A conversation with Ghevond Alishan about the island of St. Lazarus in Venice.
“The situation of Armenians in Russia is comparatively better. There are no massacres or robbery, but because they do not have national schools or Armenian upbringing, their language and culture are in poor condition.
About two years ago, the monastery was visited by the head of the synod of the Russian church (if I recall, it was Pobedonostsev, the chief procurator of the synod). All our brothers honored him and accompanied him everywhere. He inspected our beautiful cathedral, the rich library, Matenadaran, the printing house, the museum…
Finally, in the living room over a cup of coffee, thanking us for our hospitality, this Russian nobleman said:
‘I admire your work, your love, and your patience that you showed to your nation. But, unfortunately, these are vain, purposeless, and weak efforts. Who is this self-sacrifice for? For a small nation scattered all over the world, doomed to extinction? You, Armenians, are constantly subjected to massacres in Turkey. And in Russia, you are condemned to assimilation like the rest of the non-Russian peoples.’
These words made a terrible impression on the fraternity, but Ignatios Kyureghyan calmly replied:
‘The Armenian people have seen much more terrible times, have been subjected to violence, have decreased numerically, but their spirit has remained strong and unbreakable. We rely on God, on the endurance of our people, and on the inscrutable ways of history.’
Then, the monks left the premises unanimously in protest, leaving the high-ranking official and his secretary to return to the pier alone.”
Alishan finished. After a short silence, with a heavy sigh, he held out his hand to me and said:
“Say hello to your faithful Petersburg friends. I am grateful to them for the respect they have for me. Be vigilant, love the Armenian language, Armenia, and each other.”