This evening’s commemoration is a solemn occasion. We are gathered with our sisters and brothers in the Armenian Orthodox Church and the wider Armenian community to give witness to the Armenian Genocide. We are also gathered with them to acknowledge their faith and resilience in the face of such adversity. And so, we gather together to remember, to mourn, to find inspiration, and yes, even to celebrate.
We remember that the Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century, and that it marked the beginning of what is commonly referred to as the bloodiest, most violent century in all of human history. During the horrific period beginning in 1915 and continuing until 1923, more than 1 million Armenians (and others) were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. The dead were buried in the land where they had lived for generations. The refugees were dispersed throughout the world, and some to the United States, where their future generations have now become the friends and neighbors with whom we stand today.
We mourn the dead. We stand tonight among the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who were killed. We listen to the language of the Armenian people, and of their great and proud heritage. We pray the prayers of their ancient Church, asking for God’s mercy upon the people and the nation that was first in history to become Christian. Tonight, in solidarity, their forebears become our forebears, their language becomes our language, and their prayers become our prayers.
We find inspiration in the call of the Armenian people to stand against the evil of genocide wherever and whenever it is committed. And in the last century, genocide has been committed all too often, and in too many places: in Europe (the Holocaust) in the 1930s and 1940s; in Cambodia in the late 1970s; in Rwanda in 1994; in Bosnia in the mid-1990s; and in Darfur in the early 2000s. In addition, mass atrocities and crimes against humanity continue to be perpetrated today in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In the face of such evil, standing among our Armenian brothers and sisters we affirm that our work to end genocide is not finished.
Finally, we celebrate the resurrection of the Armenian people. The Christian faith is all about hope, and all about the victory of life over death. Like Jesus Christ, who rose from the tomb to give life to the world (John 8:12), the Armenian people rose from the ashes of genocide to become again a vibrant people among all the peoples of the world. They are a powerful witness to faith in the resurrection, and a profound testimony to God’s promise to remember those who take refuge in him (Psalm 18:30). And to this, we say, “Amen.”
Given for the occasion of the commemoration service at the Washington National Cathedral, May 7, 2015