The following is a transcript of commentary made during the “Next Step with Fr. Vazken” podcast, on February 3, 2011 (#139) Listen at – http://epostle.net/archives_season6.html#139
The Next Step in Commemoration: Help Stop a Genocide Today!
A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to be at an event organized by Jewish World Watch as they honored one of their founding members, Janice Reznik. This gave me a chance to pause in our busy schedule and contemplate the work we’re doing at In His Shoes Ministries, especially in regard to the Genocide taking place in Darfur.
I know we have all been shaken by what is happening in Egypt this week as well as the turmoil throughout the world. Of course, we realize that this is the news and the message that the media decides to bring into our homes. In fact, we must make an effort to remember that. The other day they were talking about Charlie Sheen. Here’s a guy who’s abusing drugs, living life on the edge, wasting away in front of the world. And why is he important? I mean, why is this man’s life being thrown in front of our faces? Because, we are told, he is the most popular actor in TV sitcoms today. Because he is the top paid actor on TV today. That’s it. That’s the reason why his life is more important to the media than the guy on the street who’s shooting himself up with heroin or other street drugs. Charlie Sheen’s life is important to follow and report as news because he’s making millions of dollars. In fact, just this morning there was a news article that his parents were petitioning the court to take over his estate so that his money cannot be squandered on drugs and reckless living. Got it? They need to save the money. Again, why is he important? Why are we talking about it? Because the media has decided to report this news. The media has decided that this guy is more important than all the others. In fact, there are millions – let’s say thousands, or let’s say that there only two others – that will never get the attention. And it’s those little guys that I’m concerned about. They also need to be noticed.
Many times I sadly contemplate the loss of children in these terms too. For instance, every year we hold the Cathia Hamparian Children’s Memorial at our church. For the last 15 years as part of our In His Shoes programming we commemorate the loss of these young lives. We add the names of children on a list only wishing that its growth would one day end. We remember the names of children that we knew and along with them I always remember the forgotten children of war and genocide. Every day there are children being killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and in our streets, but they are remembered as statistics, not by name. These children are taken away from parents and we call that the “casualties of war,” or perhaps the “byproduct of war.”
You see, there are different rules for war. Somehow it’s alright for children to die in war. But when someone dies on the streets because of an accident or before their time because of illness, we mourn them greatly because these are “horrible” and “terrible” events. Yet, bombing villages and children dying in a war is considered as part of the rules. These children died just because there was a war. Try to explain that word “just” to a parent in the war zone. But we don’t need to, because those stories don’t come to us up front and person. The media decides what news, what information, comes into our lives and what information we will consume.
Right now we’re focusing on Egypt, the unrest, the upheaval and the call for the president to step down. This is the story that the media has decided we will hear and consume right now. Of course there is so much more happening in the world that the media does not report. That news, it is up to us to find and explore. In particular I’m talking about Darfur.
Just today there was more bombing taking place in Darfur. You won’t hear this on mainstream media, probably because one crisis in Africa is enough, it fills the quota. I remember a few years ago, when In His Shoes was recognizing Gabriel Stauring as its “Man of the Year” in an attempt to bring attention to Darfur, we called the LA Times for coverage. We were told in no uncertain terms that the editor had deemed it was enough that they had covered Gabriel’s work in Darfur nine months earlier. That’s it. There was no need to cover it any more. And believe it or not, today there are children dying in Darfur because of genocide and the media doesn’t feel a need to cover it because, well frankly, one story out of Africa is enough and too many might jeopardize advertising dollars.
Now, let’s back up. Darfur is this area that is undergoing genocide. Not suicide, where someone kills him or her self. Not homicide, where someone kills another person. It’s not even an act of war, where you can say “OK, there is some collateral damage – casualties on the side.” No, we’re talking about Genocide: A systematic program of annihilation of a group of people. This government sanctioned.
Between 1915 to 1922 there was a systematic annihilation of the Armenian people ordered by the Ottoman Turkish government. We saw this government-ordered and sanctioned systematic murder and destruction again in the Holocaust, later in Cambodia, in Bosnia and in Rwanda. An organized effort to do away with the gene-pool: Gen-o-cide. And it’s happening again. Right now. It’s happening in Darfur.
Sadly, Darfur is forgotten. Especial today, when the one-tragedy-in-Africa-is-enough mentality dictates assignments handed out for newsgathering. Who cares about the small places? When we have large Egypt who cares about small Darfur? Last night ABC correspondent Christiana Amanpour was reporting when someone threw a rock at her. That was all over the news – countless reports that crossed over the networks. Everyone was reporting it. Someone else threw a punch at CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper. It’s been all over the news. Yet, every single day there are people dying on the streets that will never be known to us. They are being killed in Darfur and no one is covering it.
Now why am I so hot about this issue? Well, because in 1915 the same thing happened to the Armenian people and no one seemed to care. The Armenian Genocide was hidden because the world’s attention was focused elsewhere. As the annihilation of the Armenian people was taking place, as the systematic slaughter of people was in progress, the world was focusing in on the bigger calamities. And in fact, World War I was unfolding. People were focusing on the large scale destructions all around them, while not noticing the “little” events such as the destruction of the Armenian nation in the act of Genocide. Who cares about the Armenians?
