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Armenian church to open first Arizona sanctuary

Building's consecration set to take place

by Sean Crandall - Sept. 19, 2009 09:16 PM

The Arizona Republic

St. Apkar, the only Armenian Apostolic Church in Arizona, will open its first and long-awaited sanctuary in Scottsdale on Sunday after a six-year journey.

For the Armenian community of Arizona, it is a triumphant end to an effort that began in 2003 when they decided to build the church and started fundraising.

In 2005, His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, came to Scottsdale to bless the ground for the new sanctuary. Construction began last year, and Sunday, the 7,000-square-foot sanctuary will be consecrated at 10 a.m. next to the Armenian Church Cultural Center, 8849 E. Cholla St., Scottsdale.

The Armenian Church is only one of the Valley's many cultural churches.

With religious centers as diverse as a Jain temple recently built in Phoenix, an Albanian Islamic center and the only Coptic Orthodox Church in Arizona, the idea of America as a "melting pot" is evident.

But Paul Eppinger, executive director of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, doesn't like to think of it as a melting pot where everything is mixed together and amalgamated into one big stew.

"I see it as a mosaic," he said. "Each stone is beautiful in and of itself. But when you put them together, it makes a beautiful picture."

The mosaic metaphor correlates directly to why Eppinger thinks the multitude of small cultural churches is so important to the Valley and other communities around the world.

Eppinger notes that there is a view in America that if you come here, you should learn to speak the language and do other things to fit in with the American culture, but people come from differing cultures worldwide, and their history and background are important to them.

If they can pray in their own language or with their own traditions, Eppinger said, it gives them a chance to hold on to their culture. It's a way of keeping part of their cultural identity while being part of the larger American culture.

Other examples include a Hindu temple, Buddhist temples and centers like the Emaho Center, and several Muslim mosques and Greek Orthodox churches in the Valley.

The Scottsdale church serves 2,000 to 3,000 Armenian families living in Arizona. More than half reside in the Valley.

"We (Armenians) are thrilled to finally have a traditional church built here in Arizona," said Donna Sirounian, church spokeswoman.

For the past 17 years, the Armenian Apostolic Church has used the Melikian Hall, located in the Cultural Center, to perform church services and other activities. If church members wanted to attend a consecrated church, Sirounian noted, they had to travel to California, which has 30 of the 104 Armenian churches in the U.S.

Sirounian, of Litchfield Park teaches Sunday school at the church. She has been attending services at the church hall since she and her family moved to Arizona in 2002.

"Armenians have stayed together through the centuries because of the Armenian Church, and to have an actual sanctuary to pray in just makes going to church real."

Although there are many religions that worship out of gymnasiums or store fronts, the importance of having a church is symbolic for Armenians, she said.

The church has been a stabilizing influence, especially during the Armenian genocide in 1915 by the Turks.

"Armenians were martyred because of their faith," Sirounian said. "They wanted to remain Christian and didn't want to give in to the Muslim faith. The church kept the Armenian people together through that horrible tragedy, and as Armenians immigrated around the world, they took their faith and traditions and began to rebuild, and they built churches wherever they went, including the U.S."

The Armenian Apostolic Church, according to tradition, traces its roots to SS. Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Christianity was practiced underground for 2 1/2 centuries in Armenia until it became the religion of the country in A.D. 301. Soon after, the church became one of the most important institutions in Armenia, and Christianity became deeply rooted in the Armenian culture.

The church, now serving 7 million Armenian Apostolic Christians around the world, thrives in both its homeland of Armenia and the other Armenian communities around the world.

Sirounian said the first Armenian Church in the U.S. was built 100 years ago in Massachusetts.

"So here in Arizona, where we are in 2009, we are finally building the first Armenian Church. It has taken us awhile."

Republic reporter Cecilia Chan contributed to this article.

