Armenian National Institute
1334 G Street, NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005

February 25, 2014
Contact: Press Office

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (202) 383-9009



Major Exhibit Issued by ANI, AGMA, and Assembly Available Online

Washington, DC - The Armenian National Institute
(ANI), Armenian Genocide
Museum of America
(AGMA) and Armenian
Assembly of America
(Assembly) jointly, and in cooperation with
the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute
in Yerevan, and the Republic of Armenia National Archives, announced the
release of a major exhibit consisting of 20 panels with over 150 historic
photographs documenting the role of the Armenian Church during the Armenian

Titled 'The First Refuge and the Last Defense: The Armenian Church,
Etchmiadzin, and The Armenian Genocide,' the exhibit explains the importance
of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin during the Armenian Genocide. It also
examines the vital leadership role played by the clergy during the Armenian
Genocide, especially the all-important intervention of His Holiness
Catholicos Gevorg V Sureniants in alerting world leaders about the
massacres, effectively issuing the first 'early warning' of an impending

The sacrifices of the Armenian clergy are well documented. Thousands, among
them several primates in Western Armenia and other parts of the Ottoman
Empire, paid the price of martyrdom for their faith during the Armenian
Genocide. Far less well known is the extent to which the Armenian Church in
Eastern Armenia, then under Russian rule, came to the assistance of the
Armenian people in its hour of plight.

The exhibit provides ample evidence of the aid extended by fellow Armenians
to the refugees fleeing Ottoman Turkey as the Young Turk regime pursued its
path toward the destruction of the Armenians. It is now almost forgotten
that the first people to come to the aid of the fleeing and starving were
Armenians across the Russian-Turkish border who welcomed their countrymen
into their homes and threw open the doors to their schools, hospitals, and
other facilities to house, care, and feed the hungry, the sick, and the

At the epicenter of this outpouring of aid was Etchmiadzin, the primary
destination of the Armenians fleeing the massacres along the border regions
of the Ottoman Empire, especially as a result of the great exodus of the
Armenian population of Van. They had dared resist extermination only to find
themselves abandoning their homeland, when the Russian forces that arrived
to deliver them shortly thereafter retreated. After the slaughter of 55,000
Armenians in Van province alone in April 1915, the survivors, 100,000 in
all, concentrated in the city of Van, were left with no choice other than
exile. As armed Turkish and Kurdish bands pursued them every mile of their
trek across the rugged landscape of mountains, valleys, and rivers cutting
through gorges, the exodus turned into the road of massacres.

With testimony from survivors and witnesses, the exhibit reconstructs this
particular chapter of the Armenian Genocide, a chapter often overlooked in
the context of the mass deportations of the Armenians from all across
Ottoman Turkey to the interior of the Syrian desert where hundreds of
thousands perished from hunger, thirst, and slaughter. The episode in Van
was no less tragic as the death toll was no less ferocious even after
thousands seemingly reached safety only to die of exhaustion, fright,
starvation, and raging epidemics as the resources in Eastern Armenia were
quickly overwhelmed and Etchmiadzin transformed overnight into a vast and
fetid refugee camp.

With 3 maps, 12 historic documents and news clippings, and 16 survivor
testimonies, specific to the details of the events documented with over 150
photographs, the exhibit reconstructs the Armenian Genocide in a single
region of historic Armenia and reveals how the people of Eastern Armenia
became aware of the policies of the Young Turks during World War I. The
exhibit combines images retrieved from archives and repositories in Armenia
and America and connects them together in this first extensive narrative
exhibit on the Armenian Genocide.

These dramatic pictures highlight the role of the Mother See of Holy
Etchmiadzin during the critical years of 1915 and 1916. They also explain
the invaluable national role of Armenian church leaders as exemplified by
four of its outstanding catholicoses, namely Mkrtich I Khrimian, Gevorg V
Sureniants, Khoren I Muratbekian, and Garegin I Hovsepiants, the first
three, Catholicos of All Armenians and the fourth, Catholicos of the Great
House of Cilicia.

