By Doris V. Cross
On May 30–Peter Balakian was awarded the Mashdots Medal from His Holiness Aram I at the Catholicosate in Antelias. The ceremony–which opened with the singing of liturgical hymns by the choir–took place before a capacity crowd of community members and seminarians.
Balakian spoke about the importance of being present in such integral diasporan communities in Lebanon and Syria–and about his moving experience of visiting the Der Zor desert–which he called "the epicenter of the Armenian genocide."
He also expressed his gratitude to the Catholicos for his leadership as the head of the World Council of Churches–and for bringing the history of the Armenian genocide to a global audience.
"Peter Balakian–an American-born Armenian–has played a pivotal role by placing the Armenian genocide in American context; by emphasizing the historicity of the Armenian Genocide and generating an American response towards it," said Aram I. "Furthermore–Peter Balakian–through his well-documented studies–has made the Armenian genocide a relevant and urgent issue that must be seriously addressed to prevent the new genocides".
A reception with his Holiness Aram I and the community followed the award ceremony.
Balakian had never been to Cyprus–but was welcomed like an old friend by the members of the Hamazkayin Oshagan chapter when he arrived in Nicosia. Simon Aynedjian–editor of Gibrahayer–an online Armenian news magazine–had heavily promoted Balakian’s May 20 lecture–organized by Arto and Vera Tavitian. The event included readings from Balakian’s books and a discussion–as well as a reception and book signing.
Ruth Keshishian–owner of Nicosia’s legendary Moufflon bookstore–had ordered plenty of copies of The Burning Tigris–both the Greek and English editions of Black Dog of Fate–and June-tree for sale at the event. The standing room only crowd that packed Utigian hall on Armenia Street quickly purchased all the available copies. It was the most well attended event in the Oshagan chapter’s history.
During his brief stay in Nicosia–Balakian visited the Armenian Church–the cemetery–and the Melkonian Educational Institute. Prior to his departure–he had the first of what he described as profound experiences during the three-country trip. With Simon Aynedjian as their guide–he and his companions crossed the green line into Turkish-occupied Nicosia. Aynedjian led the group through what had been the Armenia neighborhood–its church now in shambles–its buildings in decay and their courtyards strewn with rotting garbage. "I felt both anger and despair to see the Armenian Church of Nicosia destroyed by the Turks. This was the site of most of the Armenian weddings–baptisms and funerals on the island for centuries," said Balakian–who also went to Beirut where he delivered a series of lectures at Haigazian University and the American University of Beirut.