April 24, 2014

On this day 99 years ago, the Ottoman Empire began the massacre of 1.5 million Christian Armenians and expelled one million more from their historic homeland (now Turkey). It was World War I, and the crimes proceeded unabated by other global powers. Consequently, Adolf Hitler once asked, "Who, today, remembers the Armenians?"

The Presbyterian Church, for one, repeatedly directed relief funds to Armenians and vehemently protested the “atrocities” at that time. Yet there is still a need for a witness today. An overture coming before the PC(USA) General Assembly this summer calls congregations across the country “to testify to this tragedy and to help ensure that no other peoples experience such suffering,” and to set aside April 24th as a day of remembrance. Moreover, if the overture is approved, the PC(USA) would officially call upon the President and Congress of the United States to at last condemn the acts as genocide as well.

Vartan Jinishian's parents were among the Armenian Genocide survivors. He wished to honor their memory, and as a prosperous 96-year-old, he gave all his earthly treasure to establish an endowment with the Presbyterian Church for the welfare of Armenian diaspora communities throughout the Middle East: the Jinishian Memorial Program (JMP).

As JMP began planning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide next year, a few Armenian Presbyterians realized that the PC(USA) had never officially designated this systematic elimination of a people as “genocide,” the first of the 20th century. They quickly got to work, and three presbyteries—Chicago, Los Ranchos (southern California), and Palisades (New Jersey)—have adopted the overture to bring before the PC(USA) General Assembly in Detroit this June.

The PC(USA) continues its journey toward justice and reconciliation for Armenian communities by remembering and honoring those who suffered persecution, expulsion, disposition, or death. Although history has wounded God’s people, they persevere in faith, courage, and hope.

In 1964 when the Jinishian Memorial Program began, there was no free Armenian homeland because it was under Soviet rule. Today, in the young democratic Republic of Armenia, JMP runs dozens of projects including prenatal care, clean water, small business loans, youth leadership development, and summer youth camps bringing thousands of kids from rural areas (many without churches) to an encounter with Christ and their traditions. In Syria, JMP is a critical partner mobilizing war relief and medical care. The Lebanon program reaches at-risk youth, Syrian refugees, the chronically ill, and many more living on the edge who need a chance to live with dignity.

This holistic, ecumenical work of relief, development and discipleship is restoring hope for a new generation. Rev. Martin Lifer, a pastor in Hilton Head, GA has visited some projects in Armenia first-hand and marvels at how “lives are literally being transformed!” Also a member of the JMP governing commission, Lifer sees Jinishian's work as "a great opportunity for us to partner with Armenian churches—whether they be Evangelical, Apostolic or Catholic—in places of deep need.”