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Published on Sep 28, 2009 by Victoria Manoogian, St. Apkar Armenian Church of Arizona

St. Apkar Armenian Apostolic Church was officially consecrated on Sunday, September 20, 2009 by His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese. The other members of the clergy were: His Eminence Archbishop Vatché Hovsepian, Former Primate of the Western Diocese; Rev. Fr. Zacharia Saribekyan, Pastor of St. Apkar; Archpriest Rev. Fr. Manoug Markarian, Pastor of St. John Armenian Church, Hollywood, CA; Deacons Stepan Ovanessoff, George Mangigian and Vahan Manoogian; Sub-Deacons Khachig Jingirian, Sevag Hagopian, Arsen Ovanessoff, Varant Ovanessoff and George Sotiri; and Acolytes Garren Mardirossian, Mardig Najarian, Noubar Manoogian, Peter Touresian, Christopher Touresian, Antranik Hagopian, and Alexander Sarkisian. The Khatchaturian Choir from Los Angeles directed by Deacon Stepan Gozumian, accompanied by Ms. Lena Beylerian of Toronto, sang the Badarak.

Parishioners and guests entered the sanctuary to the beautiful sounds of the violin, played by Phoenix Symphony Violinist Levon Zarasian. Dignitaries in attendance were: The Honorable Jim Lane, Mayor of the City of Scottsdale; Rev. Jan Flaaten, Executive Director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council; Mr. Robbie Sherwood, Executive Director from Congressman Harry Mitchell's Office; Mr. Joseph Kanimian, Chairman of the Diocesan Council; members of the Central Council of the Ladies' Society; Mr. Yeghik Keshishian, Executive Director - Western Region of the Armenian Assembly; and representatives from local chapters of ARS, ARF, AYF, Homenetmen, and the ANC. Dr. Stephen Batalden and Mr. David Brokaw of the ASU Melikian Center were also present.

The Godchildren of St. Apkar each held a candle as they entered the sanctuary. They are: Ani Ehramjian, Armen and Shooshan Kaprelian, Tamar and Arka Mardirossian, Daniella Kaprelian, Rafaella Safarian, Kimberly Artounian, Noubar and Rossleen Manoogian, Stephen and Isabelle Sirounian, Natalie Zarasian, Daron Kuehn, Brad Khnanisho, and Andre Khachaturian Rivera.

The Primate blessed the altar, the two dome crosses, and the 16 crosses that adorn the walls of St. Apkar, which each bear the name of a Godfather. The Godfathers of St. Apkar are: St. Peter - The Hosepian Sisters & Scott and Tricia McWorther; St. Gregory the Illuminator - Mr. & Mrs. Gregory and Emma Melikian; St. Matthew - Mr. Jack Shahbazian, Sr.; St. Mark - Mr. & Mrs. Berj and Victoria Manoogian; St. Luke - Mr. and Mrs. Joseph and Anush Sahakian; St. John - Dr. & Mrs. Thaddeus and Andrea Khachaturian; St. Paul - The Armenian Ladies' Society; St. Thomas - Julia Karam; St. James Alpheus - Dr. & Mrs. Raffy and Mary Safarian; St. James Zebedee - Mr. & Mrs. Berge and Doreen Kaprelian; St. Andrew - Mr. & Mrs. Karekin and Zhanet Kaprelian; St. Phillip - Mr. & Mrs. Jim and Shoushan Shahbazian, Jr.; St. Gregory - Dn. Dr. & Mrs. Stepan and Mariam Ovanessoff; St. Simeon Cananaean - Mr. & Mrs. James and Anna Melikian; St. Bartholomew - The Hye-Ways Group; and St. Thaddeus - The ACYO.

The Consecration ceremonies continued as parishioners, led by the official entourage, went out to the plaza where white doves were released. A delicious luncheon, prepared by the Ladies' Society awaited the congregation, as did a program, introduced by Parish Council Chairman Dn. Jerry Avakian, that featured a heartwarming address by Mayor Lane, speeches by various dignitaries, musical selections by Mr. Varoujan Agnerian, Mssrs. Peter Gharibian and Levon Zarasian on piano and violin respectively, Miss Daniella Kaprelian on piano, the Khatchaturian Choir, and Ms. Lena Beylerian. In honor of her consecration, St. Apkar Church received many monetary gifts which were announced by Mrs. Suzie Grigorians, the Chair of the Fundraising Committee. Their Eminences, Archbishops Hovsepian and Derderian, each gave inspiring words of support for the efforts of the Arizona parish to make the Consecration Day a reality.

