm, the full return of all that must rightfully be rendered to the victims of its crimes, and an abiding renunciation of hatred and violence toward the modern-day sons and daughters of those who lived on the biblical lands in and around Ararat for thousands of years. Sadly, it’s not a matter of Turkey simply moving too slowly in the right direction. The facts show that Turkey’s leaders are headed in the wrong direction, as illustrated, earlier this year, at state-supported anti-Armenian rallies in Ankara and Istanbul – attended by top government officials – that openly and proudly incited hatred against Armenians.
Turkey must repent in word and deed; Redeem itself in spirit and action; Renounce evil, and all the fruits of its crimes, and render to the Armenians all that once was and remains Armenian. These are the wages of Turkey’s sins, and the price of its salvation.
There can be no better place to start than the immediate return of all churches, monasteries, relics, and other religious properties, not only to the Armenians, but to all the Christians of these ancient biblical lands. Thankfully, with the support of Armenian Americans from across our country, we have been able to make progress on this vital new front for the Armenian Cause. With your renewed support for ANCA Telethon 2012, we can do much more.
In the months since last Easter – which fell, as Armenians worldwide recall, on April 24th – we have seen the U.S. House of Representatives pass H.Res.306, formally calling upon Turkey to return stolen Christian churches, and European courts demanding the return of confiscated holy sites. We have witnessed our Secretary of State publicly press Ankara to return stolen religious properties, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom place the Turkish government on its “black list” of countries that violate freedom of faith. And, perhaps most tellingly, we have watched – skeptically, but with interest – as Turkey itself takes has felt compelled to begin speaking and even taking token action regarding the return of religious properties.
To be sure, Secretary Clinton’s remarks fall far short of the type of moral pressure America should be exerting upon Ankara, and Turkey itself has shown no sign that it has deviated in the least from its longstanding aim of cementing the gains of its genocidal crimes. In fact, all signs point to Ankara tactically responding to international pressure by creating the illusion of tolerance through “reforms,” that, even if fully implemented, would only return a small fraction of the thousands of religious properties belonging to Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Arameans, Syriacs, and other Christians.
The ANCA’s Chairman, in February of this year, at a conference in Antelias, Lebanon, hosted by Armenian religious leader, Aram I, who heads the Great House of Cilicia, spoke powerfully to the broader moral issues at stake in the growing movement to restore Christian churches on the territory of present-day Turkey to their rightful owners:
As we approach the end of a century in which all the moral and material costs of the Armenian Genocide have fallen upon the victims of this crime, we seek, for ourselves and all humanity, a new era, a better century—guided by the ethic that the burdens of this genocide and all genocides will, as they rightly must, be borne by its perpetrator. The return of churches, Turkey’s surrender – voluntary or otherwise – of the thousands of church properties it stole from Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Syriacs, and other Christians prior to, during, and after the Armenian Genocide era, would represent a meaningful first step by the Turkish government toward accepting its responsibility for a truthful and just resolution of this still unpunished crime against humanity. (Read the full text of Hachikian’s speech.)
As children of the first nation to adopt Christianity, we celebrate this holiest of days by calling upon all of our brothers and sisters in faith worldwide – Christians, Muslims, Jews, believers of all denominations and faiths, and those who hold no faith – to join with us in offering a prayer for the Armenian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Pontian, Greek, and other victims of the Ottoman Empire’s World War I-era genocide of its Christian minorities.
We ask – in the powerful words of the late, great American President John F. Kennedy – for the blessings and help of God, in the knowledge that “here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” In this spirit, let us resolve to add a measure of devotion to our service and sacrifice – through ANCA Telethon 2012 and countless other avenues – for the return of our churches and the realization of the Armenian Cause.