Monday, May 18, 2009
Armenia: About pomegranates, fruitfulness and travelling on Noah’s height
On 20th April, Easter Monday, I left Romania again for an exciting new trip. This time I was to visit Armenia in preparation for the ECPM congress; Georgia to visit the Christian Democratic Movement and to learn more about the political situation and how the ECPM could play a role to promote the Christian democratic values in this country; and to visit the meeting of the Eastern European Bureau for Christian Democracy that would take place during the Annual Congress of the European Popular Party in Warsaw. This is the first report, with impressions of the trip to Armenia.
Monday evening I left Timisoara and went via Vienna to Yerevan. In the airplane I noticed that in Armenia it was three hours later in Vienna and so I arrived in the middle of the night in Yerevan but not at alltired. Accommodation was arranged by an old friend of mine, Levon Bardakjian, who offered to let me stay with his family. I arrived at his place, a nice house on a hill where I had a marvelous view of the city and in the distance, Mount Ararat, the mountain that we all know as the mountain where Noah’s ark rested after floating for a very long time on the water that covered the whole earth. The dove that came with a branch of the olive tree symbolized a new beginning of mankind to subdue the earth again. According to the people with whom I spoke in Armenia, the area around the mountain is still very fertile and also very good for vineyards. Does this not remind us about the other story of Noah? About being careful regarding all the blessings God gives us?
I noticed that Armenia is a country full of symbols to think about.
Besides the new beginning for mankind, the Armenians also see themselves as the first country in Europe to adopt Christianity as the state religion. The beautiful churches I saw reflect the faith of the people and the majesty of God. But they also said that the uprisings in Armenia were the basis of all the changes in the Soviet Union in the late 80s. Is Armenia the country of new beginnings?
The pomegranate: fruitful time in Armenia.
Another symbol of Armenia is the pomegranate. I received a small silver gilt pomegranate as a gift from one of the politicians I visited. He told me that a pomegranate bears around 365 seeds which symbolizes the fact that we should bear fruit every day of the year. I put the pomegranate in a prominent place in my apartment; it is as though it says: “How much fruit did you bear today?”
In any case the time in Armenia was very fruitful. I had discussions with many representatives from churches and from the political and civil society that gave me insight into the political situation and the role Christians could have. In addition I gave two courses to around 60 young people of the Evangelical Church of Yerevan. It was so encouraging to discuss with them about the vision of Nehemiah: “to discover your own part of the wall which is the closest to your house” which means: to discover your own gifts and your own contribution to society and to the Kingdom of God. This resulted in a practical exercise: after this training, everyone was asked to contribute their gifts to clean the church. Another course I gave was a discussion of what integrity means and how to resist corruption. .
Also fruitful were the meetings organized by our contact person in Armenia, Gevorg Babayan. We had discussions with the leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Armenia, Kostrov Harutyunyan. It was impressive that he mentioned that the reason why Armenia should be a member of the ECPM is because the ECPM is making a stand against the dechristianisation of Europe and that it goes to the roots of Europe: the Christian values. Also he gave me more insight into the difficult situation concerning the frozen conflict around Nakorno Karabah.
We also discussed the organization of the conference in cooperation with the East European Bureau for Christian Democratic parties (based on developing Christian Democracy in the former Soviet Union countries) which will be combined with a conference in Armenia about the theme: “Armenia from the Christian Democratic perspective: from values towards practice”. The chairman of the Eastern European Bureau, Mr. Volodymir Stretovich and the general secretary of the Bureau, Mr. Yuri Reshetnikov, both from the Ukraine, also participated in the meeting about the Eastern European conference.
Gevorg organized a meeting with the board of the "Christian People's Unity of Armenia", associate member of the ECPM. The board gave positive critical feedback about the organization of the conferences in September, and also stated that they will support and collaborate in the organization of the event. We were also given a summary of the projects they were involved in.
Another day together with Gevorg we were looking for a suitable location and saw the surroundings of Yerevan with beautiful white mountains.
