Hiding in the old Armenian-Jewish neighborhood, the little Armenian church was packed this morning. There are many more people than on a regular Sunday Mass. The southern region of Georgia, inhabited by Armenians, was not hit by the Genocide of 1915, but many survivors of the massacres in the Ottoman Empire fled here. Their descendants today commemorate, together with the Armenians scattered all over the world, that a hundred years ago, on 24 April 1915, 250 Armenian leaders were arrested in Constantinople, and thus began the extermination and expulsion of the several million strong Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire.
A twelve or thirteen year old girl comes to me, with huge dark eyes, calling me in very ornate English: “I want to ask you, Sir, what they think in Europe about what happened to us? Is there anyone who recognizes that there was an Armenian genocide?” “Of course, in Europe almost everyone recognizes it.” “Thank you very, very much, Sir,” she says in awe.
The old priest speaks long, calmly. I understand only snippets of the sermon, recited in the Armenian dialect of Akhaltsikhe: the names of countries, nations, persons, and the recurrent term metz yeghern, “the great crime”, as the Armenians call the Genocide. People are watching intently, nodding. “What did he talk about?” I ask at the end of the mass. “That we must not forget what happened, but we must rise above it, and must not hate the descendants of those who did this to us.”
Mass at the Armenian church of Akhaltsikhe