A Light Shines in Washington DC


Near the meeting rooms in the Marriott were two apricot trees adorned with memorial streamers created by guests in memory of those lost during the Genocide. (Nancy Kalajian photo)

Near the meeting rooms in the Marriott were two apricot trees adorned with memorial streamers created by guests in memory of those lost during the Genocide. (Nancy Kalajian photo)

By Nancy Kalajian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

WASHINGTON — An inspiring Divine Liturgy at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC was just ending with an angelic-sounding choir of about 200 who represented many Armenian churches from around the US , and a multitude of clergy preceding the Catholicoi in a procession down the Shrine’s lengthy center aisle. Turning the corner, Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia, seemed to be blessing those close enough to touch with his cross, and I was no exception. Then I saw Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, also giving blessings as he walked in the procession. Suddenly, it dawned on me that this was such a rare occasion, to be in the presence of two Catholicoi and that I should also try to be blessed by Karekin II so I followed in the procession, seeming like a lamb following its mother for nurturing, each step getting a little closer to his golden cloak. Within an instant of his cross touching my forehead, tears suddenly welled up in my eyes. Seeing how moved I was, other nearby gave a nod, smile or hug in harmony with the uplifting experience we had all shared. This, I felt, was a time to cherish — that here Armenians were united, seemingly free from political divisions, in this special house of worship in our nation’s capital, that this was a sign for continued good things to come.

So it was that early in May, numerous Armenians came to Washington from Paris, Los Angeles, Long Island, Detroit, Racine, Austin and Watertown, as well as countless other locales, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Organized through the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, the Marriott Marquis Hotel at the Convention Center was a hubbub of Armenian-related activity, providing accommodations for many guests, a welcome desk with information on presentations and tickets for certain commemorative events, and the location for facilitation of Hye-sightings in the spacious lobby, elevators and restaurants.

During three days, opportunities were aplenty for becoming more knowledgeable about the Genocide, through reading numerous informative panels, viewing exhibits of Armenian costumes and artifacts, watching demonstrations of Armenian music and dance, or buying books and even getting some autographed by their authors. More than 30 presentations, each often an hour in length, were given on topics ranging from Armenian poetry, the fire in Smyrna, essay contests, to volunteer opportunities in Armenia. Though I was familiar with some speakers or topics, others provided a chance to learn more. Meeting other guests attending some of the presentations made me realize how fortunate we are in the East Coast — especially Boston, New York and New Jersey — to hear from so many knowledgeable speakers and have so many resources available. One woman from the Midwest, for example, said she rarely experiences such a caliber of writers and presenters, and would have to travel many hours for such presentations.

Hands-on learning, for all ages, was also available. Though a bit hesitant at first, I gave the bird letter making, or Trchnakir, class a chance and came home with a letter, stork-adorned. Also, I painted on silk a flower in wild, bright colors, to remind me of the colors that once lit the lives of my ancestors, those I never knew but who live through family memories, thoughts and prayers.

Near the meeting rooms in the Marriott were two apricot trees adorned with memorial streamers created by guests in memory of those lost during the Genocide. Wide streamers, markers and yarn, were readily available for those who wanted to create an expression of their love and loss for special family members or friends lost during the Genocide. One woman wrote, “How sad that I don’t even know my grandmother’s survivor story from Musa Dagh since she could not bring herself to speak of it. Bless her…” Others, like me, wrote their family members’ names and ancestral villages on streamers. All sorts of thoughts went into the creation of these streamers; I noticed an intensity of purpose and thought as people took great care in writing a message on the streamer that was reflective of their loss.

Nearby on a large wall was a huge map, “Portraits of Courage: We Honor the Survivors who Built a Thriving Global Diaspora.” Photographs were placed in spots significant to where the photo was taken, whether in the “old” or “new” country.

A breakfast briefing hosted by the Armenian Assembly and the Armenian National Committee of America was well-attended. After some informative presentations, the lively question and answer period addressed many topics; most important is making sure leaders representing you in Congress know your views. After the meeting, some were scheduled to attend a pre-arranged meeting in their congressperson’s office; others went to view a special exhibition of Armenian-related materials at the Library of Congress. Besides illuminated manuscripts, materials related to the Near East Relief and assorted print objects, a scroll and lacework were on display. Knowledgeable employees specializing in these topics were on hand for further explanations.

Because of additional security due to Vice-President Biden and his wife attending the Ecumenical Service, confirmed guests were asked to come to the National Cathedral earlier than expected; some reported waiting a while to enter the Cathedral. Meanwhile, for some of us, waiting some hours for standby tickets for this Ecumenical Service provided an opportunity to chat with others in the same situation. Would I otherwise have had the wonderful chance to meet Gilberta, with no Armenian ancestors or heritage but with an Armenian spirit that has guided her to visit Armenia 35 times, including the recent ceremony in Echmiadzin where our martyrs were canonized? To witness the impressive service at the National Cathedral, with representatives from many religious groups in attendance, was more than memorable.

The concert, A Journey Through 100 years of Armenian Music, at the Music Center at Strathmore was also remarkable, with so much Armenian talent under one roof, performing works from Komitas to Khachaturian to Hovhannes. The Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra, along with other performers, made quite an impression.

During the banquet, Catholicos Karekin II, stated, “Let your light shine.” Many in attendance were spiritually moved by the poignant religious services, concert, presentations, displays and camaraderie and won’t easily forget this unified commemorative event that gave recognition to the Armenian Genocide while adding a measure of brightness and connection to our lives.