The exhibit also explores the role of the laity in responding to the appeals
of the Armenian Church and reveals how the Eastern Armenian intelligentsia,
as represented by figures such as Hovhannes Tumanian, the most prominent
writer of his era, and the famed artist Martiros Sarian, closely cooperated
with the Mother See in order to assist the Western Armenian refugees.

Numerous other important figures are also represented through photographs
and testimony in the exhibit, including United States President Woodrow
Wilson, U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, American missionary
in Van Dr. Clarence D. Ussher, Prince Argoudinsky-Dolgoroukov, Komitas,
Alexander Khatisian, Aghassi Khanjian, and General Andranik Ozanian.

The central role of Near East Relief, the American philanthropic
organization constituted in response to the spreading news of the desperate
state of the Armenians during World War I, is a subject that has been widely
explored due to the availability of extensive documentation and testimony.
In comparison, because of the subsequent disasters that struck Eastern
Armenia, the role of local Armenian philanthropic organizations operating in
the Russian Caucasus that hastened to relieve the plight of the Armenian
refugees has been overlooked by historians.

A variety of benevolent groups, local Red Cross committees, and, in
particular, the Fraternal Aid Committee, authorized by the Catholicos Gevorg
V Sureniants, led the initial responses to the Armenian Genocide. Months
before any relief was delivered from overseas, fellow Armenians, medics,
nurses, clergymen, and countless volunteers hastened to Etchmiadzin and
nearby towns to assist the refugees. This heroic response within a matter of
days to the crushing reality of tens of thousands of Armenians made homeless
remains a much neglected episode in Armenian history deserving of greater
attention. Certainly the photographic evidence gathered in this exhibit
attests to the scale of the response and dedication of the Armenian
volunteer aid organizations. They were the Transcaucasian counterpart to the
Armenian General Benevolent Union operating out of Egypt at the time that
reached out to fellow Armenians wherever it could deliver assistance in the
Middle East.

The mass of evidence that was gathered for the exhibit required careful
examination in order to establish the context of the photographs from that
era. The effort to reconstruct this history relied upon historic sites well
documented with imagery. For the purpose of this exhibit these primary
markers were the famous monastery and school of Varag near Van, where
Khrimian Hayrik once presided as abbot; the American missionary station in
Van, where Dr. Ussher and his family ministered to the educational,
spiritual, and medical needs of Armenians and others who sought their
services; the compound of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, at the time
still a medieval fortress surrounded by bastions to protect Armenia's most
sacred site from marauders; and the Gevorgian Academy at Etchmiadzin,
Armenia's premier educational institution soon converted into a hospital by

The evidence exhibited was collected from multiple sources including the
United States National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Republic of
Armenia National Archives, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin Archives, the
Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, Nubarian Library, Research on Armenian
Architecture, and from many other helpful individuals and institutions in
Armenia and in the Diaspora. A catalog identifying all the contents of the
exhibit is in preparation.

"I am particularly proud to recognize the assistance provided by colleagues
in Armenia," stated Dr. Rouben Adalian, ANI director who created the
exhibit. "I take the occasion to thank them publicly, among them Dr. Hayk
Demoyan, director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, Dr. Amatuni
Virabian, director of the Republic of Armenia National Archives, Sonya
Mirzoyan, director of the former State Historical Archives in Armenia, Dr.
Harutyun Marutyan of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the
Armenian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Susanna Hovhannisyan of the Literature
Institute of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Samvel Karapetyan, director
of Research on Armenian Architecture, and Dr. Petros Hovhannisyan, holder of
the chair in Armenian history at the University of Yerevan."

