Armenian News Network / Groong


TO SEE VANADZOR COME ALIVE

Armenian News Network / Groong
February 23, 2009

By Arthur Hagopian

NEW JERSEY, NY


The sprawling house is long gone, along with the dairy that his father ran in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, but the memories (and tastes) Sarkis Bedevian has of his childhood in Jerusalem no doubt still linger.

The sprawling house, a stone's throw from the 500-year-old walls of the Old City's Zion Gate (one of seven that punctuate the walls), has been bulldozed and replaced by a block of flats.

The Bedevians
Sarkis and Ruth Bedevian in Vanadzor
And there is not the slightest trace left of the dairy. Gone are the vats and the fridges, the dairy stalwarts Mariam and her son, Dahdah. And the donkey that used to ferry the fresh milk from the Mount of Olives.

"Miger," as the Bedevian patriarch, Megerditch, was popularly known, ran his empire almost single-handed, but Sarkis and his brother Khatchig were there to lend a hand.

The discipline helped define the future course his life would take, and planted in him the seeds of the spirit of sharing that has blossomed into grand philanthropy.

With his equally dedicated and devoted wife, Ruth, by his side, Sarkis now shuttles back and forth between the US, where he currently lives, and his Armenian homeland, seeking avenues of contribution.

One of their greatest joys and accomplishments has been the construction of a church, St Gregory of Narek, in picturesque Vanadzor, a picture postcard town nestling between two mountain chains in northern Armenia.

St Gregory of Narek
The new church, St Gregory of Narek
"Basically, we chose the city of Vanadzor because there was one small church (built sometime in the 1800's) that accommodated about 50 people," Ruth explains.

Vanadzor's population expanded rapidly during the 70 years of Soviet rule because the Soviets built a large chemical factory and workers were needed.

"Therefore, the population was quite deprived of any traditional exposure to the national church," Ruth notes.

"On our frequent visits, we felt the 'Russification' of the populace in the northern part of Armenia. Being the third largest city with a population of about 120,000 Vanadzor was deserving of its own large church. Sarkis and I agreed that it was vitally necessary now that Armenia is free and independent," she says.

"For 70 years these people had been denied religious freedom - now they are able to return to their spiritual roots and blossom," she adds.

Sarkis and Ruth had decided to build the church some years ago when they met the Catholicos of all Armenians (the Vehapar) informally in New York City to discuss what they could do to help the people of Armenia.

"It happened that it was the day of our 39th wedding anniversary," Ruth recalls.

Part of the entire project at Vanadzor was the setting up of a youth centre, designed to accommodate up to 1,000 young people and help them hone their skills in art, music, gymnastics and sports. "It will be supervised under the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and it will join the network of Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) sponsored youth centres that have emerged under the Vehapar's watchful eyes in Yerevan since Independence," Sarkis says.

But the centre will also house a kitchen and dining room for seniors to "enjoy fellowship and a hot meal will also be provided for those in need.'

`I have always been aware that one is remembered after death by what one does and has given while alive, but I don't want to wait for that day," Sarkis notes.

"I want to give during my lifetime as my way of thanking God for what I have been blessed with and to also see the fruits of my labor," he adds.

To see Vanadzor come alive spiritually, will be the culmination of another of his and his wife's philanthropic efforts in the Motherland.

Vanadzor had originally been known as Gharakilisa (Black Church), in memory of the 13th century church of black stone that existed upon a hilly terrain on the site.

"In 1826, during the Russo-Persian War, the city was totally destroyed. It enjoyed some renewal when the railroad to Tbilisi was opened in 1899, but it wasn't until the Soviets brought industry to the area with the building of a large chemical plant and textile manufacturing that the population began to rapidly increase," Ruth adds.

In 1935, the Soviets renamed the city Kirovagan after the Russian Soviet leader Sergei Mironovich Kirov but following the collapse of the USSR and the establishment of the Republic of Armenia, it re-assumed its historic appellation.

Sarkis has also been instrumental in helping restore the museum in Etchmiadzin that was built in the days of the great Armenian Vehapar, known as Khrimian Hayrig, a century ago and never put to use.

The site will now house some of the Arshile Gorky collections and be open to the public.

But perhaps the crowning moment of Sarkis Bedevian's life came when he was invited by the Vehapar last September to act as Godfather during the blessing of the Holy Muron, in the enactment of one of the Armenian church's most sanctified ceremonies.

The memory will be with him every time he sits down to ponder what new endeavour he could launch to help his struggling countrymen.

--
Arthur Hagopian is a Jerusalem Armenian and has worked at the
Patriarchate as Press Officer and personal secretary for His Beatitude
Patriarch Manoogian. He has worked for major news organizations like
Reuters and AP, and holds a MA in educational administration,
authoring, web development.
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