Philadelphia-Armenian Community Comes Together to Provide for Spiritual Needs of Javakhk


Very Rev. Babken Salbiyan addressing the crowd, with Shake Derderian translating

 

By Lisa Manookian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

 

PHILADELPHIA — On Sunday, April 3, Anahid and Papken Megerian, community activists here, hosted a program at their home, bringing together several members of the Philadelphia-Armenian community and the Very Rev. Babken Salbiyan, to raise funds for the spiritual needs of the historically Armenian Javakhk, now in the Republic of Georgia.

Salbiyan is the vicar general of the Diocese of Georgia and has been in Philadelphia since mid- February, taking courses at Temple University. He also gave a presentation on Friday, March 25, as a guest speaker at a Lenten lecture sponsored by Sts. Sahag & Mesrob Armenian Church in Wynnewood.

The afternoon began with a Lenten feast prepared by hostess, Anahid Megerian, after which the group gathered to listen to Salbiyan provide an update on his work in Georgia. Salibyan began by acknowledging the Megerians for hosting him and spearheading the support given to him over the past six years in his mission to tend to the spiritual needs of the Javakhk community and assist with its other humanitarian needs. The Philadelphia- Armenian community has been raising funds for Javakhk since 2004, when they first came together to help with renovations to the Diocesan Center in Akhalkalak, the main city in the center of the region. That center serves an estimated 200,000 Armenians in 130 villages. Back then there were five working churches in two villages and three cities. Now there are 30 fully functional churches and nine full-time clergyman reaching the needs of the communities.

Javakhk has been historically Armenian and its inhabitants have remained Armenian, though it is presently an autonomous region in Georgia. In July 1921, the Soviet Union’s Central Committee discussed apportioning several disputed regions between Armenia and Georgia. The Lori region was joined to Armenia but the question of what to do with the regions of Akhalkalak and Zalka was transferred to the Georgian Central Communist Bureau for their recommendation. Disregarding the demands of the Armenian side, both regions were subsequently given to Georgia.

Because of the Georgian government’s neglectful policy towards Javakhk and its Armenian population, this region has been seriously depopulated. Today, the number of those leaving has reached catastrophic proportions. There is a lack of modernization and jobs, severe deterioration of roads and an elderly population left in impossible conditions. The educational system is in a questionable state, with most of the Armenian schools under the threat of elimination. As in other Armenian-populated areas of the Caucasus, Armenian culture and spiritual values have been subject to persecution. Examples include the banning of the teaching of Armenian history and the destruction of Armenian khachkars and churches.

Under Salbiyan’s leadership, ruined churches have been renovated, a weekly sermon is broadcast to the region and junior choirs, Sunday Schools and a children’s religious theater troupe have been established, as well as a summer church camp for children and various sports activities. Thousands have been baptized into the church in these past 10 years.

Salbiyan’s task is a heavy and difficult one. There is no income, so the clergy do not receive a stipend. Assistance is provided to them through a special fund established by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) for the community’s spiritual needs. If the diaspora does not sustain the Javakhk community, the global Armenian community will suffer another loss similar to the loss of Nakhijevan.

During this gathering, a substantial sum of money was raised for the clergy to carry on with their work and sustain the local community for the coming year. The Philadelphia-Armenian community is determined and dedicated to continue sustaining this isolated group of Armenians in a very remote part of the Caucasus. Over the past six years, they have sent containers of clothing, shoes, computers, as well as Bibles and other goods through the Fund for Armenian Relief.

It takes but a few caring individuals to spark an entire community to come together in easing the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Armenia and other parts of the world. For those who wish to contribute to the spiritual needs of Javakhk, funds can be transmitted to the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, under the memo Javakhk Spiritual Fund.