Proud to Be an American: A Der Hayr’s Reflections


I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I was born in Aleppo, Syria, lived in Armenia and Russia and came to the U.S. with my family at the end of 2003.

Many people who live overseas have a negative attitude towards the U.S. As Armenians we are upset that the Federal Government still fails to recognize the Armenian Genocide. To be a superpower is not easy. Other superpowers in the past had similar issues. When a country becomes a superpower, many in the world will concentrate their efforts to control it and to lobby their interests.

“I am proud to be an American. I love my country and at the same time, I criticize our government. I am also a proud Armenian and as an Armenian-American, there is no conflict between the two.”

The U.S. participation in two World Wars had significant impacts on the history of the humankind. Without American involvement in WWI, the victory for allies would have been near impossible. In WWII, without U.S. involvement, the war could have ended up with the Soviet Union gaining entire control of Europe, including its western part.

In the beginning of 1950s, U.S. involvement in Korean War was also very significant, because if the U.S. did not get involved militarily, all of Korea would fall under a tyrannical communist regime. South Korea now is a prosperous country, unlike North Korea where the people are deprived and ruled by a tyrant.

Other wars the U.S. got involved have been more controversial, such as the war in Vietnam and U.S. involvement in the Arab Spring. Following 9/11 many were in support when U.S. troops went into Afghanistan and considered it to be justified. However, going to Iraq in 2003 and getting involved in overthrowing other regimes—such as one in Libya—without thinking what is the next is a different story. As a result, Iraq is now in turmoil and Libya is split into three parts fighting each other. One of these parts is controlled by ISIS.

For us, Armenians, the Syrian war is important because of the existence of a strong Armenian Community there. It is also significant because of Syria’s geographical location: bordering Turkey and being close to Armenia. For me, as any other Syrian-Armenian, the war in Syria is personal. We have families and friends there. From the very first day, I followed the Syrian War very closely. Besides English sources, I read Syrian government, opposition, as well as other Arabic and Russian sources. For me, there is no doubt that the U.S. made a big mistake in Syria by supporting the opposition—the majority of which is made of Islamic jihadist groups covered under different names. I am glad that this mistake has been somewhat corrected recently and the focus of the U.S. now is ISIS and other jihadists. I hope that this will continue, that peace will be achieved in Syria and that most refugees, including Armenians and other Christians, will be able to return to their homes.

I am proud to be an American. I love my country and at the same time, I criticize our government. I am also a proud Armenian and as an Armenian-American, there is no conflict between the two. I am a patriot of the U.S. and Armenia at the same time and I love both countries. I criticize U.S. foreign policy mistakes and I also criticize the appalling corruption in Armenia. I can also understand that for its own security, Armenia has no other choice than to be Russia’s ally.

Besides all the above-mention factors, there is a more important aspect of being an American and that is my loyalty to the country, constitution, and to the principles that our country was founded upon. I believe that a large part of these principles are based on the teachings of the Bible. It is an undoubted fact that the Founding Fathers understood and emphasized the importance of God-given principles as a foundation of our nation. Our country’s official motto is “In God We Trust.” Not only do we believe in God, not only do we love God, but we trust in God, which elevates us to a higher level in our commitments to the Creator.

I was told that about a half-century ago, most people in the U.S. would attend church services on Sundays. Stores were closed, and no other activities were allowed. For me as a Christian pastor, this is important, since it shows that people were more religious at that time.

That being said, I would like to emphasize that not everything was perfect back then. Segregation was a major problem then, which, even after the civil rights movement, continues to carry a legacy today.

I look to the spread of the secularism as a challenge for us, the Christians, and especially for clergymen. It is easy maintaining religious institutions when there are pro-religious rules and laws supported by states and societies. It is more difficult the current situation, to keep religious institutions going when the rules are the same for different kinds of organizations. This is why, we, the representatives of religions are required to be more honest and less hypocritical. Otherwise, we will lose our ground. I think this reality is a good a reason for the Church as an institution to be purified.

Since my arrival to the U.S. in 2003, I got to know many people. After 14 years of living in this country, I confess that in general I have a lot of respect and admiration for the American people. Americans, in general, are kind and polite. They work hard and try not to cheat and many of them are patriotic. I have a non-Armenian elderly neighbor across the street from my house, who puts up the American flag every morning and takes it down every evening. I also put the flag up on American holidays and election days.

The U.S. is a great country to live in, but we know that it is not perfect. Today many of us are upset with the politicians. As a Christian and a clergyman, I am concerned about the decline of the religion and its consequences. But I believe since we live in a free society and because of the system of checks and balances, in the end, things will be straightened out. Different views and different ways of life should live peacefully with respect and tolerance toward each other.