I can’t sit by and watch that same chain of events happen to another group of people, because it does not fit into my model of life. What good is it, if I’m going to “commemorate” a genocide from the past and turn my head to a genocide taking place today? Make no mistake about it people throughout the world will commemorate April 24 as the start of the Armenian Genocide and they will commemorate it with speeches, threats (to the Turks and their allies) and the throwing of rhetoric ad nauseam but not even throw a glance to the reality of genocide taking place in Darfur. How can you reconcile those two reactions with one another? How can anyone commemorate such a vulgar action as genocide from the past and miss the opportunity to act on that same horrendous act today? Push it further. We’re Christian, right? How do you reconcile the action of praising God while children are being slaughtered?
Interestingly enough, at the Jewish World Watch event Rabbi Schulweis, who is one of the founders of the organization, addressed the gathered audience. He began his comments with a simple explanation of why they started Jewish World Watch. He said, during the Holocaust we asked “Where is God?” Where was the clergy? Where was the Church? He continued by turning the question on himself. In years to come, he said, I don’t want my children and my grandchildren asking where were the rabbis when the Genocide in Darfur took place?
When I heard him say this I was relieved to hear someone else echoing the same sentiments we’ve been teaching through In His Shoes Ministries. Because it means nothing to say we were “The first Christian Nation.”* Really. It means absolutely nothing. No, you and I weren’t part of the first Christian nation. You and I were not the first people who accepted Christianity. That was 2000 years ago. Someone was brave enough to stand up and say he or she was going to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ no matter what the consequences. That’s not you or me. Rather, it was people who had courage and a lot of faith. Remember the story of the Jews in the Bible who took pride in their past while ignoring their present spiritual condition? They came up to Jesus and said, “We have Abraham as our father.” Big deal! Jesus told them, “Out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham!” (Matthew 3:9) Essentially Jesus switched their focus. What’s the big deal about being a child of Abraham? So what? What’s the big deal about being part of the first Christian nation, if you are the first people to forget and deny your Christianity? What good is all your praise and talk if you’re the first person to not walk the walk of Christ?
Last century, for some reason that escapes me, we Armenians would give some self-importance to the fact that “we” were the victims of the First Genocide of the 20th Century. Who was? I was? You were? Bigger than that – today Darfur is the venue of the First Genocide of the 21st Century! The only way to view the 20th Century genocide means we have to do something about the genocide of the 21st Century. In other words, so what you were the first victims of 20th Century genocide, what are you doing about the first genocide of the 21st Century?
I am saddened, that the Church – Christ’s Sacred Body – and in particular the Armenian Church has closed its mind, it has closed its doors to what is happening out there. Instead of leading the people with the Victory taught and experienced by Christ, the Church t is following the same model of victimization that has been handed down through the years. The Church, yes that Body endowed with the power to create new realities is stuck in the same old holding-pattern: Commemorate genocide and close your eyes to what is going on around you. And I can’t do that. I can’t live with myself knowing that genocide is taking place, knowing that the same heinous crimes that were committed against my grandparents back in 1915 are being committed against these children of God. The world has closed its eyes, its ears and its mouth to it. Yes, see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of those three monkeys with their hands over their eyes, ears and mouth. The three monkeys! And I refuse to be a monkey. I refuse to de-evolve!
We must talk about evolution, about evolving as a species so that there cannot be genocide in future generations. Evolving means moving forward to a point where genocide doesn’t exist, where war is obsolete and we work together as human beings.
What are we striving for? What is the purpose of life? What is the purpose of religion? So that I can claim that my religion is better than yours? So I can claim that I’m going to heaven and you’re not? Woohoo! Unfortunately, this is what we’ve brought it down to. Do you ever wonder why religion is looked down upon? Because we have minimized it to this type of nonsense. It is sinful. It is the sin of arrogance and sadly the Armenian Church is guilty of that same sin. We say, hey look at us! We’ve got golden chandeliers and shiny crosses. We’ve got the towers that reach up to heaven. But you open the doors and there is nothing inside.
This morning I got a call from one of my parishioners. She was excited because one of the dioceses had issued an app for the iPhone. Imagine that, you can get the diocese on your iPhone now! Weeee!!! But when she went to use the app there was nothing there! The usual press releases are unavoidable – touting meetings with politicians, rich people being recognized and announcements about dinner dances. But, the Body of Christ in action? Press the app and there’s nothing there.
Today in a world where Egypt is unfolding, where the Middle East is exploding, where Darfur is crying genocide, where in our own backyardswe have issues of violence – people shooting at their senators, where we care more about actors and their drug addictions than the drugs being passed on to our kids in the street, where we care about Superbowl winnings rather than the disappearing Middle Class, where people are on the streets of America hungry and destitute, what direction is the Church providing? What content are they putting into those apps? Are they challenging you to step up to responsibility to spread love and bring peace, or are they telling you about the church that was built? Or which parish council was favored by the bishop? Or which politician sat at a mass? (Remember to mention that the politician – Armenian or not – held a candle with us and not mention that he didn’t understand a word of the ceremony.)
