Armodoxy for Today: Youth Moving Forward
This is the final installment of a four-part miniseries about the shoot-down over Sasnashen and what it means today.
On September 29, 2019, with the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, we ventured off to the town of Talin for the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center. This was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and organization across the globe, with limited resources, difficult communications and the challenges of a cold winter that put our work on hold for several months. Nevertheless, the power of prayer, the joy of helping children and our commitment to the project made it a labor of love that was celebrated by a community in this remote part of Armenia.
The first three parts of this miniseries of daily messages have outlined the remarkable chain of events that brought about this project, from the Cold War, to Sasnashen, to Nebraska, and now full circle back to the village where this tragedy first unfolded in 1958.
The Prop Wash Gang, organizers of the event in Nebraska which first brought us together collected an amount of money. They gave it to me with the request, “Can you see to it that the kids in Sasnashen are helped in some way?” I have to admit, when they asked me I had no idea where in Armenia to find Sasnashen. In fact, so obscure is this village of 700+ inhabitants that I could not find anyone, especially taxi drivers in Yerevan, who knew where to locate it. Finally, thanks to Google maps and my deacon, Hrayr Nalbandian, we made it there.
I cold-called Fr. Tadé Takhmazian from a number given to me by one of my clergy brothers who had met him only months early. I don’t believe in coincidences or in chance. I believe in blessings, which I have defined as luck, without the element of chance. Fr. Tadé is a blessing. Fr. Tadé, serves the population of Sasnashen and nine-other villages, I began to learn about the needs of the community, people and especially the youth. We decided to work on creating a youth center – a safe place for young people to feel belonging, learn, grow and mature in faith as productive members of the community.
And now… September 29, we held the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center in Talin. Along with a contingent from our Bible Study group in Glendale we made the journey, 12 time-zones away, to celebrate this new project. We joined the St. James pilgrimage organized by Fr. Haroutioun Tachejian, visiting many of the historic and spiritually significant sites in Armenia. Together, with the St. James group, about 25 of us from America attended this opening. I was honored to celebrate the Divine Liturgy that morning at the Holy Asdvadzadzin church in Talin. It was the feast day of the Cross of Varak and so I offered what is called an ookhdi badarak and so directed my sermon to the needs of the community and the crosses we all carry. The Cross of Christ is not a fixture of history, it is part of our daily life, pointing to the struggles and difficulties which we overcome by our Faith.
Following the service in church, Fr. Tadé led us to the newly renovated house and we officially dedicated and opened it as the Sasnashen Youth Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony. For this occasion the Prop Wash Gang sent a shadow box which contains a piece of the wreckage of the C-130 that was shot-down by the Soviet Union. As part of the dedication, the shadow box and a plaque listing the names of the 17 servicemen who were killed on September 2, 1958 now adorns the wall of the Center as a permanent reminder of the tragedy.
We were honored to have with us Maksena Haroutiunyan, widow of the late internationally renown sculptor Martin Kakosian. As an 18 year-old young man, Martin Kakosian was an eye-witness to the shoot down. He was instrumental in the dedication of the original khatchkar which stood as a marker for the tragedy until later, when he designed and constructed the current monument which stands on a hill near the crash site in Sasnashen. Mrs. Haroutiunyan shared a stirring account of what had transpired along with recollections from her late husband.
The one man who initially connected me with the shoot-down of the C-130 60528, the Prop Wash Gang and ultimately with Sasnashen is Larry Tart, author of “The Price of Vigilance” (2001) and “Freedom through Vigilance” (2010). I’ve never met him in person yet feel a kindred spirit in him. He signs his emails to me “In Brotherhood” and on this day that fraternal bond became very real and concrete. During the opening ceremony I know he was with us. I took advantage of the attentiveness of the group and gave some background to the people on the importance of Mr. Tart’s personal vigilance in this story.
With much excitement and joy we dedicated the house to the education and elucidation of the village children and youth. Fr. Tadé has a magnetic personality and has won the hearts of the children in the villages. Every week he visits the students in Sasnashen and nine other villages in the area. He shared his vision with us; the Center will be a place where children can learn, play, explore their options, and most importantly share and talk with other young people and mentors.
Following the opening ceremony, the group travelled the 10km ride to Sasnashen, where we visited the crash-site and the monument. There, we offered a requiem prayer to the 17 servicemen and also remembered Martin Kakosian and Deacon Hrayr Nalbandian in our prayers. May God rest their souls.
We celebrated the day and our work with a local families in Sasnashen with food, wine, song and dance. Today, from the midst of tragedy, a new chapter was being opened in the life of the village and in the life of young people wanting an opportunity for a better life. Many of the villagers suffer immense economic hardships. Education and building up self-worth are the cornerstones of this project.
In reference to our Christian faith, Resurrection, like Crucifixion, is not a historical anomaly. Rather, it is up to us to profess through our witness to Christ and the Armenian Church, that Resurrection is a reality of our daily existence.
We close off this series with the words inscribed on the monument at Sasnashen
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.