Pope to Harutioun Selimian: “I will pray for Aleppo”

Hayern Aysor’s correspondent talked about the state of Aleppo and the visit of the Pope to Armenia with President of the Council of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Syria, Rev. Harutioun Selimian.

Hayern Aysor: Reverend, what is the state of affairs in Aleppo?

Reverend: Last week, with the help of Russian air forces, Syrian air forces struck the areas of the terrorists who have targeted the peaceful civilians of Aleppo. Many powerful bombardments and air clashes took place. There was such a fiery cloud that one got the impression that Aleppo was burning. It is obvious that the target of the bombardments was not the peaceful civilians of Aleppo, but the attacks caused a lot of commotion.

The situation has been relatively peaceful in Aleppo these past two days.

Even in this desperate situation, the people are determined, and we are committed to carrying out our national, cultural, ecclesiastical and educational activities.

The Armenian Evangelical Secondary School held a ceremony yesterday, which was followed by an event that showed once again that the Armenians are in need of education and culture. The factor of preservation of the Armenian identity is the only guarantee for our people. At the same time, it is the best example of self-defense because, in spite of the difficulties, the Armenians believe it is also important to be “armed” with culture and science. When the young Armenian boys and girls were reciting and singing in Armenian and performing Armenian dances, we got very emotional.

This is the situation of the Armenians in Syria. Even in a state of war, the people don’t spare efforts to preserve Armenian national culture and traditions and stay clung to the Armenian Church.

Hayern Aysor: Have many people left Aleppo after the graduation exams in Syria?

Reverend: The presses have been talking a lot about this topic over the past couple of days. Frankly, I must say that people are leaving. Some people in Aleppo are waiting for the state exams to end so that they can move to safer areas temporarily. For two to three weeks, they moved from Aleppo to safer areas in Syria such as Kessab, Latakia and other areas. This is internal relocation due to safety. However, if the war continues like this, these families will be away from Aleppo for a long time.

Hayern Aysor: Reverend, you were recently in Kessab. What was the purpose of your visit?

Reverend: When soldiers attacked Kessab two years ago, they caused great damage, burned our homes, churches, clubs and schools. When the Armenians returned to Kessab months after the liberation of Kessab, they slowly started rebuilding the homes, schools, churches and clubs.

The Armenian Apostolic Church of Kessab was renovated in the same year. The Armenian Catholic Church didn’t suffer great damage, but all four Evangelical Churches in Kessab were burned and destroyed. We started renovating the churches. It took us a long time, but now we have reached the final milestone. The Holy Trinity Church will be reopened in about two months. We will also open the cultural center of the Armenian Evangelical Union in the square of Kessab soon. It is the first Armenian Evangelical School built in 1880 and has now been turned into a cultural center.

I was also in Kessab to encourage the people and provide them with assistance. After the latest displacement, nearly 60 percent of the population has returned, 20-25 percent is in Latakia, and 10-15 percent has left for Armenia and other countries.

Kessab is of special significance for all us Armenians as the wealth inherited from Cilician Armenia. The Armenians are living on the lands that they inherited from their ancestors 1,000 years ago. Kessab is our wealth. We are ready to sacrifice anything to preserve our national and cultural traditions and continue to live on those lands.

Today, Kessab is safer and a better place to live than, for instance, Aleppo. There is water and electricity. If the situation escalates in Aleppo and people are forced to leave the city, I think Kessab will be the first place to go. If the situation in Syria continues for a long time, I have always declared that the Armenians’ only destination must be Armenia.

Hayern Aysor: Reverend, last week, you also participated in the events organized during the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia. How important do you think the visit was for not only Armenia, but also the Armenian nation?

Reverend: The motto “Visit to the First Christian Nation” itself made everyone very excited and was symbolic for our nation and stated the diplomatic and Armenian presence in not only Armenia, but also abroad.

The visit of the Pope was very symbolic, and I would like to recap the visit with three points.

First, the Pope reaffirmed the Armenian Genocide in Armenia, just like he had affirmed it during the Holy Mass commemorating the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide in Italy last year. The Pope’s act can open many doors for us Armenians. This serves as a great opportunity to examine the documents about the Armenian Genocide that are kept in the archives of the Vatican and, for some reason, haven’t been examined for nearly 100 years.

The second point is that the visit helped reestablish the cordial ties between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church, which were officialized and somewhat cold.

The third point is that the Pope conveyed to us Armenians his attitude towards and message about meekness, peace and serving people and God. His godly statements of a genuine clergyman were not only a great blessing for us all, but also a blessing to Armenia and the Diaspora.

By serving a Holy Mass in Gyumri, the Pope, as the Pontiff of the Catholic Community, revalued the activities of the Armenian Catholic Community in Armenia, particularly in Gyumri where there is a large Catholic community.

In general, the visit of the Pope was a big slap to the states, particularly Turkey, which continue their military operations. The Pope’s statements didn’t go unanswered. Turkey’s response didn’t come late. Moreover, Turkey tried to discredit the Pope with its statements.

In reality, there was a big subtext and symbol in the Pope’s message about peace and his tiding. It is the peace that all mankind needs.

From Armenia, the Pope declared that war is not the solution to conflicts. People need to come to terms and reconcile so that peace is reestablished. With a very delicate diplomacy, the church leader managed to preach that war is not a solution for the coexistence of nations.

Hayern Aysor: Reverend, which of the three-day events was the most symbolic for you?

Reverend: First, I would like to thank Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, who invited me to attend the events that were organized on the occasion of the three-day visit of the Pope. I accepted the invitation with great pleasure, and I was blessed in Armenia.

What was very symbolic and significant for me was the Welcoming Ceremony held at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin on the first day of the visit. After the ceremony, I had a chance to talk with the Pope for about a minute. He made an interesting statement about Aleppo, which was the following: “Aleppo is a nation of martyrs, and I will pray for Aleppo.” These words are very important for not only me. These words show that the prayers and thoughts of the Pope are also with Aleppo.

This is also a message to us Armenians, making it clear that each of us needs to continue to be the ambassador of peace for Syria with our mind, soul and patience so that we can establish peace for our sons and future generations with the earthly, human right and dignity.

Interview by Lusine Abrahamyan

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