Abandonment and Loneliness – then and now

What if someone cared in 1915?

Abandonment… Loneliness… Yesterday, the lectionary pointed us to the Gospel of St. Mark. We read the story of Jesus calming the sea (Mark 4:35f). Apart from the made-for-television scene of Jesus rebuking the storm and saving the ship, there is a very important question asked by the disciples that points to one of our biggest fears: abandonment.

The disciples are on board a small boat when the sea swells and the winds rock them back and forth. There is an immediate danger of capsizing. Quickly they look for their life-saver, and he – Jesus – is asleep in the back of the boat. They ask him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” It’s a very logical and natural question: “Why have your abandoned us now in our hour of need?”
Abandonment and loneliness are some of the scariest feelings that we have. I know as a child we are scared of the dark, not because we can’t see anything in the space, but because of the loneliness that is in the darkness. Think about it, we take a brother or a sister, maybe a friend to walk into the dark room with us – even a small little puppy dog – and we are comforted. Having someone next to us eases our fears. But when we are left alone, we’re frightened. And it is this sense of abandonment that the disciples felt when they turned to Jesus for help. They were left alone and on top of it all, they thought he did not care.

I think about this abandonment in reference to the Armenian Genocide. Why were we left alone in 1915? Even more, what if someone really cared in 1915? The question has resurfaced for me in many different forms and at different times. When I first read Ambassador Morgenthau’s letters from Turkey, describing the atrocities I wondered, “Why didn’t anyone care?” How could the Ambassador of the United States be documenting such violations against human life and all of it falling on deaf ears?

And to think, not even two decades after the end of the Armenian Genocide, Hitler used the world’s indifference to rally support for his entry into Poland.

The same question resurfaced for me a few years back when I returned from a trip to Rwanda. What was going on? Why didn’t the world care? How could we even fathom the idea of genocide in today’s modern world? Flashing in front of my eyes were the picture of the three chimps – see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Maybe in that same ape-like fashion, the answer was simply to ignore it and it will go away.

I know I can’t change the past, but I can definitely do something about today and the future.
Today, genocide is taking place in the Sudan. In a remote area called Darfur millions of people have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have been massacred, raped, tortured and exterminated. Darfur is the Turkey of 2008. The neighboring areas in Chad are the Der Zors of 2008. The enemy is the same.

It is easy to identify the enemy as the Turks in 1915 or the Janjaweed in 2008. The bigger enemy is more difficult to recognize but equally destructive. It’s our collective indifference to the pain and destruction of others. It’s the same enemy we Armenians had in 1915. It’s the same enemy the Darfuri people have today.

Fortunately, the blind, deaf and dumb monkeys are just a few this time around. In fact, I’m pleased to note that some very important and prominent people have risen to the occasion and lent their voice to the people of Darfur. Whether Don Cheadle, George Clooney or Mia Farrow, they have all offered their celebrity status to get the word out and in so doing, challenged us.

The turn is ours now as Armenians. As the victims of the first genocide of the 20th Century, don’t we have a duty to be the first to speak out against genocide today? The time is here for us to lend our voices and our status to get the word out about Darfur.

Gabriel Stauring Person of the Year

When I met Gabriel Stauring he was running a mock refugee camp called “Camp Darfur.” We spent four days with him at the camp, located near the runway at LAX, getting the word out to whoever would listen. The location was appropriate – no one really cares about who’s around, as long as you’re not in the way of the planes. And we weren’t. Just like the people in Armenia in 1915 or Darfur in 2008, “As long as they’re not disrupting the flow, let them be,” says the world.

Later, Gabriel followed his calling and made a series of trips to the Chad/Darfur border. There he spent time with the refugees of the Genocide inside the camps. He has made five trips—leaving family and the comforts of home behind—just to get the word out about Darfur. He has broadcasted video stories and pictures to the world from those camps.

What if someone cared in 1915? We will never know the answer to that question. But we can be a part of the answer today – someone does care about the Genocide in Darfur.

This coming Friday, September 5, In His Shoes Ministries will be honoring Gabriel Stauring as its “2008 Person of the Year.” This annual award is given to someone who exemplifies the goals and purpose of the organization, that is, someone who walks in the shoes of others to experience and alleviate their pain. The event will take place at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood, beginning at 7:00PM.

In His Shoes Ministries is pleased to award Gabriel this honor along with a $5,000 grant to help with his work in Darfur. We can’t change the past, but we can do something about today and tomorrow. We definitely owe it to the people of yesterday by helping the people who suffer the same fate today.

The event will also feature two new musical creations by Gor Mkhitarian. These are part of a set of spiritual songs to be released at the end of the year as a CD. The In His Shoes Ministries is convinced that issues of justice and peace can be solved on a spiritual realm and this CD one part of the larger effort.

In addition, artist Gregory Beylerian will be unveiling his latest creation called, “Universal Spiral of Peace” which was developed at the first “Person of the Year” award last year, honoring Rwandan Genocide survivor Ben Kayumba.

The public is invited to participate in this very special event. The evening promises to be one of enlightenment and definition. It is beyond tragedy that the world allows and tolerates genocide at the start of the 21st century. Certainly, the bigger tragedy would be for us to stand idle in the face of the current genocide in Darfur.

When I was in Rwanda I met with a group of ladies at Solace Ministries. They were at a gathering where two hundred widows were finding support through counseling and prayer. They were all victim-survivors of the Rwandan Genocide. The vast majority of them had been raped. The vast majority of them had HIV-AIDS.

These were the victims that were “allowed” to live. Why? Because since they had contracted the AIDS virus, they would soon infect the rest of the population. Basically, they were allowed to live so that they could finish the work of the murderers.

In our Armenian community, sadly we have a virus with which the enemy has strategically infected us. It’s indifference. It’s a big one – it contributes to the bloodless massacre. Without guns, sword or weapons, they can finish us off. I hope and pray that we don’t succumb to that indifference. It’s an ape-like behavior to close our mouths, eyes and ears. We can do better.

Please join us this Friday evening. You can get more information and tickets at www.inhisshoes.org. All contributions go to supporting the people of Darfur.

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