By Inga Martinyan
Father Ktrij – “It is easy to complain but the people must demand change as well”
“I was born and raised as an American. But I felt like an Armenian because I attended Armenian school and went to services at the Armenian Apostolic Church. We spoke Armenian at home. I never thought that one day I’d be living in Armenia. I believed that since I was born in America and was a U.S. citizen, I had to spend my entire life there. Armenia changes all of that. When I came here, I saw that I indeed had a homeland and that there was a future here, not only for local Armenians but for diaspora Armenians as well.”
This is how Father Ktrij, who now serves as the personal assistant to Catholicos Garegin II, describes his journey from America to Armenia.
Father Ktrij, who accompanies Catholicos Garegin II, on all his trips abroad, was born Armen Devejian in Philadelphia. He first visited Armenia in 1990 and repatriated in 2001. He is an architect by profession and is married to Paula, an Armenian from Fresno, California. They met while he was teaching at the local college.
Born and raised in Philadelphia and now working at Etchmiadzin
Father Ktrij traces his roots back to Arabkir, in western Armenia. Paula’s family hails from Kharpert. He now is in charge of the foreign correspondence section at the Holy See. His wife, Yeretskin Paula manages the Holy See’s website and is Etchmaidzin’s liaison with a number of international organizations.
Father Ktridj tells me that the Armenian community back in the States was united around the local church parish. He grew up regarding a priest as usually being elderly, somewhat stern, and someone always demanding a great deal of respect. The clergy weren’t exactly what you’d call a friend.
The first time Armen visited Armenia he made the acquaintance of a young, energetic clergyman. They became good friends. Whenever Armen returned to Armenia, the two would meet over coffee or a meal. That young clergyman was the future Catholicos of All Armenians, Garegin II
Since Armen and Paula didn’t have the finances to invest in Armenia, they decided to invest their time instead and thus contribute.
When they first moved here, they figured that they’d return. They had taken a leave of absence, locked the door to the house and came.
“We lived much better there. We had a house and good jobs. But, in the end, you realize that everything doesn’t revolve around money. Ones quality of life isn’t merely measured in material belongings,” says Father Ktrij.
After spending six months in Armenia, the two found they had gotten used to life here and were comfortable with their new surroundings. The problems they faced were simple ones.
With decent work a comfortable life is possible
Father Ktrij likes to point out that in Armenia one can take evening strolls in relative safety, visit friends or receive guests, without anyone asking why you didn’t call in advance. It’s not the same in America. Friends arrange to meet a week in advance by phone. The time and place must be agreed to lest anyone is inconvenienced.
Father Ktrij is certain that if one has a job in Armenia that pays moderately well, according to the level of work, a work environment where employees are respected by their employers, than it’s quite possible to live well here since expenses are the basic ones – food, utilities, etc. These are the major concerns one has to deal with.
If there is money left over, it can be spent on entertainment, says Father Ktrij. If there is nothing left, then nothing is spent. Anyway, the environment here is a pleasure by itself.
“One can create enjoyment on their own. There are no simple pleasures in America. I have been to the homes of families here in Armenia that are quite poor, without a kopek to their name. But they gather together, eat a simple meal and sing all night long. This is their enjoyment. Then too, you can always take a walk through the town for free. Here, people talk to one another.”
“I realize that I can contribute to the building of this country. I didn’t become a clergyman to serve God, but to serve the people (See notes 1). I feel an obligation to my forefathers. They made many sacrifices so that I could live comfortably. How correct would it be for me to go overseas, have a cushy life, and not give back anything to this people,: says Father Ktrij.
He doesn’t regard the nine years living in Armenia as a sacrifice. He says that if it was a sacrifice, they wouldn’t have stayed. Naturally, the couple misses their relatives back in the States. “We only have each other here and our friends,” they confess.
Their friends are local and diaspora Armenians they’ve met through the church and work. Sometimes they get together and the two groups mingle.
“The government can surely do more if it was only more tolerant; if it helped rather than hindered, and if it wasn’t afraid of the people. The country will never prosper if the government continues to view the people as a threat,” says Father Ktrij.
