Armodoxy for Today: Discovering Sasnashen
This is part 3 of a four-part miniseries about the shoot-down over Sasnashen and what it means today.
In 1958 – during the height of the Cold War – a United States Air Force C-130 flying a reconnaissance mission on the Turkish/Armenian border was shot down by the Soviets. The plane crashed in the village of Sasnashen, Armenia and lost its entire crew of 17 servicemen. The Soviets did not admit to the severity of the tragedy until after the fall of the USSR and by 1992 – some 34 years after the incident – the remains of all 17 men were returned to the United States for proper recognition and committal. Since that time commemorations have been taken place, including the placing of a khatchkar (cross stone) and a monument at the crash site with visits by U.S. military and government officials.
Now… on the evening of September 2, 2018, exactly 60 years to the date of the crash I stood before the servicemen and their families at the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. I delivered the keynote address at a gathering commemorating the shoot-down of US Air Force C-130 #60528.
The group honored me by giving me a framed piece of the tail of the fallen plane. Then, spontaneously they took up a collection and asked that I use the money to benefit the children of Sasnashen. Accepting the responsibility, one month later, October 25, 2018, I visited the village of Sasnanshen – about 65 km out of Yerevan toward the Northwest border of Armenia. The closest town is Talin (about 10 kms away) with a population of about 4,000. Through our Armenian Church network, I connected with Fr. Tadé Takhmazyan, the priest of Talin. He served the 10 villages surrounding the town and one of the villages was Sasnashen (population 750). My deacon Hrayr Nalbandian drove me there and together with the priest we climbed a rocky road to the crash-site where a monument stands in this remote and obscure corner of the world. It is a tall standing memorial with a plaque written in both Armenian and English:
September 2, 1958 – We must never forget that freedom is never really free. It is the most costly thing in the world. Freedom is never paid in a lump sum. Installments come due in every generation. All any of us can do is offer the generations that follow a chance for freedom.
There, under the open skies and the silence of the village we offered a prayer for the 17 fallen servicemen as well as a prayer for peace.
In Sasnashen, beyond the economic challenges of village life, there are few, if any, opportunities for young people to advance in education, or even to explore and exploit their potential. There are government schools but after school-hours and on weekends the children end up on the rural roads without supervision and/or guidance. Father Tadé has access to the schools and offers weekly classes to children in the village schools and is known and recognized by youth. We decided to use the funds gathered in Nebraska to further opportunities for youth in the Sasnashen village by creating a Center for after school-hours, where young people can feel welcome, share and explore options to maximize their potential in life.
With the encouragement and blessing of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Primate of the Western Diocese we quickly began work on organizing this program called “Sasnashen Youth Center.” The Catholicos of All Armenians, HH Kareken II gave a small flat directly across the street from the Talin church with the understanding that it would be used as a gathering place for youth. The collected funds were used to bring the center up to standards for a meeting place. We repaired the plumbing, installed a kitchenette, lavatory and new windows.
In July, the following year, I personally made a trip to the area to monitor progress and meet with Fr. Tadé and others to discuss the progress of renovation and the program. I also met with the head of the (Aragatsotn) Diocese, Bishop Mkrtich Proshyan to assure a proper working relationship between all of our parties. He officially pronounced the name of this project as Sasnashen Youth Center It is dedicated in the names of the servicemen who perished in the village in 1958.
This is a place where young people can first and foremost feel welcome, safe and loved. It is a gathering place to study, to learn, or merely congregate after school. We furnished the room and provided computers with internet connections so that we can visit remotely.
An underlying intention on our part was that this could serve as a pilot project which could be replicated in villages for a low cost and can take advantage of local resources – personnel and physical spaces – which are often overlooked.
Opportunities to help others are God given. Our Church is the vehicle by which we do our work. From the grave tragedy of the 1958 shoot-down a new beginning and opportunity for education is extended to the children of that village.
Join me tomorrow, on Armodoxy for Today for the final installment on this short four part miniseries of daily messages regarding Sasnashen