U.S. Congressman Harry Mitchell recognized "The Consecration of the First Armenian Church in Arizona" in the Congressional Record. Scottsdale's Mayor, Jim Lane, issued a Proclamation declaring that September 20, 2009 was "Saint Apkar Armenian Church in Arizona Day". Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva issued a Special Congressional Recognition for the Consecration Day. Congratulatory letters were also received from U.S. Senators John McCain and John Kyl, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Arizona Senator Meg Burton-Cahill, Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman; Bishop Minerva G. Carcano of the United Methodist Church; and Holy Virgin Mary & Shoghagat Armenian Church in Belleville, IL.

Two very poignant letters were received and read. The first letter was from much loved Archpriest Rev. Fr. Shahe Altounian and Yeretsgeen Mary Altounian, who reside in Fresno, CA. For a number of years before the Arizona parish's permanent priest arrived, Rev. Fr. Altounian was the visiting clergy and advisor for the parish organizations. He was a frequent contributor to the Jarakite with excerpts from his inspiring books and sermons. His wisdom, experience and genuine love for the parishioners have been long remembered. The second letter was from Yeretsgeen Grace Arakelian, widow of beloved Archpriest Rev. Fr. Levon Arakelian, who for many years was the visiting clergy before Rev. Fr. Altounian. Rev. Fr. Arakelian was the spiritual mentor when the Jarakite was created.

His Eminence Archbishop Derderian recognized individuals for their outstanding contributions to the Arizona Armenian Church with "Hye Spirit" Awards. The following people received medals: Dn. Jerry Avakian for his work on the Building Committee; Ms. Marlene Imirzian for her work on the Building Committee; Mr. John Mardian for his work on the Building Committee; Mr. Artin Knadjian for his work as Church Architect and as the current Hye-Ways Chairman; Mrs. Zhanet Kaprelian for her many years of dedication to the Armenian Language and Sunday School; Mrs. Victoria Manoogian for her many years of dedication using her talent to produce many Church publications including the Jarakite; Dr. & Mrs. Thaddeus & Andrea Khachaturian for their humanitarian work for needy Armenians; and Dr. & Mrs. Raffy & Mary Safarian for their humanitarian work for needy Armenians. Mrs. Donna Sirounian was given an award for many years of dedication using her talent to help promote the events of the Church and as the current editor of Jarakite, which was presented by His Eminence, Archbishop Vatché Hovsepian, as she had been his parishioner in New Jersey.

Abp. Derderian and Rev. Fr. Saribekyan also recognized the following for their service and dedication to the Church: the Godchildren and Godfathers as listed previously in this article; Choirmaster Varouj Agnerian, Organist Mary Safarian and choir members Thomas Boyajian, Luceen Deboreley, Hoory Dikranian, Sylvia Hagopian, Silva Krakoz, Hagop Kazanjian, Berj Manoogian, Laura Matevosyan, Anahid Ovanessoff, Zari Panosian, Joseph Sahakian, Myrna Saraydar, Mary Sayadian, Serop Sayadian and Krikor Vartanessian; Altar Servers: Deacons Jerry Avakian, George Mangigian, Dr. Stepan Ovanessoff and Hratch Panosian; Subdeacons Arsen Ovanessoff, Varant Ovanessoff, George Sotiri and Sevag Hagopian; Acolytes Mardig Najarian, Noubar Manoogian, Tro Panosian, Antranik Hagopian, and Peter and Christopher Touresian. The recognitions continued with Ladies' Society members Jane Allie, Chake Bebekian, Ruth Blake, Laura Gorgorian, Andrea Khachaturian, Shenor Mkrdichian, Mary Sayadian, Djemile Touresian, Gini Topalian, Susan Vartanian and Yeranoohi Zarasian; ACYO leaders Tamar Hagopian and George Sotiri; Mr. and Mrs. Berj and Victoria Manoogian as Founders of Hye-Ways and for their service to St. Apkar; and church construction supervisors Mr. Rafi Hagopian and Mr. Apraham Sarkisian.

