Tarzana prayer service calls for recognition, awareness of genocides

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This Feb. 26, 2015 file photo shows Assyrians praying at St. Mary’s Assyrian Church of the East in Tarzana, Calif. (File photo)
By Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News
The prayer service will be held at 6:30 tonight (Tuesday) at St. Mary’s Parish, Assyrian Church of the East, 5955 Lindley Ave., Tarzana.

With the ongoing destruction of churches, forced conversions and ethnic cleansing occurring in Syria and Iraq, local politicians will gather with the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek communities Tuesday night in Tarzana for prayers and to raise more awareness.

The joint prayer service will commemorate the centennial of the start of genocide those three ethnic groups experienced under the Ottoman Turks, but also will draw attention to the current onslaught of Christians and other minorities under ISIS.

Guest speakers expected at the service will include Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Mar Awa Royel, bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Organizers of the service say the gathering of three local ethnic communities as well as lawmakers is a testament to the ongoing work that members of those groups have undertaken to draw political interest to what’s happening in the Middle East.

“There’s just a general feeling of melancholy in our community that goes back to last summer when Mosul was captured and we feel kind of helpless in a way, out here in the diaspora,” said Ramond Takhsh, spokesman for the Assyrian Genocide Centennial Committee – Los Angeles. The committee is made up of members of several area churches, aid groups and other associations.

Takhsh called the prayer service a cultural experience for all.

“The key component is to spread awareness about the genocide that took place in 1915, coupled with everything going on now,” he said. “It’s our duty to not let these experiences fall through the cracks of history. Hundreds of thousands of people gave their lives so that future generations like ours could live on. It’s a simple small thing we can do to give back.”

A century ago this year, the Ottoman Turks began the pogroms against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks resulting in nearly 3 million deaths among those groups alone. Others were taken on death marches toward the Syrian deserts. Many call it the first genocide of the 20th century.

Thousands of Armenians and their supporters marched through Hollywood in April to mark the centennial start of the genocide and to call for global recognition. They had been hopeful that the centennial of the event would bring a formal recognition by the U.S., which in turn would persuade Turkey to acknowledge the killings and deportations as genocide. There was some validation when Pope Francis in April called it such. But Armenians were left disappointed when President Barack Obama backed out of using the term, even after he promised to do so during elections.

Tonight’s gathering comes just a few days after U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, announced Friday that he would join other lawmakers in introducing a resolution to protect religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. Sherman’s resolution was crafted with support by lobbying groups such as the Armenian National Committee of America and A Demand for Action, which formed last year in the wake of the attacks by ISIS.

“Assyrians and Armenians, along with other minorities in Iraq and Syria, have been persecuted for generations because of their faith and ethnicity,” Sherman said in a statement. “The recent violence in the Nineveh Plains, Khabour, Aleppo and Kobane underscore the need for a more robust U.S. and international policy to protect these communities and support them in their struggle for self-preservation.”

Sherman also called on colleagues to recognize Aug. 7 as the day when 3,000 Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people were killed in a massacre in 1933, in the northern Iraqi town of Simele. Many of those who survived the massacre were relocated along the Khabor River in Syria, which in February was attacked by ISIS. At least 220 people remain captive by ISIS as a result of those attacks, their whereabouts still unknown.

“As a policy group with volunteers from all over the world we are happy to see that our work gives results such as resolutions in European Parliament and in the U.S. Congress,” author and journalist Nuri Kino, founder of A Demand For Action, said Monday in an email statement. “It gives us hope and encourages us to keep fighting. We will not give up until (internally displaced persons) and refugees feel safe. Having said that we are of course thankful to Sherman and the other politicians in D.C. who are trying to get help to our people in Syria and Iraq.”

Kino said that the three groups coming together can strengthen efforts to urge policymakers to push for more international intervention in Syria and Iraq.

“It’s very important that communities that have suffered and are suffering from the same perpetrators because of their faith and ethnicity to come together and show that they are united in the struggle for past genocides and current ones,” he said.