From Clara Barton to International Christian Concern: Continuing the Traditions of Christian Missionaries
By Haykaram Nahapetyan
02/23/2022 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Nagorno-Karabakh, the historic Armenian region of Artsakh, is one of the territories where Christianity in its original form emerged and developed. Some Christian monuments here were founded as far back as the 1st century AD.
Sadly, for the last centuries and decades, the world observed how the Middle and Near Easts, lands where Christianity emerged two millennia ago, changed demographically so much that, if the trend continues, might be left without any significant Christian presence. The number of Christians in Iraq in about a quarter century dropped from 1.4 million to 200 thousand. Out of 600 thousand residents of Gaza, only 400 are of Christian faith today. The alarming statistics, taken from award-winning journalist and author, and Yale University’s Professor Janine di Giovanni’s recent book, The Vanishing, are an indication of the book’s theme about how Christianity is rapidly declining in the same lands where it emerged. “Some of the countries that first nurtured and characterized Christianity – along the North African coast, on the Euphrates and across the Middle East and Arabia – are the ones in which it is likely first to go extinct,” highlighted the publisher of her book.
Armenia is an island of Christianity, surrounded by Muslim-majority neighbors, where the 2000-year-old faith faces threats. The country shares a border with two aggressive countries, Turkey and Azerbaijan, that do not hide their effort to pursue an anti-Armenian policy. In 2020, Turkey supported Azerbaijan militarily in the war against the Christian Armenian homeland of Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Artsakh). According to reliable sources, Turkey also brought radical mercenaries to the region.
If not for the unprecedented heroic efforts and sacrifices of the local inhabitants and the Armenian people globally, no doubt that the entire territory of Artsakh would be conquered. After 44 days of intense combat, an agreement was reached with the help of Russia. Despite the loss of significant territories, the local Armenians maintained their administration over the capital of Artsakh, several towns, and over a hundred rural settlements.
In November 2020, the Russian peacekeepers stood between the Armenian and Azerbaijani positions, and the fragile peace returned. The next forbearing task was the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure, requiring the assistance of the international community. Armenians living abroad, American organizations such as ICC, and others geared to respond.
December 25, 2021 marked the 200th birthday of the “Angel of the Battlefield” and American Red Cross founder, Clara Barton. Of her many notable achievements during her lifetime, one is her trip to the Ottoman Empire of Turkey in 1896. At 75, Clara Barton departed to Istanbul from New York on January 22. “The picture of that scene is still vivid in my memory,” wrote Barton after her return. “Crowded piers, wild with hurrahs, white with parting salutes, hearts beating with exaltation and expectation – a little shorn band of five, prohibited, unsustained either by government or other authority, destined to a port five thousand miles away, from approach to which even the powers of the world had shrunk.”
Barton obtained the permits from the Ottoman government, stayed in Istanbul, sending doctors and other teammates to historic Armenian settlements. According to her estimation, the journey saved the lives of 50 thousand Armenians. Upon her return, she wrote a report called “America’s Relief Effort in Asia Minor.” The Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan published this in 2012.
The traditions began by Barton continued throughout the Armenian Genocide. U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Dr. Clarence Ussher, Dr. Ernest Yarrow, YMCA’s John Elder and James Arroll, actor Jackie Coogan, and many others engaged in an unprecedented humanitarian effort to assist the suffering Christians. As a sign of gratitude, a group of Armenian children stood in front of an American orphanage signaling, “America, we thank you”. Four hundred girls waved a carpet of gratitude with nearly four million handmade knots, gifted to the White House in 1925. In 2021, an Armenian producer Manvel Saribekian prepared a film to highlight the historic assistance of the American people.
Today by assisting Armenian families who live under the Azerbaijani-Turkish siege, International Christian Concern seeks to continue the noble efforts of Clara Barton and missionaries who tirelessly helped suffering Armenians. The small Christian country withstands the continuous pressure and aggression of radical forces also because of the substantial material and moral support received. It showcases that the Christian Island of Armenia, at the intersection of Europe and Asia, is not alone.
Now, when Azerbaijan officially threatens to erase the Armenian cultural heritage, the help of ICC or other American and international organizations is hard to overestimate.
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Since 1995, ICC has served the global persecuted church through a three-pronged approach of advocacy, awareness, and assistance. ICC exists to bandage the wounds of persecuted Christians and to build the church in the toughest parts of the world.
Haykaram Nahapetyan is the U.S. reporter for Armenia’s First channel. He is a Ph.D. student at Liberty University in Virginia.