Armenian Ecumenical Celebration
The first Armenian Ecumenical Celebration was held in Eglwys Dewi Sant Church, on the 23 February 2003, in Cardiff Wales. What follows below are the speeches of some of the participants at the event and the article that appeared in Nor Serount.
Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian
Your Excellencies, Reverend Fathers, Brothers & Sisters in Christ:
Let me first and foremost welcome you all today to this House of God in Cardiff. As some of you might well recall, I - along with a number of friends from both Wales and England - got together at the Welsh National Assembly on 30th October of last year. We all came to Cardiff to celebrate the Statement of Opinion that had won a majority of signatures as a persuasive moral authority from the highest legislature in Wales recognising the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Indeed, you have just heard one of the co-sponsors of that Statement of Opinion, Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Mr Cynog Dafis, articulating his opinion from this Church. You have also heard our Ecumenical Officer, Dr Harry Hagopian, who works also with the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide as he placed the horrendous reality of the Armenian Genocide on a moral platform.
During that event last year, I had announced the institution of an annual Armenian Service that would draw the Welsh and Armenian peoples closer together. This Ecumenical Celebration today is the start-up for that Christian fellowship. It sits comfortably with the readings from Scripture in that it encourages us to forego our man-made ructions, divisions and rivalries. Indeed, it also raises some questions! Must we not learn at long last how to rid ourselves of hypocrisy so that we can re-assemble with integrity and self-belief the Christian body? Should that effort not therefore attempt to secure a unity that celebrates diversity and ultimately seeks harmony and peace? Today, as the world is perched on the edge of a fratricidal and spurious war, that Christian unity and peace are more vital than ever. So let us look at ourselves with critical honesty, and let us learn how to love our neighbour - whether that neighbour is the 'other' sitting beside us in the pews or the 'other' in any far-off country.
But our Ecumenical Celebration today will not be complete if we do not also remember in our prayers all those Armenian victims of the genocide of 1915. Scores upon scores of Armenian children, women and men - around 1.5 million of them - met their death in the cruellest of circumstances and manners. They died simply for being Armenian! Yet, the world - and that clearly as much as painfully includes our Christian world - stood idly by and allowed those atrocities to take place.
Today, as we seek our authentic and inorganic unity and pray for genuine peace, do we not also honour the memory of all those innocent victims whose blood has etched one of the painful pages of Armenian history? After all, they too are our renewal of faith and our testimonial to faith.
I would like to thank The Rt Revd Barry Morgan, Bishop of Llandaff, as well as The Revd Meurig Williams, pastor of this church, for welcoming us this evening to their spiritual home. I also thank the members of the Armenian Community and Church Council of Great Britain and members of the St Sarkis and St Yeghiche Churches. I thank the Welsh Assembly Members as much as the Chair and Board of the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Finally, I thank the Welsh and Armenian choirs for lifting up this celebration with their singing, as I do all our Welsh and Armenian friends who are our neighbours in Christ and who showed their solidarity today with their presence in our midst for this Armenian Ecumenical Celebration.
St Paul, addressing the Ephesians during the days of the Early Church, exhorted them to seek the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. May this celebration today be no less than another milestone that honours our faith, our fellowship and our memories by leading us all toward the goal of unity!
+ Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian
Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Pontifical Legate to the See of Canterbury
Member of the Welsh national Assembly - Cynog Dafis
It is a great privilege to me to say a few words at this moving event as a Member of the National Assembly for Wales.
The Assembly has no responsibility for international matters but it does have the power to discuss anything that is relevant to the people of Wales. There is an Armenian community in Wales as well as a Wales-Armenia Solidarity Association and this has made it possible to raise the issue of the Armenian genocide in the Assembly. This has been done in two ways. The first Statement of Opinion was tabled, following a number of events held at the Assembly, including an exhibition concerning the genocide and a meeting attended by members of the Armenian community, including the Ambassador. These events were well attended and a number of Assembly members felt strongly that they wished to express their support for recognition.
Following the tabling of the Statement of Opinion, I held a special debate in which I was able to present the evidence for genocide and emphasised the vital importance of recognition. The result of these activities is that a clear majority of Assembly Members have signed the Statement of Opinion. Were it not for the fact that many Members believe that the Assembly should avoid discussing international affairs, I am confident that the majority would be overwhelming. At least one Government Minister, Jenny Randerson, is on the record as recognising the genocide and as a Minister she was not able to sign the Statement of Opinion. I would also like to quote from the words of Carwyn Jones who responded to my speech in the special debate:
.........."I cannot ignore the fact that there is strong evidence to suggest that such a massacre or genocide took place. I cannot ignore the fact that so many national and regional parliaments, including those of France, Belgium, Sweden and the European Parliament, have taken the same view. Most importantly, the Lebanese Parliament also shares that view...........
