From Nayiri Karjian, Association General Minister
September 21, 2023

I had three goals for my sabbatical: Travel, Connect, Rest, all sources of joy for me.

Travel had been difficult during COVID. Connecting with friends and loved ones around the world had not been easy, either. Rest? Who can rest with the charge of 145 congregations and 400 authorized ministers? Besides, as a people we have issues with “rest.” We seem to believe that resting is idleness, and idleness scares us. I am not exactly sure why.

First, Travel. As most of you are aware, I have lived in several locations in the US and visited many of its cities. I wanted to visit places that are somewhat unique and new to me. So my first trip was to Las Vegas, a city of lights, and sounds and hullabaloo, which I wanted to see. My stay, however, was in a lovely, tranquil resort where it was possible to relax, enjoy, rest and yes, even reflect and just be. The city was noisy and chaotic but that, too, had its charm. And, no, I did not touch a slot machine or do any gambling. But I did see the city and now I know what the city is about.

My second trip was the big one. Traveling to France, connecting with old friends, enjoying French food, remembering that there is a world beyond the pond, was not only refreshing, but also delightful. Then followed my trip to Armenia, the most central and complex part of my journey.

I was born in Syria, but I generally speak more about Armenia than Syria. Syria is my birthplace. Armenia is my ancestral homeland. I am an Armenian born in diaspora following the Genocide of Armenians in 1915, perpetrated on Armenian ancestral land by the Ottoman Empire.

Today, there are about nine million Armenians around the world who dispersed during and following the Genocide. Three million live in the independent country of Armenia, while the rest can be found around the globe. In the 19th century, Armenia, with its early Christian and Medieval history and culture, was divided between the Russian and Ottoman empires. The Armenian lands in the Ottoman Empire are today part of Turkey. While Armenian lands ruled by Soviet Union found independence after its dissolution. Today, that is independent Armenia.

This was my third trip to Armenia. I had visited Armenia for the first time in 2006 and second time in 2015, each for a week. This time I spent about 3 weeks because I wanted to get acquainted with a country and a people I call “home” yet am unfamiliar with. For diaspora Armenians and many other dispersed people, home is our ancestral land where people speak our first language, share history and faith, symbols and artifacts, stories and landmarks, etc.

So, it was a joy to be in a place where I could speak Armenian, although diaspora/western Armenian is a bit different than eastern Armenian. It was delightful to gaze at historic monuments and remember stories about them. It was a gift to connect with locals as well as childhood friends who, following the last Syrian war, had migrated from Syria and Lebanon to Armenia. And it was pure joy to eat and walk the streets of a safe capital city of Yerevan, full of tourists from east and west, especially diaspora Armenians who flock to Armenia every summer for an experience of a semblance of home.

Armenia in the summer months is a haven for diaspora Armenians who come from around the globe. Many do not speak Armenian for their first languages are the languages of the lands in which they are the languages of the lands in which they are born. Yet, we meet one another, speak in words we may not understand, yet understand each other. For we share that dream Armenia, the longing for home that’s in the heart, the seeking of connection to a land and a people that would feel something like home.

Yerevan today is a growing city, and a city dealing with grief following the last war with Azerbaijan and the loss of thousands of young Armenian soldiers.  Nagorno-Karbagh is an ethnically Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Seeking independence from Azerbaijan and wanting to be part of Armenia, the area has experienced several wars.

Not far from the Armenian Genocide Memorial is a new memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the war with Azerbaijan. Many of us in Armenia and in diaspora wonder how long this land will remain Armenian, or will Turkey, after a whole century with the help of the powers and principalities, continue the genocide and eventually conquer even the small, landlocked but beautiful land that remains Armenia today.

My next trip was to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a historic, unique city with a culture of its own and a slow pace of life. Filled with tourists, the city buzzes with life, yet downtown businesses close at 6 pm. A city of The Arts, it is filled with beautiful things, arts galleries, one of a kind jewelry, and artifacts old and new. It offered me a place for joy and rest. Following a lovely week in Santa Fe, I visited my two siblings in California.

Then I injured my ankle. After a week of rest at home, I sought physical therapy because sitting at home with my foot up felt like a waste of time.  As I started Therapy and continued exercising, the pain in my ankle increased. One day, I decided not to exercise and at the end of the day, I noticed the decrease of pain. I took another day of rest, and sure enough, the pain was gone. All my ankle needed was REST! That’s the moment I grasped the reason for my hurt ankle. I had to really REST. My Sabbatical had to have intentional periods of rest and relaxation, meditation and reflection.

I have returned to my ministry with you with a grateful heart and a clearer mind, deeply aware that sabbaticals are God’s gift to us, as Sabbath is a time for rest and joy, for ceasing from work and celebrating life, for giving thanks to the giver of all gifts and grace. How else would we remember the sacredness of time, the holiness of our days, the rhythm of life, and the One who gifts us with them?

So, once again, deepest thanks to you, Living Water Association, for the gift of my sabbatical and to all those who filled in for me while I was away – our staff: Michael Howard, Minister of Faith in Action; Kellie Ramirez, Information Management and Media; Machelle Miller, Financial Admin; and to David Hill, chair of Committee on Ministry and to Brian Burke, interim minister. THANK YOU!

Again, Many and deepest thanks to you all.

A new movie about stories of the Armenian Genocide, titled Amerikatzi will begin playing this week downtown Akron at the Nightlight theater which features independent films. The movie is about Charlie, a young boy who escaped the Armenian Genocide bound for the United States. His family was not so lucky. The story begins in 1947, as Charlie repatriates back to Armenia, only to be greeted by the harsh reality of Soviet Communism. Almost immediately, Charlie is arrested and sentenced to prison. Come see how the story unfolds.
You will find the information on their website:
I invite you to check it out.