Armenian Genocide Service of Remembrance at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington

On Tuesday 27th April 2021, Our Lady of Victories Church officiated a Remembrance Service for the 106th commemorative year since the Armenian Genocide was initiated by the Ottoman Turks in 1915. This ecumenical service illustrated a fellowship between the Catholic & Armenian Orthodox churches in the face of a  deliberate and calculated murder of the Armenians and subsequent denial by the Turkish government that they perpetrated this genocide.

Owing to Covid-19 restrictions, there was only a handful of attendees in the congregation. However, many other parishioners joined the service via live stream from all corners of the world.

His Grace Bishop Hovakim Manukyan sent a message which was relayed by Monsignor Roger Reader KCHS, the Parish Priest at Willesden Green. Bishop Hovakim’s words were pertinent, for this time, as he reflected not only upon the original Genocide of the Armenians but also referred to the war in Artsakh in late 2020. Ethnic Armenians from Artsakh have been displaced from their ancestral lands, tortured and killed. Moreover, there has been the desecration of historical Armenian monuments and buildings. Their erasure demonstrates just how rampant Armenophobia is in the Caucasus region. His Grace also prayed for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide so that, in turn, future atrocities and genocides of any and all peoples will be stopped in their tracks.

Vespers then commenced and Thine Be the Glory (words, Edmond Budry) was sung by the congregation and choir. What might at first glance be thought to be an unusual choice of the hymn was, in fact, rather apt for this occasion. Although typically used by Protestant denominations, it is often sung at funerals and the lyrics pledge that through Christ’s Atonement we too will receive everlasting life. There was then a beautifully haunting rendition of Der Voghormia (Lord have mercy) by one of the cantors.

The New Testament Lesson was taken from St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians and read by George Jerjian (Author, Speaker and Mindset Mentor). The Biblical passage adumbrated the soteriological theme of victory over death through belief in Christ. This passage from Scripture leaves us without a doubt that the Martyrs from the Armenian Genocide will have their eternal reward.

Dr Harry Hagopian gave the Reflection, entitled: ‘The Armenian Genocide: Healing Open Wounds?’ He spoke about how the Genocide has “marked Armenian psyches across the years”. This becomes painfully true when  when taking but a cursory glance at the study of intergenerational trauma. Dr Hagopian also mentioned well-known Armenian intellectuals who were forcibly removed by Ottoman officials on 24 April 1915, such as  Grigor Zohrab (writer, lawyer and politician who received his early education from a Catholic school) and Siamanto (a famous Armenian writer & poet). Dr Hagopian felt it was pertinent that this service was taking place in a Catholic church as he reminded us that, although the majority of Armenians are Orthodox, we must not forget or neglect our Catholic and Protestant Armenian brothers and sisters in Christ. He also poignantly recounted his own grandfather’s escape journey from Turkey via Lebanon to Jordan and eventually onto Palestine. Dr Hagopian mused as to why his grandfather might have told him such harrowing stories when he was still quite little, and he suggested that it was so these events would never be forgotten.

He also spoke about the woeful ignorance of the Armenian Genocide across the world and its continuing denial by the likes of the UK & Israel. Dr Hagopian had watched with horror as one TV news reporter relayed that President Joe Biden was officially recognising a Genocide that took place in 2015, not 1915! Dr Hagopian also wished to note that the Genocide was also committed against Assyrians and Pontic Greeks and that this is a fact that is often not acknowledged let alone spoken about worldwide. However, he left us with a rousing message referencing the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, from St Matthew’s Gospel, and the hope embodied in Jesus’s allegory.

We later heard a performance of one of Komitas’s famous pieces: Kroonk. These plaintive strains of Komitas (who of course was also arrested on 24th April 1915 by Ottoman officials) were rendered by Claire Mouradian on the violin.

And finally, Reverend Father Shnork Baghdassarian (who represented the Armenian Church) said a special prayer in Armenian & English for the repose of the souls of all victims of genocide and sought the intercession of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.

Bishop Hovakim would like to thank Dr Hagopian for organising the Remembrance Service and for his lucid speech. Further thanks must be given to the parish team at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington, for kindly hosting the event. Many thanks also to Revd Monsignor James Curry KCHS, Revd Monsignor Roger Reader KCHS and Fr Daniel Herrero Peña. Special thanks go to Claire Mouradian for her wonderful violin-playing, to George Jerjian for his Scriptural reading, to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales for covering it and to Timothy Macklin who led the music and hymns.