Armenia and an End to Genocide

Armenia and an End to Genocide

Written by Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President of the National Council of Churches

I traveled to Armenia for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, April 22-24. It was an extremely powerful spiritual and emotional experience.

Once again, I recognized the importance of the witness and presence of the National Council of Churches and representatives of the ecumenical movement at events such as the genocide commemoration.

I’m sometimes not sure exactly how to quantify the importance of these kinds of events and our presence when I am speaking at church potluck dinners, or even to denominational leaders, but I know it is true.

Repeatedly, throughout the commemoration events in the capital city of Yerevan and at the Mother See of Armenian Christianity at Holy Etchmiadzin words of thanks were expressed for the presence of ecumenical councils and church leaders from around the world, because as it is written in Acts 4:20 “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

The profound ceremonies held in Armenia, attended by thousands of people, and followed worldwide by millions, will have a U.S. counterpart this coming weekend. On the evening of May 7, the Washington National Cathedral will be completely full for an ecumenical service that will be led by His Holiness Karekin II of the Armenian Apostolic Church and will be attended by the president of Armenia. More than 100 representatives of the NCC and our member communions will be present.

In my lifetime alone, millions of people have been slaughtered in religious, political and ethnic violence in Darfur, Rwanda, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Balkans, Iraq, Vietnam, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. Who among us believes another genocide or spate of mass killings won’t happen again?

Are we numb? I pray not. Elie Wiesel has written that to forget the dead would be akin to killing them again. And so we construct museums, hold observances, proclaim official recognitions, lift up personal stories of loss and survival, reaffirm our commitment to human rights, and prosecute the wicked. Yet we seem to repeat the bloodletting.

When the world is united it is possible to contain genocidal acts. One of the speakers in Yerevan noted that genocide does not fall from the heavens. It is always a choice. We must move from nationalism to internationalism.

In Armenia, Archbishop Vicken said to gathered church leaders, “Thank you for sharing our grief and our rebirth.” May we muster the courage and the resolve to end genocide and mass murder.