Insight into the situation
Both Georg and Levon introduced me to many politicians and I got insight into the situation in Armenia. There is a big struggle in the transition to democratic values, freedom and identity. One thing that worried me was the latest proposal for a new code for religious affairs: this law forbids the “sharing of faith” which can result in imprisonment. The struggle for democracy was also seen when a gunman entered the parliament in 1999 and murdered eight politicians. You can find more information about that on http://www.groong.org/ro/ro-19991101.html .Still there is a big struggle for democracy.
We could also see the struggle on a local level, in the organization of the new Board of the Presidential Commission for Human Rights to which I was invited. After the candidates presented themselves and the votes were counted, there was a lot of discussion about the way the new candidate was chosen and the validity of the votes and the large number of "voters" that were registered at the last moment. However, it was interesting to see how Mr. Kosrov, one of the organizers, was looking for a way to propose new elections. Let us hope that this is also symbolic for the democratic progress of Armenia where despite a difficult struggle, progress will be made in developing democratic values in the Armenian society.
But what impressed me most was the remembrance of the Armenian genocide. On 24 April 1915, the murder of hundreds of Armenian leaders was the beginning of the murder of around 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks. The Armenians were raped, starved, murdered, and kidnapped by the ethnic cleansing of the villages or by the death marches in the Syrian desert. It was impressive to join the march on 24th April and to walk with hundreds of thousands of people to the monument to the genocide. While I was walking there, I was thinking about the evil that has happened but also about the terrible denial of the genocide by the Turks.
Just one week prior to the launching of the attack on Poland, it seems that Hitler made an address to his chief military commanders, at Obersalzberg, on 22 August 1939: “Unsere Stärke ist unsere Schnelligkeit und unsere Brutalität. Dschingis Khan hat Millionen Frauen und Kinder in den Tod gejagt, bewußt und fröhlichen Herzens. Die Geschichte sieht in ihm nur den großen Staatengründer. Was die schwache westeuropäische Zivilisation über mich behauptet, ist gleichgültig. Ich habe den Befehl gegeben — und ich lasse jeden füsilieren, der auch nur ein Wort der Kritik äußert — daß das Kriegsziel nicht im Erreichen von bestimmten Linien, sondern in der physischen Vernichtung des Gegners besteht. So habe ich, einstweilen nur im Osten, meine Totenkopfverbände bereitgestellt mit dem Befehl, unbarmherzig und mitleidslos Mann, Weib und Kind polnischer Abstammung und Sprache in den Tod zu schicken. Nur so gewinnen wir den Lebensraum, den wir brauchen. Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?”
During the walk to the monument, Gevorg showed me the tree which was planted by Leen van Dijke, then MP for the ChristenUnie from the Netherlands. Also I stopped at the museum and saw the pictures of the atrocities that took place during that time and finally put my own flowers beside the monument that was covered with a mountain of flowers. After we laid the flowers, we walked back to the buses from the hill with again the Ararat mountain greeting us in the front. It was as though God told me: „But whatever happened or happens, I keep my promises and I will do right by mankind, I will judge the people on the Judgement Day and save the people who believed in Me through the love of Jesus.” After terrible judgements, the mountain became for me a symbol of promises, of a new beginning.
This was especially when I was walking down from the monument that reminds everyone of the terrible genocide and indirectly also of all that happened in the two World Wars. However God will never forget us and will always send the rainbow as a sign of the recovery of love for mankind, finally seen in the love of Jesus. And although I noticed a general will to develop better relations with Turkey and to open the borders for more trade, the only real conciliation will come by the willingness to recognize and ask forgiveness for the mistakes and by the healing power of Jesus.
Flying on Noah's height
Armenia, the country of symbols of new beginning, of bearing fruit, of openings for the work of the ECPM, but also the struggle for democratic changes, the attacks on the freedom of religion and expression, of the struggle for democracy and economic development, the country of a complicated history characterized by a lot of suffering.
When the airplane was ascending, I prayed for the country and for the wonderful people I met.
Above the clouds, I saw small pieces of the mountains just below me, the mountains connected with the famous Ararat mountains and with a smile I was thinking to myself.... „I was flying on Noahs height”!
"... the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat... and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible" (Gen. 8:4-5)