On Monday night, a representative of the Anglican Church of Canada joined the Roman Catholic archbishop of Montreal and about 2,000 other people, largely from the local Armenian community, in a worship service marking the 100th anniversary of what is remembered as the Armenian Genocide.
From 1915 to 1922, more than 1.5 million Armenians were declared enemies of the state and massacred in what was then the Ottoman Empire and now modern Turkey. Turkey has refused to acknowledge the killings as genocide.
A near-capacity congregation in the basilica of Montreal’s landmark Saint-Joseph’s Oratory included Archbishop Bruce Stavert, retired archbishop of the Anglican diocese of Quebec, who came on behalf of the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and the Rev. Stephen Petrie, ecumenical officer of the diocese of Montreal. Stavert, now serving as an honorary assistant in a Montreal parish, also filled in for the Anglican bishop of Montreal, Barry Clarke.
The service was jointly organized by both main Canadian sections of the orthodox Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church and the Armenian Evangelical Church.
Participants in the partly candlelit service listened to haunting choral music from the liturgical tradition of the ancient Armenian Church and to scripture readings and prayers by clergy of Armenian and other churches, largely from traditions based in the Middle East and now active in the Montreal area. Stavert read the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Luke in English.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal, who delivered the homily, said he was humbled by the event and the great historic tragedy it commemorated.
He also referred to recent comments made by Pope Francis when he spoke to Armenian pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica. On that occasion, the Pope said that in the last century humankind had lived through three “massive and unprecedented tragedies”-the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians, which he described as the first genocide of the 20th century, and the other two, perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism.
The bulletin for Monday’s service noted that the event was meant to commemorate the “sacred memory” of the tragedy that befell 1.5 million Armenians who were slaughtered and another estimated million who were “uprooted from their ancestral homeland and driven to the desert of Syria in journeys of no return.”
A few days before the Montreal service, Bishop Abgar Hovakimian, based in Montreal as the primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church Canadian Diocese-one of the two branches of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Canada-participated in the annual meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada’s House of Bishops, at the invitation of Bishop Clarke.
In his speech, Bishop Hovakimian focused on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide and its consequences in the contemporary world, according to a report distributed by his diocese. “His Grace mentioned that the twentieth century was a century of inventions, but not all of the ideas that were born in the minds of human beings made this world a better place for its inhabitants,” said the report. “One such ‘invention’ of the twentieth century is the crime of genocide that was committed against the Armenian nation with the sole aim of achieving the total extermination of the Armenian identity.”
The Rev. Walter Raymond, a former priest in the Anglican diocese of Quebec, now a chaplain in Monaco, visited Armenian communities in the Middle East a few years ago. In an email interview, Raymond said, “I was always given to understand that the ‘motive’ for pushing the Armenians and the other minority groups out of Turkey had a lot to do with the Ottoman Empire’s losses in World War 1, which caused large groups of Turkish nationals to return home.” With the shortage of housing and available land, “the government adopted the policy of clearing out the minority groups to make room for the returning members of the majority.”
There were also some parallels between the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust, “in that Armenians were something of a despised minority group,” said Raymond. “Both groups, living in minority settings for centuries [the Jewish and Armenian diasporas] had learned how to survive, despite the prejudice of their majority hosts, in business and commerce, and had learned to preserve and protect their national cultures. So it was as easy politically for the Ottoman authorities to target the Armenians as it was for Hitler to target the Jews, by feeding on the natural xenophobia of the majority amplified by social, economic and cultural jealousy.”
The Montreal service was one among several commemorative events held in Canada and around the world.
Harvey Shepherd is editor of Anglican Montreal, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Montreal.