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Archbishop prays at site of Armenian genocide

13 October 2023

Neil Turner/Lambeth Palace

The Archbishop of Canterbury at the Armenian Genocide Memorial complex

The Archbishop of Canterbury at the Armenian Genocide Memorial complex

“WORDS are not enough: you need something that goes straight to the heart,” the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected as he stood at the top of Tsitsernakaberd, a hill overlooking Yerevan, where the Armenian Genocide Memorial is situated.

Archbishop Welby was shown around the site, which contains a museum as well as a several large memorial structures, by its director, Dr Harutyun Marutyan, on Thursday of last week.

Constructed in the 1960s, the site memorialises the 1915 genocide in which at least 700,000 — and possibly up to 1.2 million — Armenians were killed.

The hilltop memorial complex comprises a 150-foot concrete obelisk, a circular structure containing a never-extinguished flame, where Archbishop Welby prayed, and a small forest of spruce trees, each donated by a specific individual or organisation. Archbishop Welby watered the tree planted by his predecessor, Lord Williams, on a trip to Armenia 15 years ago.

Archbishop Welby also visited the museum, which records the history of the genocide, as well as the massacres in the decades that preceded it.

Speaking afterwards, he said that the experience of visiting the memorial was “a reminder of how beauty can turn to ugliness so easily in the human heart. . . It’s a reminder of the extremes of human hatred and cruelty, and calls us to remember that, when hatred is allowed in any way to grow, it flourishes easily in societies that seem civilised.”

Archbishop Welby arrived in Armenia on Wednesday of last week, travelling overland from Tbilisi, Georgia, through the mountains that characterise the landscape of the South Caucasus.

He stayed at the mother see of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Holy Etchmiadzin, near Yerevan, where he was welcomed with a short service of prayer on Wednesday evening.

During the service, the Armenian Church’s director of external relations, Archbishop Nathan (Hovhannisian), said that Archbishop Welby’s presence was a “great spiritual comfort” during a period of acute distress for the people of Armenia, after the resumption of fighting in Nagorno-Karabkah, and a mass exodus from the enclave (News, 21 September).

Clearly moved by the warmth of the welcome that he received, Archbishop Welby suggested that it was “providence” that his long-planned trip coincided with the crisis, and he repeated a phrase, coined the previous day during a service in Tbilisi, about his journey as being a “pilgrimage of listening” (News, 6 October).

The next morning, Archbishop Welby had a formal audience with the Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, who thanked him for his support.

“Armenia is a country of crucifixion, but crucifixion is followed by resurrection,” Archbishop Welby told the Catholicos.

Listen to an exclusive interview with Archbishop Welby here.

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