From left: L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian, and Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Father Alexei Smith (photo by Karine Armen)

AIWA-LA Ecumenical Program Shines Light on Armenian POWs


By Karine Armen

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

LOS ANGELES —The Los Angeles chapter of the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA-LA) hosted an ecumenical prayer program titled “One Cause, Many Faiths – Uniting Voices for Armenians in Captivity,” at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles on Wednesday, January17 in support of the Armenians in captivity in Azerbaijan.

The program started with a welcome by Archbishop Jose Gomez, head of the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church in Los Angeles, followed by an opening prayer by Fr. Alexei Smith, Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Nicole Nishanian, Affiliate President of AIWA, Los Angeles, welcomed everyone, thanked the religious leaders, and introduced the program’s emcee, KTLA Channel 5 reporter Ellina Abovian. The politicians who participated were Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian, and California State Senator Anthony Portantino.

The event included musical performances by Greg Hosharian on instrumentals and vocals by soprano Natalie Buickians, whose mesmerizing voice carried beautifully throughout the Cathedral with selections of Soorp Soorp, Ave Maria, and Der Voghormia.

AIWA – LA Vice President Margaret Mgrublian, explained the reasons for the group’s decision to host the event: “The bonds between the diaspora and the homeland are so strong that we had several on our AIWA board who personally had connections with the families of the hostages being held by Azerbaijan. It was apparent that we needed to get the message across in a broader way. There is a distinct advantage to raising voices with the help of our non-Armenian communities.”

AIWA-LA Committee with Father Alexei Smith and Judge Gassia Apkarian (photo by Karine Armen)

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Krekorian talked about the history of the conflict and compared it to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Supervisor Barger mentioned the recent resolution that was passed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to release all the Armenian hostages held illegally in Azerbaijan. She said, “We will send the signed letter to the Biden Administration demanding the immediate release of all the hostage. Armenia and its people are resilient and can live in peace and coexistence.”

Portantino in his comments recalled a trip he had made to Artsakh in 2016, where an Artsakh soldier gave him a handful of soil as a symbol of the soldier’s homeland. He said he keeps that soil in his office and wonders if that young soldier is still alive.

Gassia Apkarian, a California Superior Court Judge and co-founder of the Center for Truth and Justice (CFTJ), told the congregation, “I am here today, not as a judge but as a warrior.” The CFTJ has several firsthand testimonials from the survivors of the Artsakh war. She stressed the importance and the challenges of collecting data to take Azerbaijan to court. “As long as there is a single Armenian that is targeted and is in a dungeon in Azerbaijan, we will continue to talk about it. We will fight for justice. We will make sure, unlike what happened in 1915, those who commit atrocities will be held accountable.”

Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, gave the closing remarks. Other religious leaders who spoke were Bishop Mikael Mouradian, Head of the Catholic Eparchy, Father Zareh Sarkisian of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, and Reverend Hendrik Shanazarian, Minister to the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America.

The program ended with a processional exit of the clergy while a quartet played music. Mgrublian said, “Gratefully, the non-Armenian religious community joined us and even opened the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for this very solemn and meaningful event. It was an emotional sight to see religious leaders who represented many different denominations praying in unity with us and calling for the release of those held unlawfully captive.”



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