Three Armenian professors, Krikor Peshtimaljian, Apisoghom Eutudjian and Hovhannes Der
Sahagian, who taught at the seminary that was run by the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, were concerned about the stagnant and dormant state of the Armenian Church, and greatly alarmed by the lack
of biblical knowledge among the lay people. To remedy this tragic situation, in 1834 they established “The Society of the Pious” whose primary aim was to reform the church and disseminate the truths
the Gospel among the Armenians. Patriarch Stepan Ahavni was in favor of religious reform, but he failed to take positive steps because he was afraid of the wealthy and influential “Amiras” (Armenians
who had amassed wealth through trade or by holding a high office in the Ottoman Empire). The self-serving “Amiras” wanted to maintain the status quo because it gave them the privilege of controlling
all the affairs of the church. In 1844, Archbishop Matteos Choohajian was elected Patriarch. Unfortunately, he was determined
to crush the religious reform movement by resorting to harsh tactics. He removed from office all the parish priests who were sympathetic to the reform movement, and excommunicated the reformers after
labeling them as heretics in an official encyclical. On July 1,1846, at the Pera Church in Istanbul, the reformers who
had been expelled from the church by the Patriarch,announced the organization of a new church which they proudly named, “Hayasdaniatz Avedaranagan Yegeghetsi,” i.e., “The Evangelical Church of
Armenia.” Among the pioneers of the Armenian Evangelical Reform movement were three women and three Armenian priests: Der Vertanes Yeznakian, Der Haroutyoun Baghdasarian and Der Kevork
Kevorkian. Later on,bishops Aghayan, Garabedian and Hagopian, from the Armenian Saint James Monastery of Jerusalem, joined the ranks of the courageous reformers. The forward momentum of the
Armenian Evangelical Reform Movement could no longer be restrained. On November 27, 1850, Sultan Abdul-Majid, conferred on the
Armenian Evangelicals the coveted title of a “Millet,” allowing them to function as a full-fledged community within the confines of the Ottoman Empire. Stepan Seropian had the unique distinction of
being elected as the first community leader of the Armenian Evangelicals. It is important to note that he was the brother of Patriarch Hagopos Seropian, the
predecessor of Patriarch Choohajian. It is interesting to point out how two brothers held diametrically opposed ideas. To
provide an impetus for the
propagation of the Gospel message, the Armenian Evangelicals undertook the task of translating the Bible from Classical Armenian into modern Armenian, established Sunday Schools, founded Bible
Colleges and sent preachers to every city, town and village where Armenians resided. Even the most remote hinterlands of Anatolia were reached by the dedicated evangelists who emphasized that the
Gospel must be the center of the Christian faith. The
response of the Armenian population to the Gospel message was so overwhelming, that within the span of one generation, the number of Evangelical Armenians living under Turkish rule swelled to 50,000.
Unfortunately, the Genocide of 1915 and the massacres that preceded it in 1909 decimated the Armenian Evangelical community by wiping out 85% of its members.Realizing the importance of education in improving the quality of life, the Evangelical Armenians established a network of schools
throughout Western Armenia and Cilicia, in order to make higher education accessible to young Armenian men and women. The survivors of the Genocide did not lose their vision and perpetuated the
legacy of their martyred forebears by establishing scores of new schools, the most famous of which is Haigazian College/University in Beirut, Lebanon. During the fifty years of its existence, this
venerable institution of higher learning has graduated thousands of young people who have consequently acquired responsible positions of leadership in the communities of the Armenian
Diaspora. On June 7, 1918, the Armenian Missionary Association of America (A.M.A.A.) was born to provide moral and
financial assistance to Armenian refugees who had miraculously survived the Genocide and the brutal deportations.
Today, the umanitarian,educational,cultural and religious ministry of this marvelous
organization encircles the globe by funding schools, clinics, hospitals, orphanages, summer camps for the youth,soup kitchens for the elderly, and Christian publications both in our beloved
Motherland, Armenia, and throughout the Diaspora. The A.M.A.A. continues to respond to every disaster, whether natural or man-made, that affects the Armenian nation.
The Armenian Evangelicals have promoted a Christian lifestyle, inculcated moral
principles in the minds of their students, emphasized the need for having highly educated clergy and lay people, and implanted a deep love for the Armenian nation in the hearts of their constituent
members. No one can cast the slightest doubt on the unblemished record of the Evangelical Armenians’ dedicated service to their
nation. Rev. Dikran Antreassian, an Armenian Evangelical minister, organized the Armenian heroic resistance at Mousa Dagh; Adoor Levonian, an Evangelical Armenian, was one of the organizers of the
Armenian self-defense in Aintab; and
Soghomon Tehlirian, a member of the Armenian Evangelical community, assassinated Tala’at Pasha, one of the three Turkish butchers who had planned
the Armenian Genocide.
While we celebrate the 160th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian
Evangelical Church, I would like to recall what Stepan Seropian, the first leader of our community had said to the Turkish Sultan back in 1850: “By race, we are Armenians; by
religion,Christians; by confession, Evangelicals.” The passage of time, since that momentous event in our history, has not changed our identity, has not derailed our mission, has not dimmed our
vision, and has not diminished our zeal.