I am a proud American. I like the fact that there is a well-established system that gives people the opportunity to achieve their goals if they are hard-working. I believe that in the U.S. if somebody has a goal in mind and chooses not to give up, most of the time and sooner or later, that goal will be achieved.

My daughter was admitted to Harvard University and graduated. We paid very little for her tuition, something that we couldn’t dream of before coming to the U.S. I also like that average person can live a decent life with dignity, without feeling humiliated in comparison to the upper classes of the society. I am a middle-class individual and I have no inferiority complex. I am saying this because that was common in the countries where I lived before coming to the US. I also like the fact that I am not scared of the law enforcement. I like that I can talk equally to a government official or a clerk. I do not only know my rights but my responsibilities as well. I know that I have to work, pay taxes, obey the laws and be active in the society.

I hope that the U.S. will continue to respect and follow the principles that were founded upon, including Biblical values that advocate for freedom, democracy, equal opportunities, strong families, human rights and social justice. It was said by American publicist and thinker Whittaker Chambers: “Political freedom is a political reading of the Bible”.

In conclusion, I would like to quote George Washington, the father of our Nation: “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible”.

May God bless the United States.

Fr. Bedros Shetilian

Fr. Bedros Shetilian

Fr. Bedros Shetilian was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1963. After attending the Armenian schools in Aleppo, he moved to Armenia and graduated from Yerevan Musical College. After Yerevan, he moved to Saint Petersburg, Russia and received a master's degree in symphony conducting from Saint Petersburg Conservatory. Between 1992 and 2003, he successfully worked as a conductor with concerts in Russia, Armenia and Europe. Fr. Shetilian attended the Catholic College in Saint Petersburg and the Seminary of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Lebanon. He was ordained as a married priest in 2003. Afterward, he was assigned to serve in the US. Since 2005, he has been the pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church in Springfield, Massachusetts. Over the past few years, Fr. Shetilian has occasionally cooperated with both Hairenik and Armenian Weeklies. Being a full-time pastor, Fr. Shetilian is continuing to work as a conductor as well with a goal to accomplish a successful career in the US.
Fr. Bedros Shetilian

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  1. As an Armenian-Americans myself I must say this country is a secular country and it always will be. Our founding documents clearly called for the separation of church and state. We don’t need religion to guide us to live fulfilling and moral lives. I can say that the Armenian Church has failed to teach Armenians strong moral values. Instead the church tolerates sexism, homophobia and division among Armenians who don’t identify with the Armenian church. Secularism brings all the people of the country together while religion is far more divisive.

    • Thank you for your comments. It is your personal opinion and the opinion of some people whatever you put in your comments and I respect that. You can’t say “we”, because many people will disagree with you. Many people would like to be religious and to be guided by the Church. I said nothing about the separation of church and religion. I myself oppose the theocracy. Then what do you think about the freedom of worship and religion? It is undeniable fact that the founding fathers understood the importance of religion. You won’t see any country leader in the West who ends his/her speech by saying:”God bless…”. It is written on our currency:”In God we trust”. The majority of American politicians go to Churches. Jimmy Carter conducts Bible studies in his Church. Those are facts. By mentioning sexism, if you are referring to the role of women in the Church, then your criticism is not addressed only to the Armenian Church but to the entire Christian Churches, excluding some Protestants. Regarding your comments about homophobia, if you are referring to LGBT people, then anyone is welcome in my Church. I consider anyone who identifies him/herself as an Armenian to be an Armenian, no matter who he/she is. I would like to finish by a quote from my article: “Different views and different ways of life should live peacefully with respect and tolerance towards each other”. I think this is essential for our democracy. All the best.

  2. Thank you Der Hayr for your comments and your commitment to both the government that protects us and the Church that teaches us. My wish is that more Americans understand the gift they have living in this country. Thank you for your insight and gor sharkng it with us. I wish you would publish your article in a main stream paper as well.

  3. I am very embarrassed to see the intellectual and spiritual level of this article. Here we have one of our clergy 9from Aleppo of all places) praising the bloodthirsty empire that actually destroyed Aleppo, Syria not to mention Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, etc., and has been doing its best to destroy nations like Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. Not since Rome has man kind seen an empire as decadent or bloody thirsty as the American empire. I guess as long as our priests can drive nice cars and live in well manicured suburbs, they would even advocate for the devil. We are living in very sad times.

    • If you get calm I will be glad to have a reasonable conversation with you, otherwise I think it is worthless.

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