Simon Jacob reporting from Gyumr, Armenia.

Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia was devastated by an earthquake in 1988. I was a kid at the time, saw the headlines and the destruction on TV.
I could not have known that I would once travel to Gyumri during a period in history when another earth-shattering disaster, albeit one of completely different origin, would shake the city’s inhabitants.

The epicenter of this latest tragedy is not located within Armenia, but in Paris, and it cost the lives of many innocent victims.

Since there are many of Armenian origin living in the French capital, it is no surprise that memorial ceremonies were being held all over Armenia.

I asked to speak with with Bishop Ajapahyan Mikael about this incident as well as others in the past, and I was granted an audience.

The Bishop found very clear words condemning the attacks.However, the representative of the Armenian Apostolic Church also lamented the lack of Western compassion for the victims of terrorist attacks here in the Middle East.

The biggest obstacle, according to Bishop Ajapahyan Mikael, is the near complete absence of religious culture in Western society.

„The West is secular, and wants to create a secular world.“ Having lost its religiosity , Ajapahyan added, Westerners forget that the Middle East is following a completely different set principles.  

Armenia is a case in point. With its rich Christian tradition and its extensive experience of coexistence with Islam, there is a long history and great knowledge to draw from. At the same time the Bishop held the opinion, that it was now important that the Islamic World distance itself forcefully from it’s extremist strains. Muslims should not shy away from confrontation with Saudi Arabia, which is exporting it’s brand of sunni Wahhabism to countries around the globe.

I ask him about the genocide of the Armenians,  Aramaeans, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Pontoheronechans. The mass murders of 1915-1918 were ordered by the Young Turks, supported with logistics by the German Reich, and carried out by Kurdish tribes.

In his answer, Ajapahyan demands the necessary recognition by the Turkish state. According to him, Germany especially, is key to put pressure on Istanbul in this regard. But the process of recognition can only go forward in the context of peaceful dialogue.

Hi excellency strongly objects to calling the genocide “religiously motivated“. Religion only served as a justification, for what was indeed ethnic cleansing.

Listening to his words, my mind wanders again to the atrocities committed by the terrorists, who only a week ago cost so many their lives in Paris.
My mood damped, I leave the audience and walk outside. Back on the street I see three flags waving in the wind in fron of a building. There, next to the Armenian flag and the golden circle of Europe, proudly flies the Tricolore. It stands firmly, showing the solidarity of a people who have themselves suffered unspeakable violence in the past, with their French brethren. As for me, Ihave to move on now, and set my eyes to my next stop, Yerevan.

 

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