Presbyterians remember and support Armenians
by Cara Taylor | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Released in movie theaters in April, “The Promise” is no mere period love story but a “fight to end genocide and injustice,” promoters say. Actor Christian Bale plays an American journalist trying to expose the Ottoman plot to exterminate millions of Armenians.
Modern denial of the genocide persists and that’s one reason why the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide and urged congregations to commemorate its centennial in 2015. The cruel and systematic massacre of 1.5 million Armenians is remembered each year. Worship and study materials, including a printable Minute for Mission, are available online as resources for this observance.
During World War I, Armenian Christians were forced to march from their homeland in Anatolia to the Syrian desert. Survivors built a new community in Aleppo, Syria, and Presbyterians have supported missions there since 1966 through the Jinishian Memorial Program (JMP).
Today, after six years of civil war and wild inflation, every Syrian-Armenian citizen needs aid. While refugees worldwide have gained attention, Syrians who remain in their country have endured danger, loss and uncertainty. Despite communication failures and other hardships, JMP mission staff continued uninterrupted service and spiritual encouragement to 7,500 beneficiaries in 2016. Emergency grants to families tripled, and new clients applied continually.
People in Aleppo have reoriented once-prosperous lives around fetching water from wells in churches, mosques and public squares. All roads to the city have been cut off entirely at times. People live without power most of the time; fuel and generators are scarce and expensive. The cost of survival has been paid not just in wasted hours and worthless currency but also in exhaustion and anxiety.
“I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7).
Violence hit even the “safe” areas of Damascus in 2016. In Aleppo, 11 Armenians were martyred over two days in October. Mercifully, when rocket missiles came to the JMP office courtyard last April, staff were unharmed and received clients with a smile in the morning.
The mission team adapted in creative ways. Bottled water for families with children reduced the spread of disease. Increased aid reached displaced families. Patients with special needs were overwhelmed by diaper expenses, so JMP began supplying them. JMP also responded to a huge increase in community health cases with counseling, medication and shared hospital expenses.
“The Armenian community in Syria needs and deserves our attention, compassion and assistance more than ever,” said Talin Topalakian, JMP country director for Syria. “With our local partners, we work hard to overcome all the obstacles surrounding us, knowing that we are the only hope of our community.”
“And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:5).
Despite many sorrows, churches and streets were filled at Easter. Topalakian and her team feel honored to serve in this devastating time and responsible to give as much moral and financial support as they can.
The Rev. Dr. Christine Chakoian, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois, worked on the PC(USA) genocide centennial remembrance in 2015. “This commemoration helps ensure that no other peoples experience such suffering and witnesses to the Christians who are persecuted in the region today that they are not forgotten,” Chakoian said.
Mission partnerships are available through JMP to bring dignity and hope out of poverty and despair. The Jinishian program addresses the needs of the whole person — social, economic and spiritual. It adapts and innovates, adjusting to changing conditions in seven countries across the Middle East and South Caucasus. Work ranges from emergency relief to long-term community development and discipleship programs. Projects are led and implemented by 100 percent local teams. Since it was established as an endowment fund of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1966, JMP has served as an ecumenical leader in the region with Apostolic, Catholic and Evangelical church partners.
Spaces are available to visit Armenia with the Jinishian Memorial Program Oct. 6-16, 2017, including the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum in Yerevan. Registrations are due by June 1.
Cara Taylor is a communications associate with the Jinishian Memorial Program.
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