BY ED ACKERMAN
From The Sunday Dispatch
PARAMUS, NJ—A rocket propelled grenade slams into the terrace outside of the bedroom window of the apartment he and his wife share in West Beirut, Lebanon. It makes a much louder sound than the routine gunfire to which they’ve become accustomed.
A half-dozen members of a Communist militia group, all brandishing AK 47s, pound on the door in the middle of the night. This scene is repeated over and over throughout a seven-year period, with armed militia representing the Mourabitoun, Saiqua, Druze, Fatah, Kurds, PPS (Partie Populaire Syrienne) and Syrian army. One night, a group storms in with fixed bayonets, their leader ripping the phone line out of the wall and threatening their lives.
Abu Abed, a powerfully built militia leader nearly as broad as he is tall, with a .45 on each hip, who speaks with a mechanical voice box because his own was lost in battle, becomes an ally in smuggling tons of food through armed blockades in order to feed thousands of refugees.
These are just some of the events which make the book “The Thirsty Enemy” read like an adventure novel.
But “The Thirsty Enemy” is not a novel. It is a memoir, the life story of John Markarian, of West Pittston, Pa.
Markarian, the 92-year-old retired college president and ordained Presbyterian minister who occasionally preaches at First United Presbyterian Church on Exeter Avenue, West Pittston, has resided in that community with his wife Inge since 1987.
According to the book’s cover, “The Thirsty Enemy” is “a story in which a growing faith in God and awareness of purpose in life meet to form the adventure. The primary setting for the book is the city of Beirut. It tells about the beginning steps in the creation of an institute of higher learning and finds its theme in seven years of war, giving a drink to the thirsty enemy.”
Electing to remain in Beirut for the purpose of protecting Haigazian College (now University), of which he was founding president, John Markarian and Inge manage to survive a seven-year period of war, during which life was cheap on the streets of West Beirut, by inviting groups most would label “terrorists” to sit down and talk over coffee.
Markarian, who has a doctorate in theology, took inspiration from an Old Testament proverb and repeated in the New Testament Epistle of Paul to the Romans: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat, if he is thirsty give him a drink for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
Interwoven throughout the book are Markarian’s personal memories of growing up as a son of a pastor, being trained in a family member’s Oriental rug business, working as an accountant for a public utility, graduating with two degrees from Lafayette College and then from Princeton Theological Seminary and of, in 1955, accepting a challenge to launch a new university program in Beirut.
It was the Armenian Evangelical Church that invited Markarian, at the time in his ninth year of teaching at Lafayette, also the alma mater of his father and two older brothers, to launch a new university program in Beirut for the purpose of training leaders for the Armenian Evangelical Church in the Near East. His first and founding presidency of Haigazian College ended in 1966. He served as Dean of the Chapel and Chairman of the Religion Department at Central College in Pella, Iowa, for three years, returning to Beirut in 1969 to become Director of Development and Professor at the Near East School of Theology. He returned to the helm of Haigazian College in 1971 and retired in 1982.
The Markarians returned to the United States residing in Los Angeles from 1982 until 1987 when they moved to Pennsylvania. At 92, John Markarian is an avid tennis player and golfer.
“The Thirsty Enemy” (pb, 450 pp, Item #335) is published by The Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), headquartered at 31 W. Century Road, Paramus, NJ. Each copy of the book is $22.95. To order, Please contact the AMAA at 201.265.2607, E-mail: [email protected] or visit the website www.amaa.org