The Primate presented gifts in recognition of two ladies that have been indispensible to the parish: Mrs. Suzie Grigorians, Chair of the Consecration Committee and member of the Parish Council, and Ms. Rita Bebekian, the St. Apkar Church and Parish Council Secretary. He concluded his commendations with a call for Jerry Avakian to join him at the podium to give him a special recognition for his contributions as the Parish Council Chairman and as the Choirmaster.

St. Apkar Armenian Apostolic Church structure is complete on the exterior. The dome crosses which were blessed by the Primate, will be installed during a formal ceremony in the coming months. Ongoing fundraising for the interior fit-ups and finishings, including stained glass windows, pews, flooring, and furnishings for the altar, for example, and some items for the exterior plaza level, will continue. Please contact Suzie Grigorians at (480) 545-9089 if you would like further information on available items.

Be sure to see "Home to Dome - Arizona Builds An Armenian Church", a humorous and touching slide presentation of the history of the Arizona Parish and the efforts that led up to consecration day, narrated by Mr. Noubar Manoogian, a high school sophomore whose great uncle, His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, conducted the first Divine Liturgy in Arizona in 1963. The presentation will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 4th right after church services as a highlight of the Armenian Literature Afternoon program by the Hye-Ways Group. Afterwards, it will be posted on the St. Apkar website.

ArmeniaFEST At St. Apkar Armenian Church

Az Central, Arizona Oct 3 2014


Laura Latzko, Special for The Republic

With such gestures as making sure guests never leave their homes hungry or without extra food, the Armenian people express their warm and friendly nature.

Through food, music and dance influenced by longstanding family and cultural traditions, Armenians in the Valley plan to showcase the Armenian character and heritage during ArmeniaFEST on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 4-5.

The event, which started out as a bazaar, has changed over the years with the addition of music and dance performances, local vendors and an Armenian market. Food continues to be at the center of the event.

The event is one of the main fundraisers for the St. Apkar Armenian Apostolic Church of Arizona, a focal point for the Armenian community.

Members from two church groups -- Hye-Ways and the Ladies' Society -- spent weeks preparing food.

Victoria Manoogian, director of public relations and communications for the church and a member of Hye-Ways, said the event provides a unique opportunity to try Armenian foods, including grilled kebab, baklava, stuffed grape leaves known as sarma, dough filled with spinach and cheese known as boereg, a sweet butter cookie called ghourabia, and a dessert prepared with cream cheese and sweet syrup called kunafa.

Before the festival, Manoogian prepared a type of Easter bread known as choereg using a recipe passed down from her grandmother. She said the foods and desserts at the event are prepared according to traditional recipes.

"The food is authentic. It is prepared the way Armenians have for centuries," Manoogian said. "When people come, they will frequently say, 'My grandmother used to make this.' It connects them with their past and revives something in them to want to perpetuate it."

Festival Chairman Hagop Naldjian said the festival gives people outside of the community a hands-on education about the Armenian culture.

"That's the main goal, to share in the culture, the heritage, the flavors of our food, the sounds and the tastes of Armenia," Naldjian said.

The festival continues to grow and expand with the inclusion of new entertainers, including a group of young dancers from the church and dancers from a local Serbian church.

The Erebuni Dance Group, an ensemble from California, returns with 12 to 16 dancers who will perform traditional Armenian dances during the festival. On Sunday, the dance group plans to engage audience members between sets, dancing with them and teaching them steps to folk circle dances.

In Armenian dance styles, females and males often perform different types of dances.

"We have men's dances that are very tribal in nature, where they'll be hitting an Armenian drum. These dances that they do are very masculine, and we have very feminine dances that only the girls do," Manoogian said.

Naldjian said that Armenians share many music and dance traditions with Syrians and Lebanese people.

An art exhibit at the festival will showcase the paintings and sculptures of local Armenian artists.

ArmeniaFEST: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5. St. Apkar Armenian Apostolic Church of Arizona, 8849 E. Cholla St., Scottsdale.

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