It’s over. This is why I teach Armodoxy. I’m not telling you about the Armenian Church. Rather I want us to look at the Faith of the Armenian Church? What was the Faith that kept people living? It wasn’t about buildings. It wasn’t about empty apps. It is about the fullness of Christ. When I speak of Armodoxy I’m looking at a Faith that was founded by Jesus Christ from the foundation of the Universe and has arrived to us 2000 years later. It is a Faith that has been witnessed to us by the Gospels. It is a Faith that has been witnessed to us by the teachings of the patriarchs and matriarchs through their writings and exemplary lives. It is a Faith that has been nourished and cultivated through the prayers of countless followers throughout the centuries. This Faith has arrived to us today because it has been witnessed to by the reality of life! That reality has one simple message: Despite all of our crucifixions there is a Resurrection. That Resurrection is the only thing that can combat the darkest darkness and evilest evil in the world. And so the dream is there – we will live in a world where one day Genocide is no more. It will be a thing of the past. We will live in a world where war is an obsolete method of resolving our problems because the power of peace, the power of love and the power of LIFE is more powerful than all the evil in this year.
Now this year we have a unique opportunity to be a witness to the power of Good. This year, April 24 – the darkest day in modern human history, the date on which the Armenian Genocide began – happens to coincide with the brightest day of the Universe. Yes, I’m talking about Easter – the Resurrection! It will take place on April 24. Think about it: the dark and the light. The sun and the snow. Death and life!
This year Easter Sunday is on April 24 and I cannot and will not sit there and say let’s commemorate the past when things are taking place today! We have no right to do that. And if it means we’re out of the church, then so be it. If so, then the Church isn’t living. We need to stand up as Armenian Christians. We must stand up as people of Faith, who have the Light of Jesus Christ as the Beacon that guides us, to say that the real Church is a church that cares. Its hands are extended to help because it is the Body of Christ! And the Body of Christ cannot just sit back, relax and watch as people die. The Body of Christ cannot kick-back and enjoy the sunshine, while people are being bombed and persecuted day-in and day-out.
In His Shoes is calling for a Rally for Darfur. It’s going to be on March 6 at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. It will be an opportunity for us to come together and heighten awareness for Darfur. I ask that you check with us daily on the In His Shoes website www.InHisShoes.org, Facebook or Twitter for updates during the next few day. The situation in Darfur is so grave and I’m truly disgusted when people in the Christian world close their ears to the cries of the people. These people are de-evolving and becoming one of the monkeys who sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil. They’re looking for a comfort zone that is not part of the Christian expression of Faith. Remember, Christ said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” He doesn’t say pick up some daisy and look how pretty the pedals are. No, he talks about taking on the cross because the Christian is called to a life of sacrifice for others. In fact, Jesus goes further and says, “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 9:23 & 14:27) Pick up the cross. That cross is calling us.
March 6, we have a Rally for Darfur. It’s to heighten awareness for the Genocide taking place. We want you to join in. And we’re also kicking off a period building up to April 24, Easter Sunday. We in the church call this Great Lent. But for all practical purposes, it’s a period of time to change our emphasis from the past to the present. Because on April 24 we’re going to be looking at Resurrection. We don’t need the media or anyone else for that matter to tell us what to look at or what is important. We will focus on the greatest news story of all time. We will take a look at the power of good and the power of Love and how that power brings change and lasting peace. So please follow us on our website www.InHisShoes.org and on our broadcasts at www.ePostle.net to follow the call to action.
As I look at the pictures coming out of Darfur, I remember myself in Rwanda a few years back. I’m looking at the people there and seeing my grandparents. The stories that came out of the Rwandan Genocide paralleled the story of the Armenians remarkably. (See notes at http://dervaz.blogspot.com ) And so, in looking at the Rwandans, I saw my grandparent – young, afraid but ready for the challenge of life before them. That time in Rwanda I truly became colorblind. I realized that all the divisions we have in life are of our own making. What are we doing in this world? We are all children of God. For God, every war is a civil-war, because there is only one planet and we all belong to Him.
For right now, make your prayer for Darfur. See how you can plug in. Ask how you can be an agent of change. Join us at the rally on March 6. Join us throughout the Lenten season for all of our programs. Join us for a Fast for Darfur on April 22 and 23. We want people throughout the world to participate in this Fast. We already have a commitment from students in Armenia and Syria, in London and in Canada. We’re asking for a commitment to care for others through the simple act of praying and fasting.
Pray and move to action. Join us.
Fr. Vazken Movsesian
In His Shoes
Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center
Glendale, California, USA
*This is in reference to the fact that in 301AD, Armenia became the first nation to accept Christianity as a state religion.