Valley prays at Fresno service for Armenians fleeing Kessab (video)

The Fresno BeeMarch 30, 2014 

Armenians across the central San Joaquin Valley united in prayer Sunday in support of their Christian brothers and sisters recently forced to flee their homes in Kessab, Syria.

News sources confirmed an onslaught on Kessab was launched from Turkey by foreign fighters affiliated with an extremist wing of the al-Qaida terrorist group. About 1,500 Armenians were forced to flee to nearby Latakia and Bassit. Homes were looted and Christian churches were desecrated. No casualties have been reported, according to reports.

In Fresno, Armenian leaders called attention to the situation at a meeting Friday. Some Valley Armenians have family and friends in Kessab. On Sunday, more than 200 people came together in solidarity at a service at Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in downtown Fresno.

During the service, deacon Garo Poladian asked worshippers to pray for the people of Kessab. Then, parishioners dedicated a hymn -- "Der Voghormya" or "Lord Have Mercy" -- to them. As people sang, smoke from burning incense wafted near the altar, symbolizing prayers being lifted up to heaven.

Then, the Rev. Vahan Gosdanian, parish priest at Holy Trinity, gave a homily with sharp words aimed at the Turkish government.

"What they are trying to do is wipe out whatever is Armenian, but they will not win," he said. "God won't let them. God will punish them. God is with us, believe me."

Gosdanian also called for action. He urged people to pray constantly about the situation, ask their elected officials to speak out on the situation and help financially. About $4,800 was collected at the service for those displaced from their homes.

People at the service said it is important the Valley comes together in support of the Armenians in Syria.

"We believe we're standing with them in solidarity, as fellow Christians, because their city has been overrun by Turkish-led terrorists groups," said Barret Arakelian. "We believe it is a continual attack on our Christian faith, on Armenian people -- same as it was in 1915 (the Armenian genocide).

"We believe this is a spiritual attack on defenseless, peace-loving Christian people."

Vahe Keshishian, who sings in the Holy Trinity choir, has a brother who fled Kessab. Keshishian's wife, Arpy, also has four sisters who were displaced. All are safe.

"It's heart-breaking because we are living a relatively good life in America," Keshishian said. "It's a human tragedy there. We're praying. How can we do anything else?"

Jackie Chekerdemian also lit prayer candles in the Holy Trinity sanctuary for the Armenians in Syria.

"I prayed for God to comfort all the families in the devastation, to bring peace to the world and the Middle East and to calm all the hate," she said. "The Middle East has gone through so much."

Long-time Holy Trinity member Lucy Ohanian said she came to the service just wanting to help the people of Kessab.

"They have suffered so much," she said. "We're not hearing everything that's going on. This has upset me.

"I'm just praying. I can't do anything but pray. That's all we can do."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304, rorozco@fresnobee.com or @ronorozco_bee on Twitter.

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