LA CRESCENTA—On the evening of Tuesday, October 14, 100 iguests gathered at the Western Prelacy “Dikran and Zarouhie Der Ghazarian” Hall to officially welcome Prelate of Aleppo Archbishop Shahan Sarkissian to the Western Prelacy. The evening was presided over by Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian. Guests included clergy, Executive Council members, Principals, and representatives of our schools, parishes, Prelacy committees, sister organizations, Aleppo Schools’ Alumni Associations, and Armenian from Aleppo who have settled in California.
The evening began with welcoming remarks by Executive Council Vice-Chair Dr. Dikran Babikian, who served as the Master of Ceremonies. He thanked the guests for accepting the invitation of the Prelate and coming together to lend their support to the Syrian-Armenian community. Dr. Babikian highlighted the essential role Aleppo has had in our national life in the past century, stating, Aleppo gave us individuals who became our church, educational, and organizations leaders throughout the world, now it is time for Armenians around the globe to assist them.
On behalf of the Executive Council, Chairman Vahe Hovaguimian welcomed Archbishop Shahan Sarkissian. He stated that the community has been closely following the developments in Syria and in the Middle East over the past few years. On the threshold of the Genocide Centennial we painfully witnessed the destruction of the memorial complex in Der Zor, said Hovaguimian, adding “the loss is a loss for the Armenian people everywhere.” The community of the Western United States, under the leadership of the Prelate, has spared no effort in supporting Syria, he stated, and concluded by assuring Archbishop Sarkissian that our community will continue to stand by our compatriots in Syria.
Catholicosate Central Executive member Khajag Dikijian focused his address on three points, courage, resilience, and compassion. Courage, as embodied by the community led by Archbishop Shahan Sarkissian who in the past three years has boldly confronted all challenges and capably led the struggle of his community, earning the love and respect of all. Resilience, the symbol of which is the Syrian-Armenian community who persist amid unimaginable difficulties, and who have our full support. Finally, compassion, represented by the community of the Western United States under the guidance of the Prelate, who have greatly supported and continue to support our brethren in the hopes of alleviating their burdens. It is the duty of us all to continue our efforts with renewed vigor, stated Dikijian, and concluded by asserting “we will not let you down.”
Dinner followed the blessing of tables by Archbishop Yeprem Tabakian. Guests viewed a video presentation on the situation of Armenian schools and students in Syria.
The program resumed with remarks by Zaroug Der Tavitian on behalf of Aleppo Schools’ Alumni Associations. She extolled Archbishop Sarkissian’s guardianship of the people and schools, stating that it would be difficult for the Armenian people to endure without Armenian schools. Thus, she wished that the Prelate’s visit and mission is a productive one, and reaffirmed the support of the Alumni Associations.
Vazken Madenlian delivered remarks on behalf of the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF). Our community feels the struggle of the Syrian-Armenians, he said, but empathy is not enough; active participation is needed. As a former principal, he added that it pains him to hear any Armenian school anywhere in the world experiencing difficulties and the threat of closure. Thus, he reported that in the coming weeks, Armenian day schools in California would be holding student led fundraisers to benefit the schools in Syria, and urged the guests to contribute to the cause through their local schools.
Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian was then invited to deliver his message. The Prelate welcomed the guests to what he referred to as a heartrending yet hopeful evening, the purpose of which he summed up as, “support and empathy,” action combined with compassion to help those in need. The Prelate reflected on the events Archbishop Sarkissian had participated in since his arrival the prior week, noting that he is here on a working visit, for the sacred mission of garnering much-needed assistance for Syria’s Armenian schools and students. The purpose of the evening’s gathering is supportive rather than fundraising, said the Prelate, to hear a first-hand account of the situation in Syria and to elicit support for their needs. In this regard, His Eminence commended the alumni associations, the Kessab Educational Association, and Aleppo-Armenians who are with their native home in heart and spirit and who do great work from here in support of their former communities. He thanked also the evening’s hosts, St. Mary’s Church Board Chair Mr. and Mrs. Garo Eshgian. In conclusion, the Prelate called on the community to heed and encourage all the endeavors of SARF, for “as sister Prelacies, we have an obligation to Aleppo.” Citing Scripture passage, he stated that when one member of the body suffers, all suffer with it, “and so, we must do our utmost to alleviate that suffering,” with renewed drive and commitment, concluded the Prelate, and invited Archbishop Sarkissian to deliver his address.
The Prelate of Aleppo began by conveying his heartfelt thanks to the Prelate and Executive Council for the warm welcome and opportunity to address the community. He expressed gratitude to His Holiness Aram I for facilitating the visit The Diaspora, and the Western United States specifically, has been of great assistance with their generous financial support, stated the Prelate. There is still immense need, but thank God we have endured and kept the hope, he said. Archbishop Sarkssian gave an overview of the daily conditions of the people. He noted that the Prelacy headquarters has been hit by at least three bombs, resulting in the migratory state of the Prelacy; that the people face the threat of death and grave injury and lack basic necessities like bread, water, and electricity. In spite of this serious situation, the people maintain their hope and resolve to persevere, he said. His Eminence gave the example of Kessab, which within three months saw the return of its people, who immediately set out to rebuild their town. Proudly recalling the miraculous re-consecration of the altar at St. Mary’s Church which was damaged in the fighting, the Prelate asserted that the people of Aleppo will also return and rebuild. Emphasizing the importance of schools, he noted that regardless of the severity of the situation, the schools must remain open, as they have, and continue their hallowed mission as the backbone of society.
Speaking of the Diaspora, Archbishop Sarkissian noted that though the Diaspora came to exist through circumstances out of our hands, it has become a blessing with its vast network of churches, schools, and national organizations. Having witnessed the strong support of the Diaspora over the years and during his visit, the Prelate stated that he will return to Aleppo reassured that the people of Syria do not stand alone. “Life’s difficulties will not discourage us, we will rise again” he concluded confidently to the applause of the audience.
The evening came to a close with the benediction delivered by both Prelates and the collective singing of “Cilicia.”