The Komitas Quartet in Istanbul

Archbishop Barsamian Travels to Turkey for Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization Commemoration, Plans St. Nerses Shnorhali Anniversary

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WATERTOWN — Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Pontifical Legate of the Armenian Church in Western Europe, and Representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See, traveled to Turkey to participate in an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) and the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s participation in this body on June 9. He took advantage of the trip to also meet with the Turkish foreign minister to plan the commemoration of the 850th anniversary of St. Nerses Shnorhali [“the Graceful”] in Hromgla.

Ambassador Lazar Comanescu

Archbishop Barsamian related that he was invited by Ambassador Sahak Sargsyan, Armenia’s permanent representative to the BSEC, to attend the event, held on a large scale at the Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall of Istanbul. He said that approximately 1,000 people attended, including ambassadors, consuls-general and other representatives of consulates as well as Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul Sahak II Mashalian and other high-ranking clergy. Amb. Sargsyan spoke, as did the Secretary General of the BSEC, Ambassador Lazar Comanescu of Romania. The Komitas String Quartet came from Armenia to perform and included some pieces from the eponymous composer Komitas Vartabed.

Ambassador Sahak Sargsyan and Patriarch Sahak Mashalian

Apparently, this was one of the first occasions for the Armenian community in Istanbul to come together on this scale since the start of the Covid pandemic, so people were happy, the archbishop related. Barsamian also participated in a dinner the night before, on June 8, at the St. Vartanants Church in Feriköy (a neighborhood of Shishli in Istanbul) in honor of the Komitas Quartet members who had just arrived, along with the organizing committee of the event, Patriarch Mashalian and Archbishop Aram Ateshian.

Earlier on June 9, he went to Ankara with Patriarch Mashalian to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss celebrating the 850th anniversary of St. Nerses IV Shnorhali next year in historic Hromgla, Cilicia (today called Rumkale in Turkish), located on a promontory overlooking the Euphrates River. St. Nerses served as catholicos there.

Archbishop Barsamian explained that some months ago he learned that UNESCO will be honoring St. Nerses along with other prominent people worldwide. He reached out to the Vatican after receiving the blessing of the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II in order to see whether a celebration of St. Nerses’ 850th anniversary could be held in the Vatican with the Pope and the Catholicos of All Armenians presiding. They both agreed, so this event will most probably take place in the fall of 2023, with an ecumenical service at St. Peter’s Basilica. Barsamian requested that St. Nerses be accepted in the Roman calendar, and this is being worked on. There also may be a concert in the Sistine Chapel presenting the hymns of St. Nerses Shnorhali, an exhibition in the Vatican Musuem, and a two-day conference held by the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Another conference will take place in Armenia. “All these events, especially at the Vatican,” said Archbishop Barsamian, “will give the possibility of presenting St. Nerses Shnorhali to the world.”

From left, Nevzat Uyanik, General Director of Research and Security Affairs of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Murat Salim Esenli, member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Board of the Foreign Ministry, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Patriarch Sahak II Mashalian, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian

In this context, Archbishop Barsamian said that someone suggested that a pilgrimage be organized to Hromgla, where a celebration could take place and even the divine liturgy might be performed. After consulting with Patriarch Sahag II, who was in agreement with the idea, the two decided to meet with the Turkish foreign minister in Ankara to see whether this would be acceptable also with the Turkish government. Foreign Minister Cavusoglu was very welcoming and supportive of the idea, Barsamian said.

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While this was the main purpose of the roughly 20-minute meeting, Cavusoglu also spoke about Turkish-Armenian relations in general, to which the Armenian clergymen listened. The clergymen had the opportunity to observe that the Armenian community has some issues, especially concerning the election of parish council members and of Armenian organizations and institutions like Sourp Prgich Armenian Hospital in Istanbul. For many years permission for these elections has not been given. The foreign minister indicated that he would meet with the Interior Minister and other officials to ensure that permission would be given, Archbishop Barsamian said.

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