Monday, 14 October

New Book Sheds Light on 1933 Murder of Archbishop Tourian and Church Split



A new book by Terry Phillips sheds new light on the split within the Armenian Apostolic Church, pitting the Catholicosates of Etchmiadzin and Cilicia, that claimed the life on Archbishop Ghevont Tourian in 1933. "I would like to speak in Armenian, but I don't know the language that well. But I know the most important adage in Armenian - Sit crooked, but talk straight." These are the words author Terry Phillips spoke at the March 31 reception to launch his new book "Murder at the Altar" at the Artbridge coffee house. This is the first book to take a comprehensive look at the assassination of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian that took place in the Holy Cross Church in the Washington Heights section of New York on December 24, 1933. Archbishop Tourian was stabbed as he walked down the church aisle during Sunday Liturgy services by members of the ARF. Nine ARF (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) members were arrested for the murder. Two were to be sentenced to death, including the person, the secretary of the New York ARF chapter, who did the actual stabbing. None however were sentenced for the crime and were eventually set free. Even the ARF secretary proclaimed his innocence before the court. Mr. Phillips encouraged everyone to get a copy of the book to find out the facts of the case and ensuing trial. Mr. Phillips recounted that the murder of the clergyman made all the New York papers of the day but that the U.S. government found itself in a quandary when it came to accusing the individuals since they were members of the ARF and opposed to the Soviet Union. Thus, the case had evident political overtones to it. "Not only did American-Armenians misunderstand the Soviet Union, but so did the West in general," commented Mr. Phillips. He stated that the ARF, till this day, denies that it ever handed down such a directive to kill Archbishop Tourian. Armenian on his mother's side and Greek on his father's, Mr. Phillips says he wrote the book because this was one of the first stories he heard as a child. "But this isn't just an Armenian story. It is a human tragedy of universal proportions. It is a human story of violence; when humans seek to resolve political or religious matters through murder. This is the case all over. This is why I decided to write the book," noted Mr. Phillips. While the book is based on cold facts, Mr. Phillips confesses that he has taken some liberties. For instance, alongside of real characters he has invented a number of names as well. "I made a difficult choice, whether to write a fictional novel or an historical treatise. As a reporter, it is hard to write a book of fiction. I must say that everything here is fact. Where I've invented characters in the book I've noted this to the readers. Such names are quite few in number. If I had written in the style of a reporter many would have said - you are mistaken. A novel is much more widely received. I believe there is much truth even in a book of fiction," stated the author. Mr. Phillips considers the present split within the Armenian Apostolic Church, between the historical Sees of Etchmiadzin and Cilicia, to be a political matter. "When I ask clergymen they say that there are no essential religious differences between the two, that it's a political problem. I chose to study the situation 75 years after the event because nothing has changed. We still have a divided church 75 years later. But there is no real reason for the conflict to continue. Most importantly, many Armenians, especially the youth, don't know the history behind the conflict. I believe that for the wound to heal we must understand what actually took place. Hiding the truth is the most is the worst thing that can be done when we are faced with a problem. In the book you won't find accusations directed against individuals, just the facts. I think we have matured enough over the past 75 years to confront these truths," Mr. Phillps opined. During the five years it took to research the book Mr. Phillips also tried to contact the Armenian Church, specifically Etchmiadzin. He received no response from the church. "It took me a full year to actually sit down and write the book. I was in a daze when I finally finished it and I must say that I am very pleased with the result," concluded the author. He plans to translate the book into other languages as well - Armenian, French, Russian. In his words - "the languages of all those countries where Armenians live".

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