70 years of Soviet rule more destructive spiritually than 600 years of Turkish rule
He says that Armenia faces many challenges that must be overcome. In the nine years living here, he is certain of one thing. “…During its 70 year rule, the Soviet regime would up playing greater havoc on the people’s moral and spiritual life than the Turks in over 600 years (See notes 2). I say this because the church in Turkey was freer in a sense, it wasn’t cut off from the community, and the local priest was always around to visit homes, conduct marriages, baptisms, bless homes twice a year. He was a recognizable individual who knew all in the community. The local priest could knock on any door and walk in, offering advice and counsel. There were no psychologists or psychiatrists. The clergy did it all. In the span of 70 years, all our churches were destroyed and the clergy killed off. The church structure was demolished.”
Father Ktrij believe that the number one problem facing Armenia today is the rebuilding of the country’s moral system based on the teaching and implementation of Christian values.
There are no atheists in Armenia, he says, just indifferent people who proudly claim to be Christians but who don’t understand what that signifies (See notes 3). “The people comprise the church. We must teach the people that being Christian entails a certain obligation. One cannot be a Christian in words alone; one must live the faith. What is the sense for a person to attend church on Sunday, alone to fib and lie on Monday?”
New churches needed to spread Christian teaching
Father Ktrij proposes that new churches be built to make Christian teaching more accessible. As an example, he points to a document written by Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian in 1911, in Constantinople, documenting that Yerevan had 250,000 inhabitants at the time with 245 churches; one church for every 1,000 residents (See notes 4). Today, there are just ten churches in Yerevan with a population of over one million; a ratio of one church to each 100,000 residents.
“Faith without practical work is a dead faith. This is the situation we are in today. It is possible that this people now have great faith but it is sleeping; not yet dead. Perhaps the level of faith is sufficient for me but I have yet to see its result,” says Father Ktrij.
To achieve some tangible result, it is not enough just to complain, one must also demand.
“If we consider ourselves to be a democratic nation, this first and foremost means that not only does the government have certain responsibilities but that the people do as well. It is very easy for the people to state that the government is bad, that it doesn’t do this or that, but isn’t it also true that the people aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities? The people aren’t out there making demands. Who ever said that these demands will not be met once made? The United States didn’t become the country it has just due to the actions of a president or certain individual. It was because the people made certain demands. Here, the people do not.”
Father Ktrij has observed that here in Armenia, the birth of a child is a source of joy rather than a burden for the family. “This is mine. I feel at home here.”
More clergy should speak out on issues of the day
What displeases Father Ktrij is that many serious issues facing Armenia go neglected – family violence, bribery, etc. He thinks that the church could take a much more aggressive stance on these issues and that the common folk could demand more.
When we asked why the clergy, in general, do not raise such issues, Father Ktrij answered, “You should ask them. Perhaps, they don’t regard such matters as vital, but I do.”
Father Ktrij also finds that the method of instruction in the high schools is unacceptable, given that it’s a continuation of a 50 year-old system that cannot possible prepare a new generation to meet the challenges of the 21st century. “My main fear is that we are not teaching our children how to think for themselves. We are not properly educating a new generation and I fear this more than Turk or Azerbaijani. In Armenia, you will be hard-pressed to find one teacher that ever asks their children what they actually think.”
Armenia has made Father Ktrij more impatient. Back in America, his patience cut-off point was much higher. He says it takes much longer to get something done in Armenia than overseas.
In his spare time, Father Ktrij likes to watch films, read and write. He never watches Armenian TV nor does he read the local papers. He says that the press in Armenia is more interested in presenting opinion than actual news.
The couple dream of owning a house and adopting a child, even two. This transplanted American-Armenian husband and wife only see Armenia as the stage on which to build their future life together.
Source: Hetq.am, 26 July 2010
Biography in Azad-Hye: Ktrij Devejian (Father)
1- Most probably Father Ktrij Devejian wanted to say that he serves God as much as he serves the people.
2- Although the damage caused by Soviet authorities to the Armenian church is enormous, but to compare it with Turkey where eventually not only the churches were demolished but also the Armenian population was annihilated, is not a successful one.
3- In fact there are many professed atheists in Armenia, besides the followers of different sects.
4- These figures look inflated. Yerevan was far more small in population during the 1910s. Father Devejian does not mention the source of Patriarch Ormanian's document. Most probably there is confusion in this piece of information between Yerevan as a city and as a province in the Russian Empire. In any case, Patriarch Ormanian did not have jurisdiction on Yerevan Province and must have depended on information obtained from Etchmiadzin.