Archbishop Barsamian Responds to Ricciardone’s ‘Deeply Offensive’ Statement

Primate Khajag Barsamian sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responding to assertions made by Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, President Barack Obama’s recess appointment to serve as U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

Primate Khajag Barsamian

Answering a question from New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, Ricciardone had said, “Most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are still operating as churches. Some churches of significance operate as museums. The remaining have fallen into disrepair or were converted to mosques for lack of use.”

In his letter, Archbishop Barsamian wrote, “Ambassador Ricciardone deeply offended Armenian-Americans with his remarks, opening sensitive wounds and potentially setting back the gradual process of healing.”

He added, “In all charity, perhaps the ambassador is simply unaware of certain facts.  But mastery of the history of a country, its dark as well as bright chapters, is essential to serving the United States effectively and diplomatically in this important and complex region.”

The full text of Archbishop Barsamian’s letter to Clinton appears below.

Dear Madame Secretary:

My kind greetings and blessings you, as you continue your service to our nation.

As Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, I write regarding the statements made by Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, President Obama’s appointment as U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, during his confirmation hearing.

Please know that we have been generally supportive of the efforts of the U.S. government to promote a more normal relationship between the republics of Turkey and Armenia.  Likewise, we greatly respect and appreciate the productive role you personally have played in such initiatives.

With those efforts in mind, it is difficult to understand Ambassador Ricciardone’s assertions about the status of historic Armenian churches, and other Christian churches, in Turkey.  The loss of these many hundreds of churches, their neglect and outright destruction, and the conversion of many of our sanctuaries into mosques, is a matter of intense pain to Armenians: an ongoing reminder of the loss of life and the destruction that we suffered as a result of the 1915 Genocide.

Ambassador Ricciardone deeply offended Armenian Americans with his remarks, opening sensitive wounds and potentially setting back the gradual process of healing.  In all charity, perhaps the ambassador is simply unaware of certain facts.  But mastery of the history of a country, its dark as well as bright chapters, is essential to serving the United States effectively and diplomatically in this important and complex region.

Again, it is our general support for your efforts, Madame Secretary, as well as our desire to see genuine progress made to benefit the entire region, that prompts this letter to you.  I am confident that you will give these thoughts all due consideration, as you make decisions about the vital role America plays in Turkey, in Armenia, and throughout the world.

Madame Secretary, you have our great respect and support in all your undertakings.  May our Lord strengthen and guide you in your service to our beloved country.

With prayers,
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian


  1. What kind of story is Ricciardone going to fabricate when the international world starts asking the hard questions about 50+ Turkish Journalists in prison?  Or 300+ Kurdish children under the age of 15 rotting away in prison because they were merely in attendance at protest rallys.  
    The answer from him will go something like. “I am confident that Turkey is not abusing human rights and all of these 13,000 human right abuse cases against Turkey in the European Council courts is merely a misunderstanding of communication”

    Tell that to those that sit in Turkish prison without due process.

  2. Sending letter by Primate is a sign of public cry. We expect the Primate to be the first to challenge such assertions against our national interest. What Armenians are going to do if such requests become fruitless?

  3. So then, how many mosques remain in Armenia? The only one left is in Yerevan, the last was gleefully bulldozed just a few years ago! Can you say….HYPOCRITE!!!

  4. Robert,

    There is only one in Yerevan true. And how many muslims live in Yerevan, propably a few for diplomatic reasons. SO one is more than enough.  So considering muslims per capita, ARmenia has the highest number of mosques in the world.

    But forget about it. Check this out.

  5. Dear “Robert” (yeah, right),

    1) Provide evidence (no, not Azeri “sources”, those that cover “stories” such as laser equipped donkeys and so on) of the “bulldozed mosques.”

    2) Provide evidence of “glee”

  6. It is incredible that someone who is to become ambassador to Turkey can make such a statement! This is not only insensitivity to the Armenians, but also a lack of knowledge that is inadmissible. The message of Primate Khajag Barsamian is formulated in a dignified manner. However, I am surprised at your comment, Robert, since the situation in Yerevan does not make the situation in Turkey any more acceptable. Unfortunately Turks will almost only comment on the misfortunes of Muslims and Turks in the last years of the Ottoman Empire when the Armenian issue is raised. This shows the weakness of their case if they do not take it up in earnest. It is time that Turks go honestly into the dark parts of their past. Of course some do this which is encouraging, but the mainstream doesnt.