"An exhibit of this size must rely upon the anteceding pioneering research
of numerous scholars who have issued specialized publications on the
Armenian Genocide and related subjects," added Dr. Adalian. "While the list
is long, for the purposes of this particular exhibit, I need to recognize
Dr. Dickran Kouymjian and his valuable works on the history of Van province;
Rev. Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian who is the continuator of Malachia Ormanian with
his contribution to Azgapatum (National [Church] History) covering the era
of Catholicos Gevorg V Sureniants; Dr. Benedetta Guerzoni who has completed
cutting edge research on the Armenian Genocide era imagery as revealed with
the recent release of her book; and Dr. Raymond Kevorkian for his monumental
and encyclopedic work on the Armenian Genocide. I also must recognize the
invaluable support and participation of the staff of the Armenian Assembly,
in particular Joe Piatt and Aline Maksoudian, whose technical skills forged
the elements of the exhibit into this impressive presentation."

Dr. Adalian explained that the pictorial evidence supporting the story of
the Armenian Genocide as documented at Etchmiadzin coalesced with the
identification of the exact location of a historic photograph taken of the
medical volunteers assembled by Hovhannes Tumanian. Thereby the rest of the
pictures from that era were assembled in a sequence consistent with the
testimony of the refugees, volunteers, witnesses and other contemporaneous

"His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian were
invaluable in helping create this remarkable exhibit," added ANI chairman
Van Z. Krikorian. "The time to share important, and especially previously
undisclosed, evidence on the Armenian Genocide, and the responses to it, is
now. We really appreciate the help of the Catholicos, Vicken Srpazan, and
other clergy in moving forward. This exhibit also reminds us of another
lesson from the past. When so much crumbled in the face of the genocidal
violence of the Young Turk government, our clergy and Etchmiadzin served
beyond their capacities as an indispensable stronghold of the Armenian
people. That is something to be proud of, share openly, and emulate."

In December 1912, Catholicos Gevorg V Sureniants wrote: "The Armenian
Question, which 34 years ago was raised in front of European diplomacy,
remains unanswered to this day. If the Armenians are once again ignored, it
would amount to delivering an entire people to final annihilation." It
indeed remained for him to issue to the world the first ever genocide alert,
in April 1915. With the Armenian communities across Ottoman Turkey utterly
devastated and the survivors dispersed across the barren landscape of Syria,
Iraq, Jordan and other places where they were left to die, as the Turkish
armies advanced upon Eastern Armenia threatening the very extinction of the
Armenian people, the great weight of the moment once again fell upon the
shoulders of Catholicos Gevorg V Sureniants, whose defiance in May 1918, as
the danger neared the very doorstep of Etchmiadzin, inspired the remaining
Armenians to rally for a last stand at Sardarapat.

It was also with the authorization of His Holiness Gevorg V Sureniants that
Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Zaven Der-Yeghiayan established April
24 as a memorial day. The exhibit reproduces in translation the encyclical
communicating the heartfelt blessings of this great churchman who witnessed
so much destruction and continued to stand in defense of humanity and

Like the exhibit released jointly by ANI, AGMA, and the Assembly in 2013,
titled Witness to the Armenian Genocide: Photographs by the Perpetrators'
German and Austro-Hungarian Allies, 'The First Refuge and the Last Defense:
The Armenian Church, Etchmiadzin, and The Armenian Genocide,' is also being
issued in digital format for worldwide distribution free of charge as
downloadable posters suitable for printing and display. For those wishing to
look at the exhibit in hard copy, the minimum of 11x17 inches page size is
required and poster size at 2x3 feet is recommended. The exhibit may be
printed as large as 4x6 feet.

As the project neared completion, the specific fate of the Van Armenians was
cited by Vazgen Manukian, the former prime minister of Armenia, who, in a
meeting with the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, related the
following: "I told him the story of our family as an example. My grandfather
had five sons when they fled the southern shores of Lake Van. Only one of
them, my father, was alive by the time they reached modern-day
Armenia...Many other Armenian families can tell similar stories."

Founded in 1997, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) is a 501(c)(3)
educational charity based in Washington, DC, and is dedicated to the study,
research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.


NR# 2014-02

Photo Caption 1: His Holiness Catholicos Gevorg V Sureniants at Etchmiadzin
with Armenian orphans

Photo Caption 2: Hovhannes Tumanian with medical volunteers photographed at
the entrance to the Gevorgian Academy at Etchmiadzin