BY ARMINE C. KOUNDAKJIAN
Mkrtich Khrimian, also known as Khrimian Hayrig, was the 125th Catholicos of All Armenians, born in Van, Western Armenia (1820-1907). He was a popular and beloved clergyman who became a real shepherd for his flock. He visited oppressed villagers who lived under Ottoman rule and listened to their painful life stories, gave them hopeful sermons, and called them to action by every means available—including the use of guns to defend themselves.
Khrimian Hayrig often talked about inequality and social injustice. He was never afraid of speaking the truth. During one of his unabashed sermons, he addressed the Balian brothers—who built palaces for Ottoman sultans—and said, “Enough, building luxurious palaces for the Sultan, come with me to rebuild the devastated and ruined Armenian historical sites and churches…”
In 1878, Mkrtich Khrimian returned from the Berlin Congress, where he represented Armenians. Khrimian and his delegation, among others, were not allowed inside the Congressional meeting and were thus unable to present the Ottoman Armenians’ laundry list of grievances. However, the final terms drawn up at the meeting did benefit the Serbians, Bulgarians, and other peoples who had taken up arms and rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. As such, Khrimian returned dejected and disillusioned and delivered his famous “Iron Ladle” sermon in an Armenian Cathedral in Kum Kapu, a district of Constantinople, as a response to his experience in Berlin.
The European powers had not delivered the Armenians from their sufferings, because they had gone to Berlin as a band of supplicants with pleas inscribed on paper rather than as a people who had earned their salvation through struggle and sacrifice. In his sermon, he exhorted the now famous imperative, “Dear and blessed Armenians, villagers, when you return to the fatherland, as a gift, one by one, get your friend and relative a gun, get a gun and more guns. People, before all else, put the hope of your independence on yourself.”
This sermon has since been described as “not only diagnosis of the Armenian predicament, but also a prediction that produced the Armenian Revolution.” As such, much of what is presented about Khrimian centers around this sermon. Even the official Khrimian Hayrig memorial near Etchmiadzin in Armenia, which was erected in 1982, bears the inscription, “Armenians, always remember Hayrig’s Iron Ladle.” ARF co-founder Christapor Michaelian preached independence through revolution, and famous poet Yegjisheh Charents preached socialism through collective power struggle.
It is not hard to see the parallel between the past 30 years of underestimating the power of our enemy, and instead busying ourselves with shameful embezzlements and corruption that resulted in today’s sorry situation in Armenia.
The bottom line is that the guarantor of any nation’s sovereignty is strong military power. The more powerful guns the better.
Amazingly, Khrimian Hayrig was a very progressive thinking clergyman who was way ahead of his time. He even spoke and wrote about women’s rights and liberation in his “Eagle of Vasburagan” periodical. In his book “Grandfather and Grandchild” (Պապիկ և Թոռնիկ), he asks a question to the common Armenian man: “Why is it that in spite of your talents, and your creativity, you are still poor and destitute?” Then he answers: “Because you are ignorant, uneducated, you don’t know how to read, write, calculate and how to economize…”
Continuing his exhortations, he stresses to value national benefits over personal ones. He writes, “We are not chickens, we are human beings, we are somebody’s child. We must endeavor and work not only for ourselves, or for our parents, but for the good of our nation.”
Well, there is a lot of literature about Khrimian and by Khrimian, but to mention them all here is beyond the scope of this article.