BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Last week, it was Georgia. This week it’s Turkey. We might be onto something here with the “church building angle”. Of course I’m referring to the Georgian Parliament’s opening the door to establishing the legal status of the Armenian Apostolic Church in that country and possibly regaining stolen churches. And, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee’s vote on an amendment to Title II, calling on Turkey to restore stolen churches to their rightful Christian denominational owners (Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, etc.) and allow them to rebuild, renovate, or maintain those structures.
This is important, not because we’re Christians and we love our beautiful places of worship, but because its starts us on the road (one teeny-tiny step in a very long trek) to getting to the heart of the problems we must resolve with Turkey. I’ve long thought that it doesn’t really matter if Turkey fesses up to its crime of Genocide against our nation, as long as our lands our restored to us and we are made whole for the damages we suffered. Restoring the hundreds of damaged, destroyed, mosque- or barn-converted churches to the rightful owners is a key, and relatively simpler way of establishing the legitimacy of the reparations owed us by implementing some of those reparations.
When this return happens, I assume people are thinking the properties will all go to the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople. But if I recall correctly, some of the churches in the easternmost parts of Turkish occupied Armenia were under the auspices of the Catholicosate of Echmiadzeen, and certainly those in Cilicia and environs were under the auspices of the Catholicosate of Sis (now in Antelias, Lebanon). These three institutions should regain title to the churches in question. There are probably some Armenian Catholic churches in the mix as well, which should be restored to the seat of that denomination (currently in Bzummar, Lebanon), and similarly, protestant churches.
This amendment and the free standing resolution of the same meaning are an important first step in making progress circumventing the wall of denial erected in the U.S. Congress by Turkey, its corporate allies, and the U.S. presidency. By nibbling away and getting what is rightfully ours (we can discuss what should be next on another occasion), we establish the inarguability of the Genocide in Congressional minds.
However, this will not be an easy process. Those who watched the hearing on the amendment, heard the committee chair joke (and others remark) about this measure being the most debated item that they’ve all agreed upon. The notion of “let’s not beat up on Turkey too much” was strongly evident. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but providing members of Congress with measures against which they really cannot vote is a good path to follow. Who could or would argue against religious freedom and preservation of historic monuments?
One person, Ron Paul, the Republican-who’s-really-a-Libertarian and presidential candidate, could, and did, vote against the measure, the only person to do so. This is evidently based on some mindset of his that these are not issues that Congress and the U.S. should meddle in. His position should be a strong point of caution to those who share his political perspective and support the likes of Paul. People of this political stripe may be even worse antagonists to our cause than outright deniers and Turkish lackeys because they are garbed in seemingly “principled” approaches to anti-Armenian positions.
Finally, on a different church-structure related note, we should start addressing how to handle the structures left behind by diminishing or totally dissipated Armenian communities worldwide. These are expensive to maintain. Should we keep them? Should they become museums of things Armenian? Should they be moved, stone by stone to a “graveyard of churches” someplace on Armenian soil that could become a pilgrimage site?
Let’s start thinking and acting on these issues more and more, since they are the path to, and part-and-parcel of, our future as a nation.