On Friday, I accepted an invitation by Hayr Papken to visit his church and community in Akhalkalak, Javakhk. What a discovery. Here is an Armenian community on the northern border of Armenia who are completely neglected by their Georgian authorities (even oppressed), detached from Armenia and almost ignored by the Diaspora. The current situation there is reminiscent of the situation in Karabagh before the 1988 uprising. The Georgians who are allies with the USA, Turkey and NATO are pressuring the Armenians to abandon their homes and villages through oppressive methods. They are closing down Armenian schools, making it almost difficult to travel from village to village to city with the Greater Javakhk area. In Akhlskha, which is the largest city in Javakhk, the Armenian community represented a strong 80% of the population before the crumbling of the soviet regime. Today, there are less then 40%. In Javakhk, there are no factories, no work places to give hope to young families. Most of the youth have left the cities and villages to work in Tbilisi, Moscow or Yerevan.
Over the weekend, I met with a group of young, dynamic men and women who are doing everything in their power to create a more prosperous place for themselves. They have created a youth center with a hand made health club, a radio station that they are working to expand on and much more. They work mostly with Hayr Papken, who is himself one of the most active priests I have ever been in contact with. This man is an inspiration to the entire community, and I look upon him as a Hero. With almost no financial support from Echmiadzin, he has built a community around the church. He has a youth choir, a puppet theatre group, a Sunday school, a women’s auxiliary committee and a great team of people who are there to help in any way.
During the time I was there, I was invited to a baptism. Most Armenians in the former soviet republics are not baptized. Hayr Sourp (Papken) and the women’s auxiliary group had organized a large scale baptism for 50 orphaned street kids. These youth either lost their mother, father or both and live in very harsh conditions. The church is the only institution so far that seems to be thinking of this group of people. On Saturday, I was invited to be a Godfather to 2 of these kids; a brother and a sister (Araradig and Haiganoush) who were from a nearby village.
In my mind, this was the answer we Armenians are giving to Turkey. No matter how much they tried to eliminate us, we are still around; we are growing and becoming strong. The baptism of each youth on Saturday represented another pillar that holds up the history and future of this ancient people.