Our Recent Trip to Syria and Armenia on the Occasion of ARS’s 100th Anniversary

BY ANAHID KHANJIAN TERJIMANIAN

During the month of October (2-23), 2010, members of the Los Angeles based Armenian Relief Society (ARS), had organized a three weeks’ journey to Syria and Armenia.  This trip was a combination of a pilgrimage and a mission undertaken by a group of “ARMENIAN CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS” also known as the Armenian Relief Society (ARS). The ARS was originally called the Armenian Red Cross and was founded by E. Agnoony (Khachadoor Maloomian) in New York, NY in 1910. In 1915, it was incorporated in Boston, Massachusetts as the ARS. Thus, on the happy occasion of the 100th Anniversary this MEMORABLE travel was organized and attended by well over 300 members from various ARS chapters from all parts the world.

As “pilgrims” the ARS visitors spent lots of good  time in Damascus, (world’s oldest continuously inhabited city), Aleppo, (Armenian Apostolic  Holy Forty Martyrs Church was erected in AD 1500), Kessab, (originally Casa Bella built by Crusaders and their Cilician Armenian allies- the Crusaders were on their way to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims, who occupied the Holy City through Christian Armenia, which at the time was probably the most advanced civilization in the world), and Deir Ez-Zor (Armenia’s Auschwitz), wonderful and historic cities in the most hospitable Syrian Arab Republic.

While in Deir Ez-Zor, the Armenian tourists were escorted to the Church of Martyrs and Museum of Genocide by official convoys of the Syrian Government. Later on the tourists went to the bridge over the Euphrates River and dropped flowers in memory of the Armenians who were pushed in and drowned.  The local people say at times the river gets a reddish blood-like color.  There was a time, not long ago when our Arab brethren and sisters had offered the Armenian survivors of that tragic genocide which had cost the lives of over 1.5 million of our people. The Church of Martyrs and Museum of Genocide in this desert city housed a few memorabilia, bones, and books written by eye witness accounts and by scholars in several languages describing this first holocaust of the 20th century which was perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks. Among the books displayed I saw one edited by my husband Hagop Terjimanian, “The First Holocaust”, which gave me goose bumps.

The sad/happy “homoohiner” (ARS relief workers) later enjoyed more bitter and sweet times in our own Armenia and Artsakh (Mountainous Karabakh). Yerevan, Armenia’s capital had been transformed into a vibrant modern megalopolis. It was most heartwarming to see the great many accomplishments of the ARS in such projects as pre-schools, kindergartens, hospitals, shelters and social service centers. Banners were displayed everywhere praising ARS’s charities and accomplishments,

Armenia is the only country remaining from 3,000 year old maps of Anatolia (now western Turkey). It became the world’s first Christian nation more than 1700 years ago in AD 301 and today has a large Diaspora, numbering over 7 million strong.

Armenia is a very beautiful country with ink blue lakes, lush green valleys, majestic mountains, venerable and ancient monasteries and thousands of churches galore built on top of hills or in beautiful terrain and captivating art and archeological sites as well as fabulous food and most hospitable people…They say show up in any Armenian village without a penny, and food and a place to stay will follow along with drinks and endless toasts.  Leaders and citizens alike extended a helping hand and the youthful ARS pilgrims were treated like members of the same household.   Even the Catholicos (Supreme Patriarch), Karekin II acted like a tour guide. In many of the villages the simple folk brought their loveliest, abundant food and smiles, while children entertained with songs and dances… They say Armenia was the land where according to legend God planted the Garden of Eden… This beautiful country now offers many things exotic for tourists, who are coming again and again!

Armenia reborn as a true Garden of Eden was Artsakh (Mountainous Karabagh).
We met virtually brave, young Armenian men/soldiers willing to fight for the Armenian lands. We spoke to them and took pictures with them. God knows how many of these heroes will sacrifice their lives for God and country?  Come and see for yourselves the resurrected Armenia, and pray for Armenia and for Armenian soldiers and leaders!

Recently Turkey’s most popular English Daily wrote an article titled “Armenia offers Iranian tourists a breath of fresh air:” (Nov. 4, 2010)…”Iranian tourists to Armenia more than doubled over the last year. (84,000 in the first nine months of 2010), Mahmoud Ali Reza has visited Armenia three times already this year and says it compares favorably with his home country Iran as a touring destination. We have resort areas in Iran like the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, but first of all, it’s expensive to go there, and secondly, you can’t relax with your whole family, My wife can’t swim in the sea there – she can only go in covered from head to foot in the hijab…If we want a good holiday, we come to Armenia.”

Nelly Malkhasian, director of the tour operator Mane, said “Iranians come to Armenia because it combines the cultures of the East and West in a way that was both familiar and foreign, To them, Armenia is just like Iran – but freer and more interesting” she said.

A final word of appreciation from my sister Dicky Khanjian Dodd and I must now be addressed to the few powerfully effective and dedicated ARS leaders and organizers of this once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Armenia and specially to Jasik Jarahian. Also a big Thank You to ARS’s “Onward Christian Soldiers”: – the very best in the new generation of Armenian women who are ever more eager to bring a difference in Armenia’s present and future.  A million kudos and thanks for the memories, “Vartskernit Gadar!” God bless you all! Please donate to ARS!!!

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