“There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.” Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
By Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian
According to a recent press release, The Armenian National Committee of America- Western Region (ANCA-WR) has decided to bestow the Khrimian Hayrig Award upon His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America. The event is scheduled to take place at ANCA-WR’s 2019 Annual Gala Banquet on Sunday, October the 20th, 2019. As we all know, the Khrimian Hayrig Award is a prestigious accolade to merit. Frankly, the announcement was surprising to me since Arch. Hovnan Derderian has been embroiled in a controversy involving serious allegations of misconduct. I said to myself: What if today’s “Accused Angel” would become tomorrow’s “Fallen Angel”, should the allegations prove to be unyielding?
Like most of you, I am a concerned Diaspora Armenian. Unlike a lot of my fellow countrymen, I am not a member of the vast silent majority. Therefore, I would like to comment on some of the implications of honoring a person who is currently accused of serious allegations. I am neither for nor against any Armenian Orthodox Clergyman. In fact, I have great respect and admiration of our decent, hardworking Armenian clergymen in Armenia, Artsakh and in the Diaspora. I have no proof of any one’s wrongdoings. Therefore, lynching would be a sin in my book of scruples. However, a number of Armenian media (i.e., news papers, magazines, TV, etc.), notably The USA Armenian Life Magazine and its Armenian Hye Kiank edition have published a considerable number of letters to the editor, commentaries, and articles, alleging the wrongdoings of some of our high-ranking clergymen of the Armenian Orthodox Church. More specifically, several individuals have been accused of misconduct. Among them is Arch. Hovnan Derderian. This is not a case of a fictitious Lucifer being banished from heaven. Rather, we should be careful not to politicize Khrimian Hayrig’s Award by giving it to anyone whose morality is under the scrutiny of a large section of the public. We should neither condemn him nor honor him at this stage of his embattlement. As you may know, the civilization of the Western World has benefited from the Roman legacy of the humane law of “Being innocent until proven guilty.” Keeping in mind that principle of being innocent until proven guilty, I would like to discuss some of the implications of honoring a person with the Khrimian Hayrig Award, whose designated recipient is currently accused of serious allegations. The Risk of Condoning. We shall all heed the caveat that honoring an accused person of wrongdoings prematurely would insinuate condoning the alleged malfeasance. It would imply pardon of an offense(s) by treating of the offender as if it had not been committed. Condoning may mean approval of the accused person and his or her conduct. It has dangerous implications. The wrongdoer feels protected and thus continues to abuse his or her power. In the end society suffers from the political act of ANC-WR of prematurely honoring Arch. Derderian. The Morality Reasoning. The decision to honor Arch. Derderian could also be considered a moral question. What would be the long- term consequences to society if we were to make this radical break from objective reasoning and engage in strictly subjective conclusions and choices? This commentary hinges on moral reasoning whether it is right to not only condone or forgive, but to honor an allegedly accused sinner with the highest award the Armenian society cherishes to confer upon a clergyman. The Armenian society has suffered many a tragedy, but it has always tried to keep its sense of dignity and moral reasoning very high. We are all proud of their stand on high ground, especially when it comes to religious matters. Therefore, we must continue that tradition by postponing the dishing out the Khrimian Hayrig Award for any political reasons other than based on solid meritorious basis. Devaluation of the Award. It has been stated that the Khrimian Hayrig Award represents an acknowledgement of great service and love of Armenian people by a spiritual, religious leader. Ruth Bedevian called Catholicos Megrdich Khrimian in her article “Loving Father to All Generations”, who was “…the personification of love”. The first recipient of the award in 2011 was Arch. Moushegh Mardirossian, The Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America for dedicating his life in service to the Armenian nation and cause. Two other recipients of this award have been Arch. Parkev Martirosyan, Primate of the Diocese of Artsakh and to Reverend Joseph D. Matossian, Minister to the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America. However, when the Khrimian Hayrig Award is granted to the wrong person, in the perception of the followers of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the honor, the value of the award may very well be compromised. They would feel that it is being bestowed upon “evil” as well as “righteous” clergymen without any distinction. We should be careful not to trivialize the namesake of the award. The Khrimian Hayrig Award would no longer serve as a coveted accolade to distinguish a meritorious clergyman from a deadwood charlatan who pursues personalized gains. Confusion of the New Generation. Our new generation is Armenia’s future. We should safeguard what we leave to them as a legacy. They should be proud that their elders