Maintaining continuity of tradition

There are quite a few Armenian churches in Greece. «They are not just places of worship but places where Armenians meet. Usually on Sundays people gather in the lower hall to talk, tell jokes and exchange news,» says Father Hatsarian of the Cathedral of Orthodox Armenians in Greece on Kriezotou Street near Koumoundourou Sq. Construction of the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator began in 1908, and the Archbishopric was built and established in 1935. «Quite often there are concerts of classical music and discussions on various topics of interest,» he adds. In Attica there are Orthodox Armenian churches in Neos Cosmos, Peristeri and Nikaia, while there are others in Thessaloniki, Kavala, Komotini, Xanthi and Iraklion. There are also Catholic and Evangelical Armenian churches in Athens and Piraeus. Hegi Agabatian and Krikor Tzanikian were classmates in Neos Cosmos. Now they are active members of the Armenian Youth of Greece. Hegi is on the Central Committee of Pre-Youth, which is for children aged 10-16, while Krikor is a member of the Central Committee for the 16-30 age group. «The youth wing is present in 18 countries, and has its central administration in Armenia. This year the Greek branch will have been in operation for 60 years,» explained Krikor, 27, who is a fan of the duduk, a traditional Armenian musical instrument. «The aim here in Greece is to maintain our traditions. This year for Genocide Memorial Day we are organizing an exhibition of photographs and books in Syntagma Square,» said Hegi, who is greatly moved when she hears the Armenian language spoken. «When I hear Armenian, I automatically turn around to look. The language binds us closer than anything else.» «We are completely integrated in Greek society and are involved in public affairs. We serve in the Greek army. We work here. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is to hold on to the Armenian element,» explained Krikor. The youth wing gives the community life and a future. «We want Turkey to acknowledge the genocide of the Armenians. Greece’s recognition in 1996 was a big step,» said Krikor, while Hegi added, «That was when April 24 was officially established as Genocide Memorial Day.» When you ask why we should be concerned about something that happened 92 years ago, they reply: «It is always relevant, especially nowadays. It is a crime against humanity and not only against the Armenians. Look at Darfur. It is a story that is repeated. No matter how many years pass, the struggle for historical vindication will continue.» The youth wing gets annoyed when some people use the Armenian issue as a goad to further their own interests against Turkey. The recent murder of Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink in Istanbul did not surprise them. «It is the rule. When there is no acknowledgment, there is every likelihood that the barbarism will be repeated.» The youth wing in Greece does not waver between two identities. «I am 100 percent Greek and 100 percent Armenian,» says Krikor, and Hegi adds: «Hadjidakis and Khatchaturian. You don’t make distinctions in music. They are both amazing.» And while at the school the conversation drifted away from Atom Egoyan’s «Ararat» to lahmajoun and other Armenian delicacies, I spotted the verse of a poem by Kiki Dimoula on a school satchel. «No ending comes with empty hands.» It’s an optimistic verse that Armenians around the world understand. This article first appeared in the April 16 issue of Kathimerini’s color supplement K.

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