....The Turkish Government needs to reconsider carefully what happened in the years after the first world war."..
Some people would argue that recognition of the Armenian genocide by a majority of the Members of the National Assembly for Wales is a matter of small significance. I do not agree. Neither does the Government of Turkey who have taken the trouble of expressing their displeasure to all Members who signed the Statement of Opinion and have presented them with a book purporting to present evidence denying the genocide. Members will know better than to pay any attention to this correspondence from the Government of Turkey.
I am delighted to help out to ensure that the National Assembly for Wales has played a part in an international process of bearing witness to what was a terrible event - an event that could be described as genocide.
Cynog Dafis AM Mid and West region
Article or Nor Serount
An Armenian Ecumenical Celebration, a first in many ways for most Armenian and Welsh peoples in the United Kingdom, was held on Sunday, 23 February 2003, at Eglwys Dewi Sant - Saint David's Church in the centre of Cardiff, the regional capital of Wales. Built in 1880, this church has been a spiritual home for Welsh-speaking Anglicans and learners for almost fifty years. It is run by The Revd Meurig Llwyd Williams, a young pastor who is as comfortable in English and French as he is in his native Welsh.
Well over 350 Welsh, English and Armenian friends and supporters from Wales and England attended the ecumenical celebration. Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian of the Armenian Orthodox Church presided over the event that was organised jointly by the Armenian Church and the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (CRAG). Also present were The Rt Revd Barry Morgan, Bishop of Llandaff (in Welsh denoting the Church near the River Taff), as well as religious leaders from other denominations in Wales and Members of the Welsh National Assembly and the Welsh Ecumenical Choir.
The original idea for such an event came about as a follow-up to the Statement of Opinion of 30 October 2002 that won a majority of signatures in the Welsh National Assembly as a persuasive moral authority from the highest legislature in Wales recognising the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
In his sermon before the Requiem Service in memory of the Armenian victims of the genocide, Bishop Nathan recalled the 'scores upon scores of Armenian children, women and men - around 1.5 million of them - who met their death in the cruellest of circumstances and manners. They died simply for being Armenian! Yet, the world - and that clearly as much as painfully includes our Christian world - stood idly by and allowed those atrocities to take place.' Picking up on the theme of the unity of the Churches, the Primate of the Armenian Church in Great Britain also asked, 'Do we not also honour today the memory of all those innocent victims whose blood has etched one of the painful pages of Armenian history? After all, they too are our renewal of faith and our testimonial to faith.'
Earlier during the celebration, Mr Cynog Dafis, Assembly Member for the Welsh Nationalist Plaid Cymru Party, had said during his address, "Some people would argue that recognition of the Armenian genocide by a majority of the Members of the National Assembly for Wales is a matter of small significance. I do not agree. Neither does the Government of Turkey who have taken the trouble of expressing their displeasure to all Members who signed the Statement of Opinion and have presented them with a book purporting to present evidence denying the genocide. Members will know better than to pay attention to this correspondence from the Government of Turkey."
In his intercession, Dr Harry Hagopian, Executive Consultant to CRAG, established the link between such an ecumenical celebration in Cardiff with a memorial service for the victims of the Armenian Genocide. He stressed that 'one of the unyielding missions of the Church is to lay the moral platform, the moral argument, and to offer it to the politicians as an alternative focus.' He added, "This celebration, led by an Armenian bishop in a Welsh church, attempts to awaken historical morality from its slumber. What some Caesars of this world have tried so hard to block out, and what narrow-minded definitions of nationalism world-wide have endeavoured to handcuff, this Christian service helps to liberate from an untruthful denial by silence.'
After the ecumenical celebration, The Revd Meurig Williams commented, "I thought it was a very moving occasion. On a personal level, I found it inspiring, not least because my ministry at Eglwys Dewi Sant is tied mostly to one linguistic and denominational expression. But yesterday was a true ecumenical foretaste of heaven! And I think we managed to bridge many cultural and ecclesial idioms."
Church unity and the recognition of the Armenian Genocide are two issues in the United Kingdom that are fraught with difficulty. Yet, this ecumenical event showed the way forward - in the hope that others would follow too so that the common bonds of humanity become stronger, clearer and more truthful.
© hbv-H @ 4 March 2003