had been careful in evaluating clergymen on ethical standards by observing the distinction between religious leaders and true spiritual leaders. Doubts of misjudgment may arise in the minds of our new generation. Those who are accused of serious wrongdoings are not being differentiated from those who uphold democracy, family values, ethical conduct, and the use of socialized power to benefit others, to benefit the Armenian nation. We cannot afford to lose the respect of our new generation who will steer the destiny of our nation. Anomie of the Faithful. When lack of the usual social or ethical standards are perceived in the selection of an individual or group leads to anomie in the followers of the Armenian Church. A plausible consequence would be that the followers of the Armenian Orthodox Church may very well lose interest in the Church that still keeps clergymen accused of grave mistakes, clergymen who engage in dubious behavior who are, nevertheless, honored by society. Membership in churches around the world is dwindling. Armenian churches are no exception; therefore, we should always make an effort not to alienate members of our age-long houses of worship. Award Revocation. What happens when the recipient of the ward is later found guilty of all charges? Will the award be revoked? The implication is obvious: the act would be humiliating to both the recipient and the donors of the award. It also would reflect very negatively on the donors for not screening their recipient in advance to see if the person really merited this prestigious award. We do not want ANCA-WR to lose face in engaging in a socially discrepant act. The Fallen Angel Lucifer. In Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious traditions, a fallen angel, like Lucifer, is an angel who rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven. Against the backdrop of increasing controversy about the wrongdoings of Arch. Derderian, some consider that he personifies a fallen angel. Many people have questioned the rush to judgment: How can an accused angel win Khrimian Hayrig Award? It is mind boggling, to say the least. Height of hypocrisy is attained when honoring an accused “angel, as a spiritual leader, a man of God for an award. Arch. Derderian is caught in a precarious situation. He is caught between the devil and the blue sea: He is accused of wrongdoings and yet he has not even attempted to clear his reputation. He has victimized himself for not taking into serious consideration the implications of the betrayal of silence, namely silence indicates being guilty of the charges. I wanted to share with my fellow Armenian Orthodox Church members that it would be grave mistake to honor a suspect who is accused of serious allegations of misconduct. Once the accused clears his or her reputation, then and then only it would be appropriate to honor the person. To honor a person in the middle of a controversy is not only a social mistake, but also a moral issue that borders on the use of political expediency. I hope and pray that Arch. Derderian will soon stand up and refute the allegations one by one. In sum, we have modern legends like General Antranik Ozanian, General Karekin Nedjde, Komitas (pseudonym of Soghomon Soghomonian) — just to cite a few, and Mgrdich Khrimian Hayrig is of the same caliber of personality and character as the preceding notable Armenians who devoted their lives in serving the Armenian nation. Arch. Derderian is not exactly like the object of the “The Adoration of the Magi” (the Magi, the three kings, bestowing baby Jesus with adoration and gifts and recognizing him as a king). Let us not forget that he is the “Adoration of ANCA-WR’s Accused Angel”. The two are like the whale and the elephant, worlds apart, and currently seem not to share any of the same virtues. And so, please, let us not depart from being objective and alienate a lot of Armenian Orthodox Church members who have always been proud of their Christian heritage founded on solid grounds.
Dr. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian’s research interests lie in social and behavioral sciences. During his academic career, he has published hundreds of articles and hundreds of editorials in refereed journals and has received over 35 best article/author awards for his research studies. Dr. Demirdjian distinguishes himself as being more than a top-notch scholar, he has an extensive track record in consulting various profit and not-for-profit organizations spanning over twenty-five years. Excellence to most is an end; to him, it is an elusive target to pursue in his each and every professional endeavor. His recent books include Perspectives in Consumer Behavior: An Anthropological Approach; The Demon in Diplomacy: Alliances Based on Affinity (on U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide); Challenges and Opportunities in a Changing World: Insights, Innovations, and Trends ; The Triangle of Trade in the Cradle of Civilization (proving Armenia as being a constituent member of the ancient nations in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization); The Viability of a Worldwide Armenian Organization; Challenges and Opportunities in Exponential Times; Perspectives on Armenian Prospects; and The Dynamics of Organizing a Diaspora. Currently he is publishing two books: Armenia: the Land of Dreams (about the past, present, and the future of Armenia and the Armenians) and Armenia: Pathways to Progress, Science and Technology: Hopes on the Horizon, etc.