What We Carry
On April 24, everyone in Armenia has the day off of work. This day is dedicated to remember 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. This day is dedicated to remember 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 its Christians just as they have been 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, the United States and other countries where they can find safety.
Yesterday, I should have gone to Armenia’s Genocide Memorial. On April 24, 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. But yesterday, I could not understand the connection between that beautiful delicate 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.
However, yesterday I could not 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.
This week, an archbishop 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, Archbishop Youhanna was determined to stay behind and provide as much spiritual and material comfort as he could for the people left behind. Archbishop 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.
Four months ago, two priests were kidnapped, Isaac Mahfood (Greek Orthodox) and Michael Kayyal (Armenian Catholic). Archbishop Youhanna was on his way, along with Archbishop Paul Yazigy of the Greek Orthodox Church, to try to rescue the two kidnapped priests. Rebels had agreed to release the priests if the two archbishops 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 anything from or about the two archbishops since the kidnapping.
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 only speak for myself, but I think that to carry something as beautiful as a flower to the memorial of one of history’s ugliest stories is not something that I could do in memory of my ancestors but rather, in hope of my own future. I can’t carry it for them, I can’t carry it for our archbishop who is captured in Syria but maybe I could carry it for my own children. In hope that they will be born into a world that still has beautiful things, delicate things, and 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 Archbishop 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.
And 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 arms 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. Today I also ask that you say a special prayer for our brothers being held captive in Syria. Pray that they will be released soon and in good physical condition, pray that they are not being tortured, pray that, even as they are held captive, they feel the peace in having Jesus nearby. 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. Amen.
Gabrielle Worley serves with the Armenian Protestant Community, Yerevan, Armenia. Gabrielle is an English teacher to the grade 8 and 9 students of the Avedisian School (created and operated by the AMAA).