Day of Remembrance
On April 24, everyone in Armenia has the day off of work. The day is dedicated to the remembrance of the 2 million Armenians who were massacred by the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). April 24 is the day of remembrance because on that day, in the year of 1915, Armenian intellectuals were hanged in Turkey, marking the first official day of the genocide.
On April 24, everyone in Armenia has the day off of work. The day is dedicated to the remembrance of the 2 million Armenians who were massacred by the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). April 24 is the day of remembrance because on that day, in the year of 1915, Armenian intellectuals were hanged in Turkey, marking the first official day of the genocide. Though this genocide is most commonly referred to as the “Armenian Genocide”, not only Armenians were massacred. All Christians were targeted including the significant Syrian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians in the region.
My mother’s family is Syrian Orthodox and our ancestors were brutally massacred because they were Christians. All four of my great-grandparents were orphaned. They were taken to Lebanon where orphanages and churches were established to take care of them. That is how my family came to be Lebanese citizens. Over the past century, the Syrian Orthodox and Armenian communities pulled themselves up from nothing, from orphanages and refugee camps, to become thriving and successful communities in the countries to which they fled.
Many Syrian Orthodox and Armenians found a safe haven in Syria. In Aleppo, there was an especially large and thriving Armenian community. However, the current war is emptying Syria of so many people, including Christians, just as those who were forced out of Iraq. Those who have not been killed are taking refuge with relatives or trying to live off their dwindling savings in Lebanon, Armenia and other countries where they can find safety. http://globalministries.org/mee/countries/syria/
On April 24, I should have gone to Armenia’s Genocide Memorial. Everyone buys a flower and masses of people wait their turn to enter and lay a flower on the heaping pile which surrounds a single flame that always burns in remembrance. This year, I couldn’t force myself to focus my thoughts on our Christian brothers and sisters who were massacred in 1915 because the current war consumes my thoughts and prayers.
In April 2013, a bishop from my church, Youhanna Ibrahim, was kidnapped by terrorists in Syria. While all of my friends in Syria are currently either hiding in villages or have fled to other countries, Bishop Youhanna was determined to stay behind and provide as much spiritual and material comfort as he could for the people left behind. Bishop Youhanna is an old friend of my mother and her family and is known and loved by all in our congregation in Villa Park and our churches in Lebanon and Syria.
Bishop Youhanna was on his way, along with Bishop Paul Yazigy of the Greek Orthodox Church, to try to rescue two kidnapped priests. Rebels had agreed to release the priests if the two Bishops met them personally and handed over the ransom money. On the way, their car was attacked by rebels. Their driver, a deacon from the church, was killed and no one has heard any reliable information about the two bishops since the kidnapping. http://globalministries.org/news/mee/syrian-reliigous-leaders-call.html
I should have gone to Armenia’s Genocide Memorial. On April 24, everyone buys a flower. But, this year, I couldn’t understand the connection between that beautiful rose and remembering the genocide. I could not comprehend the sense in it. All those flowers that we have lain there year after year, those flowers which have already wilted and will soon be gathered by old women before the sun comes up and thrown in the trash.
Why don’t we carry something heavy? Or something hard? Or something more permanent? Why don’t we wrap our fingers around something that bares a greater resemblance to our stories and our pain and lay that at the flame that burns in memory of our ancestors?
I can’t carry a flower to the memorial of one of history’s ugliest stories. I can’t carry it for the murdered and captured in Syria. If I do pick up a flower, it will be for my own children. In hope that they will be born into a world that still has beautiful things, delicate things, gentle things. In hope that they will be able to grow up in a world where it is still possible to understand the word “sacred”…in hope that my children will cling to what is beautiful and be able to live out all their days with unwavering faith in a God who loves them.
The stories that I carry in my heart, the stories I tell again and again, those jagged boulders are what I carry for my ancestors, for Bishop Youhanna and the others in captivity, for all those who have suffered in the name of Christ. But I must admit that this flower, I carry for myself. This candle, I light for myself.
I know God understands that it is only because sometimes I need to hold Him in my hands. To feel, on earth, some physical manifestation of words that I will only be able to understand fully when I come into His presence. I know that what I carry in my hands bears no significance compared to the cross that is written in my heart. It is my greatest sorrow and greatest hope.
However you choose to remember those who have suffered in the past and those who suffer today, I ask that you take some time to pray that people will one day stop repeating the same evils. Say a special prayer for those suffering as a result of the war in Syria. Pray that our church leaders are released. Pray that in the midst of all trials and suffering, they draw peace and strength from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May every evil we suffer in this world make our love and understanding of God more complete. Thank God that no matter what they do to our bodies, they can never remove the cross from our hearts.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is heaven.
Peace of Christ,
Gabrielle Worley serves with the Armenian Protestant community, Yerevan, Armenia. She teaches English to grades 8 and 9 students of the Avedisian School.