Welsh Shepherd Does More for Armenian Cause than Most Armenians

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Incredible, but true! Eilian Williams, a shepherd in Wales, has done more in support of the Armenian Cause than most Armenians, despite the fact that he is not related to Armenians by heritage or marriage. For all his good work, he has received no recognition and no appreciation. Most Armenians, except for a small circle in London, are neither aware of his existence nor his selfless efforts.

His first involvement with Armenians began in 1998 when an Armenian acquaintance asked him to arrange for the Armenian Church Choir to perform in Eisteddfod, a Welsh Cultural Festival. This prompted him to form the "Wales Armenia Solidarity" group.

On April 24, 2001, Mr. Williams organized the first Armenian Genocide commemoration in the Temple of Peace, located in Cardiff, Wales. He then succeeded in getting the National Assembly for Wales in October 2002 to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide and organized a special commemorative event in the National Assembly building, which was attended by Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Through his persistent efforts, the Gwynedd County Council in March 2004 became the first municipality in the UK to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

In October 2004, Mr. Williams arranged for the Prime Minister of the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh (Artsakh) to be received by the Presiding Officer (Speaker) of the National Assembly for Wales, thus boosting the legitimacy of Artsakh’s statehood.

Two years later, Mr. Williams was able to persuade the majority of the members of the National Assembly for Wales to support the Assyrian/Armenian Genocide Early Day Motion (EDM).

In January 2007, he organized the Hrant Dink Commemoration in the British Parliament. He also lobbied for the Armenian Genocide Motion in the House of Commons which garnered the signatures of 182 Members of Parliament.

On November 3, 2007, at the inauguration of the Armenian Genocide Monument in Cardiff, which Mr. Williams and John Torosyan helped organize, the Speaker of the National Assembly for Wales made scathing remarks about Turkey. Turkish hooligans tried to disrupt the solemn proceedings; several months later, they desecrated the Genocide Memorial.

Over the years, I had followed with great admiration the unpublicized activities of this "odar" shepherd of Wales. However, I had no direct contact with him until last month, when I received from him the text of a new Early Day Motion that he had submitted to the British House of Commons. The Motion demands that Turkey return the more than 2,000 Armenian, Assyrian and Syriac churches and religious monuments confiscated by the Turkish government after the 1915 Genocide to the jurisdiction of their respective Patriarchates as "a measure of restitution."

The Motion further asks that the British government recognize the fact that these minorities were ethnically cleansed in the years following 1915, as was recently acknowledged by Turkish Prime Minister Rejeb Erdogan. The Motion has so far gained the support of 23 Members of the British Parliament.

This Motion attracted my attention because in recent months, I have been advocating such an initiative through my columns and lectures. I was pleasantly surprised when the Welsh shepherd sent me an e-mail last month informing that he had decided to take this action after reading my columns and particularly the remarks I had delivered at the House of Commons on May 7.

Armenian-Americans should follow the good example set by Mr. Williams and submit a similar resolution to the U.S. Congress. It would be practically impossible for any Member of Congress to oppose a motion that calls for the return of Armenian houses of worship to their rightful owner, the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul. Such a resolution would go beyond the mere acknowledgment of the Genocide, by seeking to restore some of the massive losses suffered by the Armenians.

European Armenians should go even further by filing a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights, seeking a judgment for the immediate return of the churches and religious monuments to the Armenian Patriarchate. It is unconscionable that these Armenian churches -- the ones not yet destroyed -- have been converted to mosques, warehouses and living quarters, and no one is contesting this shameful state of affairs! One can imagine the worldwide outcry if today’s German government were still holding on to a single synagogue that was confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust!

My hat off to Eilian Williams! I only wish that Armenians would emulate the righteous activism of this good shepherd whose efforts deserve proper recognition by the Republic of Armenia, the Church, and Armenians worldwide!