Abp. Avak Asadourian, Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Iraq, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Sevan Palanjian and Vahe Avedisian
The Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Iraq, Archbishop Avak Asadourian, accompanied by Baruir Hagopian, chair of the Diocesan Council, paid a visit to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq from August 18 to 27, 2009. The delegation visited the Armenian communities of Erbil, Duhok, Avzroog, Havresk, and Zakho, and then returned back to Erbil.
On August 18, in the city of Ankawa, Province of Erbil, the archbishop and Mr. Hagopian met with Rev. Fr. Arakel Kasparian, parish priest of the Holy Echmiadzin Armenian Church of Mosul, and two parish council members. Because of the dangerous situation in the city of Mosul, approximately half of the Armenians living there have fled to Erbil, Duhok, Zakho, and the village of Havresk, which is exclusively Armenian. Currently there are 91 families in Mosul totaling 252 Armenians. The parish priest and the parish council members of Kirkuk also paid a courtesy visit to the archbishop while he was in Erbil.
From village to village
The following day, the delegation traveled to the city of Duhok accompanied by Razmik Muradian, the chair of the newly established Armenian community of Erbil. Mr. Muradian is the general manager of Ishtar TV; he volunteered his time to be with the delegation that had come from Baghdad for the entire time it was traveling in the north of Iraq.
The St. Nersess Shnorhali Church of Duhok city was consecrated almost a year ago. On August 19, the archbishop was welcomed by Rev. Fr. Masis Shahinian, parish priest of the Armenian community of Duhok, together with parish council members. After welcoming ceremonies the archbishop held extensive meetings with Fr. Masis and parish council members regarding the issues facing the newly established Armenian parish of Duhok. There are 49 families totaling 226 Armenians in the city of Duhok, some of whom have moved there from Mosul and Baghdad.
The following day, on August 20, the delegation led by the archbishop paid an official visit to Gorgis Burwari, the lieutenant-governor of Duhok Province. The archbishop presented the needs of the Armenians of Duhok to city officials, with the understanding that these needs will be addressed in the near future. While in Duhok, the archbishop celebrated Divine Liturgy and later met with a number of Armenian families.
The delegation then traveled to the Armenian village of Avzroog on August 22. At the entrance of the village the archbishop was met by Rev. Fr. Apel Aprahamian, Rev. Fr. Artoon Khalatian, and parish council members, together with a large number of villagers. The archbishop celebrated Divine Liturgy at St. Vartan Church in the village. His sermon was translated to Kurdish by Fr. Apel, as most of the Armenians of Avzroog speak only Kurdish. After the liturgy a lunch was hosted in honor of the archbishop and Mr. Hagopian with the participation of the entire village. In the parish hall a special program was presented by the children who attend Sunday School, which included Armenian songs and poems. There are 70 families in Avzroog totaling 560 individuals.
Later that day, the delegation visited the newly constructed village of Havresk. After a meeting with the appointed committee members of the village, a special program was presented by the youth of this village, which included national songs. The archbishop spoke about “the necessity of maintaining our language and Christian faith which will sustain our Armenian soul to stay healthy and able to face the difficulties of everyday life which has become plentiful since the war of 2003.”
The village of Havresk was established in 2005 through a generous donation by Sarkis Aghajan, who at the time was the minister of finance of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Through his sponsorship, 115 homes were built for those relocating from Baghdad due to the lack of security in the capital of Iraq. Today, there are 575 Armenians living in Havresk. The Diocese is approaching some humanitarian institutions with a request of building a church and a school in Havresk.
The village of Zakho has had an Armenian population since the early 1930s. On August 23, the Diocesan delegation went to the village and met with parish priest Fr. Khalatian, parish council members, and many Armenian faithful. The Armenian population, made up of 234 families, totaling more than 1,170 people, today primarily speaks Kurdish.
Later that day, the delegation visited the village of Aghajanian, which is home to 24 Armenian families who had fled from Mosul. In the vicinity of Aghajanian there are approximately 32 Armenian families living in the Christian cities of Qaraqosh, Bartalla, and Karemles.
Blessing of the grapes
On August 24, the blessing of grapes ceremony was conducted in the Armenian Center in the city of Ankawa adjacent to Erbil. After the ceremony the archbishop delivered a sermon touching on numerous subjects that are of interest to the newly established community in Erbil. The number of Armenians in this capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan is 95 families totaling 483 faithful. There are plans to build a new church with a parish house hopefully in the next year.
During his 8-day visit and in his capacity as general secretary of the Council of the Christian Church Leaders in Baghdad, Archbishop Asadourian met with the primates of sister churches and discussed with them the issue of establishing the Council of the Christian Church Leaders of Iraq.
Mr. Aghajan, the former finance minister, has extended a helping hand to the Christian population in Iraq by building churches, community halls, and villages with living quarters. He has received medals of honor for his generosity, including one from Karekin II, Catholicos of all Armenians.