International Consultation on “Crisis in Syria: Challenges for Faith Communities” Held at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin

June 2014

On June 11, in the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Library of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, under the presidency of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, a two day international consultation on “Crisis in Syria: Challenges for Faith Communities” started its work. Attending the consultation were Mr. Hovik Abrahamyan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia; and Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the Word Council of Churches. The meeting was convened through the initiative of the World Council of Churches, hosted by the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church. The Catholicos of All Armenians serves on the WCC Central Committee as one of eight co-Presidents.

Present at the consultation were Members of the Brotherhood of the Mother See, as well as representatives visiting Holy Etchmiadzin from the Christian Churches in the Near East, Syria, Russia, USA and various European countries. Attending the meeting were also Ambassadors of the Islamic Republic of Iran, German Federation, Republic of Italy to the Republic of Armenia; representatives of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Armenia and United Nations; Armenian diplomats, and representatives of the Syrian community in Armenia.

Following the Lord’s Prayer, His Grace Bishop Hovakim Manookian, Director of the Inter- Church Relations Department of the Mother See, gave opening remarks, inviting His Holiness Karekin II to extend his blessings and message to the consultation members.

The Catholicos of All Armenians addressed those present, “We extend our warmest greetings to you who have responded to this initiative of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the World Council of Churches, and have gathered to discuss the challenges before the Churches on the occasion of the Syrian crisis. We are grateful that this meeting is convening in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. We convey Our appreciation to you, the participants in the consultation, for your zeal, as well as to the organizers of this international gathering for their efforts.

As the spiritual center of the Armenian people dispersed throughout the world, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin loves and has concern for her children, who live as law abiding and productive citizens in many states of the world, including for centuries the territory of the Near East. The countries of the Near East have played an important role in our history. Syria in particular, during the difficult years of the Armenian Genocide at the beginning of the last century, opened its doors and welcomed the aspirations and desires of our people to build a peaceful life. Our people are appreciative of the Arab people and prayerfully remember the many individuals of the Islamic and Christian faith, who came to the aid of the Armenians at their moment of trouble.

We feel intense pain witnessing the ongoing crisis in the Near Eastern region. The evil of war has snatched away the lives of many innocent human lives, without regard for age, gender or religious conviction. This reality is all the more tragic coming as it takes place at the beginning of the 21st century, the dawn of the third Christian millennium, which mankind was expecting and anticipating would be the age of toleration and the blossoming of the defense of freedom and dignity, the self determination of nations and human rights.

The Syrian crisis is having painful consequences in the lives of Christians in the region. Within the recent past Catholic priests and nuns have been murdered; Christian families have been forcibly converted; our spiritual two brothers from the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Antioch are living in captivity and their fate for the time being is uncertain.

In the spring of this year the region of Kessab in Syria, built and populated mainly by Armenians, was seized by radical groups in cooperation with Turkey and the immediate involvement of its army, and Kessab’s peaceful inhabitants were expelled. Presently, due to the continuing cooperation of Turkey with the opposition, the Armenian parts of Aleppo and Damascus are being destroyed. Our people are rightly viewing these actions of Turkey as the continuation of the politics of Genocide.

We support all efforts to peacefully bring order to the conflict, condemning any who commit violence in the name of faith and God. The words of the Apostle John bear a deep meaning for us. For the assertion “I love God” is false when you do not have love towards your brother. “For if you do not love your brother whom you see, how can you love God, whom you do not see? For this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God, loves his brother also” (1 Jn 4:20-21).

It is upon this foundation of brotherly love and religious toleration that we are all united as children of God. Indeed, as the great author Tolstoy wrote echoing the words of the Latin hymn, “Where love is, there God is also”. It is with the sense of love lived in the presence of the Lord that peace must be established in the world. The sense of love lived in the presence of the Lord is the vivifying, active, communicating power of the World Council of Churches.

The continuous efforts of religious, public and political organizations, realized on local and international levels for the fortifying of tolerance, dialogue, justice and peace among the nations, are a great blessing in our world. This consultation is also an important step on the journey of this great mission, which we are hopeful, will be fruitful with God’s blessings.

Our people, having tasted the bitterness of wars and exile in its centuries’ long history, knows the value of peace. Today, when we stand at the threshold of the 100th year remembrance of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, we can assert that the passage of four generations has not erased the memory of the pain of our people’s loss and dislocation.

Those same sentiments and feelings were echoed 25 years ago, when the Armenians of Karabagh were threatened with the danger of expulsion from their ancestral land. Our people are firm in their stand to resolve conflicts by peaceful means. Today, our people in Karabagh are struggling for freedom and independence by diplomatic means, even when we do not encounter the same tolerant spirit from the opposing side.

In the same context, we want to touch upon the fact of Turkey’s rejection of the Armenian-Turkish protocols. If the protocols had been ratified without preconditions, normal relations between Armenia and Turkey would have been established and peaceful developments in the region would have followed.

The aspiration and conviction for peace is the spirit of the Christian faith and is the fruit of our many centuries’ old heritage. We are pleased that along with the outpouring of compassion and charity for the plight of Christians living in Syria and of all people bearing the difficulties of war, the desire to achieve peace is the object of discussion in different state and public forums, as well as in this hall today.

Dear friends, we are meeting within the shadow of the human race’s first refuge of salvation and peace, the Biblical Mount Ararat, and it is Our prayer that God leads your discussions and that with the grace of the Holy Spirit the paths of peace on earth may be strengthened.

May the graces of our Lord be with you and with all, now and forever. Amen.”

Prime Minister Abrahamyan welcomed the consultation participants, noting “All of us feel a deep agony witnessing the long term inter- political crisis in the Near East, particularly in Syria, which has turned into a civil war, resulting in innocent victims and irrevocable losses. The Syrian crisis, bringing about religious extremist attacks, has a negative impact on the Christian Churches as well, when attempts are made to consider the conflict of a religious nature. Any such attempt should be condemned, as we are confident that all religions are fostering peace.

During her history the Armenian people have paid with blood for peace and independence. The Armenian government has put great efforts towards resolving the Kharabakh issue in a peaceful and just manner, relying on internationally approved principles and standards, while at the same time showing respect to the rights of the Armenians in Artsakh to have a free and independent life.

We are also a nation that at the beginning of the 20th century suffered Genocide and lost its historical Homeland of Western Armenia. The Armenian people once more went through that pain on the threshold of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when in the spring of this year, with evident support from Turkey, extremist groups attacked the Armenian populated city of Kessab.

Tomorrow you will visit the memorial of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide and pray for the hundreds of thousands of victims, who were massacred at the beginning of the 20th century by Ottoman Turkey. In the Genocide Museum you will see many pieces of evidence, of how a great number of state officials in Syria, including Muslim leaders, opposed the decision of the Tukish government and defended the Armenians, providing them shelter in Aleppo, Damascus and various regions in Syria. The Armenian people will never forget that”. The Prime Minister was also hopeful that the consultation would contribute in establishing political and ecumenical dialogue in Syria.

Rev. Dr. Tveit reflected on the goals and importance of the consultation, presenting his opinions on the situation in Syria and the measures to establish peace.

His Eminence Theodore Cardinal Edgar Mccarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, conveyed greetings from His Holiness Pope Francis. His Eminence Archbishop Jean Kawak conveyed the message of Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Greetings were conveyed from the Russain Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, and the Middle East Council of Churches.

During the two day consultation sessions the following themes will be discussed; “Political Developments in Syria and Humanitarian Perspective, “Presence and Testimony of Christians in the Nearest East as a consequence of the developments in the Arab World” and “ The Armenian Communities in the Nearest East and Syria: their perspectives”.