On an official visit to the Holy See (Vatican), Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan attended the opening of the” “A Fable of the East: Christianity in front of the challenges of the new millennium” at Vittoriano Museum Complex. The aim of the exhibition is to draw the attention of the international community to the state of thousand-year old endangered Christian communities in the Middle East, as well as to the need for preserving the Christian cultural heritage in the region. The exhibition embraces photos taken in nine Middle Eastern countries and a separate section devoted to a documentary film about the extermination of Jugha’s Armenian cross-stones.
The exhibition has been organized at the initiative and under the patronage of the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia in the Holy See within the framework of the annual Rimini Festival for Friendship among Peoples launched on August 24 and besides Rome, is going to tour other cities.
At the opening of the exhibition President Serzh Sargsyan of the Republic of Armenia made a speech. In their speeches the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to the Holy See Mikayel Minasyan, the President of the Community of Sant’Egidio Marco Impagliazzo, the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi also talked about the importance of the exhibition topic, the state of Christians in the Middle East, as well about their deep concern over the existence of Christianity and protection of social and cultural values in general.
Speech by President Serzh Sargsyan at the opening of the photo exhibition “A Fable of the East: Challenges Facing Christianity in the New Millennium” in Rome
Ladies and gentlemen,
I watched each exhibit of this exclusive exhibition attentively and silently. At this moment, I continue to be under their strong impression. If I have not had the honor of making a speech, perhaps I would have long kept silent like the photographs I watched. Telling me about this exhibition, our ambassador described it as a silent yell; a yell for the blows received and yet to be received by Christianity in the homeland of Christianity the Middle East. Yes, as it was very aptly said, a silent yell.
I think that today at this hall we have more questions than answers.
Do we do everything right?
Is not all this the consequence of the steps and half steps we failed to take previously?
Have we always and everywhere properly characterized the realities subject to radical denial to prevent their repetitions?
Have we always been resolute enough in our efforts to encourage tolerance and coexistence?
Do we stand together against any manifestation of xenophobia and fanaticism?
I do not know; I do not have the complete answers to these and all the other questions stemming from the photographs being exhibited at this hall.
The only thing I am confident in is that not giving a clear and unambiguous characterization of genocides, dissemination of xenophobic sentiments, barbaric annihilation of cultural values and all other phenomena of such kind in due time results in the repetition of all that. I can give you a lot of examples.
I will give you only one of them. Some time ago we had the opportunity to watch how Jugha’s medieval Armenian cross-stones, the prominent monuments of the Armenian people’s identity, culture and belief, were deliberately exterminated. The extermination of Jugha’s century-old cemetery with its thousands of finely-designed and unique cross-stones dating from the 9th to 16th centuries in the last two decades is the brutal manifestation of the policy aimed at complete extermination of the Christian-Armenian cultural heritage across the entire territory of Nakhijevan and Azerbaijan which has not yet properly characterized by the international community. What do you think how many people in our region and the whole world concluded that in fact the age-old cultural monuments of an entire people can be wrecked to the ground with picks and simply remain unpunished. Of course, very many of them did so. In that case why not repeat such an easily implemented act in Iraq, Syria and in some other place? And they continue to repeat it as it is plainly demonstrated at this exhibition.
Thus, this exhibition is not about being silent or giving way to despair. On the contrary, it is about consolidation and doubling our efforts. I am confident that it is also possible to hold an exhibition whose message is contrary to that of this one. About how let us say Lebanon silently and without advertising accepts, gives refuge to, protects and provides living conditions for millions of Christians. It could surely be an exhibition of gratitude.
One thing is certain: There is not a moment to lose if we are to inculcate tolerance, including religious tolerance. We do not have the right to remain irresolute: we can see the consequences in the pictures.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The ones who live today are directly responsible for making the tie between the future and the past indestructible and for the eternity of our values.
The modern world is rushing toward the future at a giddy speed. The modern talents of technological progress are continuously bringing the future closer to us: for example, today all of us can watch super quality videos via our mobile phones. Definitely, modern engineers do their work brilliantly. What about us: all of us who are responsible for reinforcing everything modern with our set of values. Haven’t the inventors developed the mobile phone so that people will always be able to experience happy moments by regularly re-watching let us say their children’s christening ceremony or first step videos. If yes then why today those mobile phones are so frequently used to watch horrible videos about beheading of Christian journalists? Why such scenes are still possible nowadays? There is a gap here, don’t you agree: a gap between times, values and efforts we make.
Nowadays oil workers link continents with the help of ultramodern oil pipelines and reduce distance and time. What about us: about all of us who are obliged to take care of natural resources in the interests of peace, development, tolerance and coexistence; do we fulfill our obligations persistently enough? Are we able to overlook the oil pipelines and inexorably point out the dictator who keeps all his people in servitude and threatens to drown his neighbor in blood? We are obliged to do it if are to avoid such and other larger exhibitions.
After a few months we are going to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a crime against humanity which, unfortunately, has not been properly characterized by now. However, there is simply no alternative: sooner or later it will be given a complete, comprehensive and unequivocal characterization.
The truth is that we can’t ensure a peaceful and safe future without condemning the crimes of the past. For this very purpose we can’t allow using faith in the name of xenophobia or against other religions. We can’t allow using religion as a crutch to wage war and use violence; rather than we must make use of religious power and strength to promote dialogue and tolerance in all corners of the world.
I am hopeful that the Christian message directed to religious amity and tolerance will eventually prevail, and faith, hope and love will support us in protecting our values and upholding justice.
God bless us.
Thank you for your attention.
The president also visited St. Bartholomew Church whose chapels contain records about Christian martyrs, including those of the Armenian Genocide. Serzh Sargsyan laid a wreath at the main altar of the church and paid tribute to the memory of martyrs. Addressing the religious people gathered in the church, the Armenian President noted that the church has had special significance and role in the history of the Armenian people. Underscoring that the Armenian people did not have statehood for a long time – the last Armenian kingdom faded away 600 years ago – Serzh Sargsyan said that in the absence of statehood the church was able to undertake many state functions. According to the president, Armenians consider that it is partly thanks to this our people have managed to pass through the crossroads of history and reach the 21th century. Serzh Sargsyan underlined that St. Bartholomew after whom this church located on the Tiber Island is named, is considered one of the founders of the Armenian Church. “May God give us the strength and ability to be able to pass on our Christian values to our generations,” said President Serzh Sargsyan.