  7.  I am pleased to see this statement from our Primate. I pray that the next statement be jointly announced from Oshagan and Khajag Surpazan. In our community, leaders react separately to issues of common purpose. This allows those on the receiving end to deal with them separately or ignore them. The result is always a more diluted outcome.
         Activism requires unity to optimize and direct our resources. Anything less gives a message that there are seams in our armor. We are blessed to have these opportunities to correct injustices. A good start but more will be required of us if we are to succeed.

  8. Wondering… what caliber persons are available now within the USA State Department… to be considered for their roles as Ambassadors.  Seems currently, especially a Byrza and Ricciardone… (both affecting directly the fleldgling Armenian nation of only 20 years) both these ‘ambassadors’ coming with their own ‘stances/connections’ obviously, against the Armenian nation.. Yet they represent the greater numbers of citizens of the United States of America. Today, when voters of the 43 of 50 USA indicate that they do recognize the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian peoples. Obvously, these same citizens of the USA ,too, thus indicate their hopes for all the Genocide perpetrators must face their crimes and be adjudged. – and that the crimes of Genocides must no longer allowed to exist on our planet – never!  Today, perpetrators are the winners… IMAGINE!
    Yet, all the our victims, slaughtered, raped, tortured, worse… inhumanity to humans – LOSERS!

  9. Stepan, Under the Search section on the upper right side of your screen go to: Archbishop Choloyan Issues Statement on Ricciardone Church Comment.  Archbishop Choloyan already commented about the issue on August 15, 2011.

  10. Robert-oglu: It is irrelevant how many mosques are in Armenia. Apart from some mosques in western Turkey BUILT BY ARMENIANS like Sinan, I would say mosques in general are not even close to being “historic” nor that they belong there. You Turks migrated to our country, not the other way around. Our churches existed in historic Armenia (present day occupation by Turkey in eastern Turkey) before your race even left central Asia. You and the rest of you Turks have no right dictating to Armenians about our history, nor asking where mosques are.

  11. Seervart, I think Stepan was suggesting that it is better for our community if one statement is issued by the Church instead of several from various archbishops, since it may have the effect of diluting the message.  Perhaps Stepan can deny or confirm this.

  12. Robert- did you not say you were not going to come back to our pages .. Avery provided you YOUR typed comments many times over.. and yet you still are here..

    Can you say a LIAR????? …

    In any case.. I am glad you can reference Wikipedia for all your comments.. Yeah the exact words you used is in Islam in Armenia in Wikipedia..but that is rarely a strong fact… why don’t you provide an official document where it states that the last one was bulldozed down…

    Also, as one of my friends here said one is enough for the number of muslims living in Armenia (I know you are illiterate about Armenia and history all together because you would not make such an insensitive comment), especially when Turks converted enough of OUR churches to be mosques and God knows what else…you already know….why don’t you return and restore EVERY SINGLE CHURCH OF OURS into what it was, then talk about Armenia having just one mosque… This is where Hypocrite works pretty well don’t you think Robert???…

  13. Ragnar– great post to put on Turkish sites.. Please copy and paste exactly what you wrote on this page on to each Turkish site.. Please let us know when you do… Thank you very much..


  14. Stepan jan– I am with you.. unity is the key.. i wish to see all surpazans working together and going after Washington’s puppet as one instead of individuals…

  15.   Thank you Boyajian. Right on as usual. My comments was a cry for unity. It’s interesting that the impact of the community division in America for years has been internal…devastating in my view but primarily internal. With the freedom of Armenia and the multitude of Armenian issues on the world stage, the stakes are much higher. We need to much more serious about looking inward and correctly some of our weakness’. There is no room for division. We all need to have higher expectations of our leadership. I grew up in the Prelacy and currently we are active in the diocese. How can there be a division in our church when we are united in Christ through the Eucharist? If we lead with our faith as Armenians have done for centuries in our great moments, then the division will be gone, Armenians will be stronger and our dreams will become reality.
              Never accept anything that divides our people.

  16. Thank you your Emminence Archbishop Barsamian for your just response to Ricciardone’s offensive statements.  You  did a great job for our just cause.

  17. Boyajian, Frankly I would also much rather see that both denominations come to terms and unite for the sake of our just cause: For Armenia, for Artsakh, for Javakhk and for having the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turkish government of 1915 to pay Armenians in full in the form of our anscestral homeland.

  18. Dear Stephan, Seervart and Boyajian,

    The unity of our churches (or catholici) seems to be desirable to a lot of us but somehow unattainable for various reasons (most of which happen to be beyond my comprehension), including political ones. If we could ever get the Armenian church to practice democracy this may be one change to put forward.

    At any rate, I also wanted to say that we (my parents) attended both churches, my father saying that they are both ours. He was (and is at his old age) comfortable at either church. He definitely knows and loves his church in a way that our generation will not likely be able to match. What a shame…

    Another question I had was whether any one knows if Hovnan Srpazan has also written a letter. It would be good to hear from him.

  19. Seervart, we are in agreement but I would like to suggest that we do not use the term ‘denomination’ when referring to the diocesan and prelacy Armenian Churches.  They do not represent different denominations of a church. They are the same church split along political lines.  Its like Irish Catholics going to different churches because they are either republican or democratic.  The church service is identical, and like Ani, I was raised to see both churches as my own.  Stepan is right; this rift has been devastating to the community.  It looks like we are fragmented to the outside observer; which of course, we are.  It weakens our collective voices and confuses the outsider who is trying to know who we are.

  20. ‘, my father saying that they are both ours. ‘ you have a great father Ani: something for us all to emulate. (my father thinks the same way: Armenian is Armenian is Armenian….).

    All Armenian churches are ours.
    All political parties our ours.

    And believe it or not, my thinking is  that  there is strength in diversity (within reason). Compartmentalization, if you will, makes it far more resistant to manipulation and penetration by those who wish the Armenian nation harm. Dispersion of targets makes it extremely hard for the adversary to effect a knockout punch.

    Certainly there is dilution of resources when there are multiple recipients.  And I realize that the human instinct is to reject what is not familiar. However, we have the mental ability to effect an attitude shift: your father (and mine), and no doubt many others have been able to do it. Why not the rest of us.
    As long as we never forget who the boss is – the Armenian Nation.


  21.   Boyajian, thank you. Der Yeprem is so grounded in his faith and a great communicator. The parish website is awesome. Your comments are always refreshing… based in civility yet direct and spirited.

  22.    Avery, you are correct. Diversity is an important element. Given the nature of Armenians, we are rarely lacking in diverse thought. At times, we have difficultly garnering that diversity into concensus to move forward. Nevertheless, that’s part of our culture.
               Division is not diversity. It is a schism, a separation, an inability to act as one when oneness is essential. The political environment of the last twenty years is exciting , but the diaspora need take it to the next level. We have umbrella groups to coordinate support. This is a good step. Given the importance of the church as an institution in our community, it very difficult to make real progress in community integration in the presence of this irrelevant and embarrassing separation.
             I look forward to the days when Armenians ask each other ” what church do you go to?”, that it will be a geographic question not a thinly veiled attempt of understanding Prelacy or Diocese.

  23. The Armenian Orthodox Church is not a denomination of Christianity (If that’s what it is being refered to here). It is Orthodox. The way it should be. Ooghapar, in Armenian.
    Non-Orthodox churches,including non-denominational churches (non-denominational is just a name and it does not mean denomination neutral) are various denominations of  Christian church. The Armenian Churches that are under prelacy, diocese, Istanbul and Jerusalem jurisdictions are members of one and the same Orthodox Church.

  24. Dear Mr. Boyajian, in your response to Seervart, unfortunately since the failed protocols I suspect there will not be a joint statements by bishops of 2 different Diaspora. Most people understand what 2 different Diaspora means. It is sad.
    Please let us be thankful that both of our bishops wrote to the State Department about their displeasure of the statement of their nominee to Ankara. One bishop asked that the nomination be withdrawn and the other expressed his dissatisfaction only.
    I did watch Der Yeprem’s video you suggested below and 2 minutes into it I did not see the relevance of the point with this article.
    Please read the following regarding our claims to our forefathers’ churches, monasteries … that were confiscated from our people which contradicts Ricciardone’s statement. That’s the point of Khajag serpazan’s letter here.

  25. Hairabed, thank you for your comments.  I am thankful that both Khajag Srpazan and Aram Catholicos issued statements.  The video was suggested for Stepan as I said in my comment to him.  The relevance was for him.  I hope you drew something from it, even though you did not see the relevance.  Der Yeprem is a gifted pastor.

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