This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – the brutal killing and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire over a five year period starting in April, 1915.

While Christians in the Middle Eastern nation of Armenia and all around the world are pausing to commemorate the horrific events of a century ago, one group of Australians are hoping that, as well as marking a 100 years since the genocide, 2015 will also be remembered for ushering in a new wave of unity among the Armenian church.

CHRISTIANITY, OLD AND NEW: Above: The 13th century Noravank Monastery, and, below, part of the complex of buildings of the Etchmiadzin Apostolic Church, administrative headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church today. PICTURES: Courtesy of Jonathan Gould

"(W)e just felt a call to come alongside them and invite them to come together in prayer…It’s very much a support role this time and we’re just facilitating and hosting these events to bring pastors and leaders together and also to train their people in how to pray for their cities, church and nation.”

- Jonathan Gould

The Australians will be among a group of about 20 people, which also includes people from the US and other nations, who in September will spend just under two weeks hosting and facilitating a series of events in the country, culminating in a national prayer breakfast in the capital of Yerevan – all with the aim of encouraging a new sense of oneness among the church.

Jonathan Gould, a pastor from Brisbane who, along with fellow pastor Ben Gray – leader of Brisbane-based CHI-Ministries, is organising the initiative which is being run in conjunction with the Australian Prayer Network. He says the idea came about following a prayer tour by a group of about 30 people, most of them Australians, to the country last September.

“We have a track record of about once a year of taking teams all throughout North Africa and the Middle East and the Lord put Armenia very much into our focus – we didn’t know at the time that it was approaching the 100th anniversary of the genocide,” he says.

While Mr Gould says they only spent a few days in Armenia on that trip, "there was a real sense of the Christian foundations of that land which have, in some sense, gone to ruin because of all that’s happened with the issues of bitterness surrounding the genocide and then communism suppressing a whole generation from worshipping God".

“(W)e just felt a call to come alongside them and invite them to come together in prayer...It’s very much a support role this time and we’re just facilitating and hosting these events to bring pastors and leaders together and also to train their people in how to pray for their cities, church and nation.”

Mr Gould says while Armenia – where churches include the Armenian Apostolic Church as well as various smaller denominations - was the “first Christian nation” thanks to the evangelising work of St Gregory the Illuminator in the early fourth century, church attendance is now only around three per cent.

Mr Gould says life has been hard for Armenians since the collapse of communism, which deeply affected the country’s economy, and noted the sense of isolation in the country, particularly given their geographic location wedged between Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, but adds that “in the midst of it they have their faith”.

He points to American Armenian Demos Shakarian’s book The Happiest People on Earth, in which Mr Shakarian, the founder of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International which he says paints a detailed picture of the hope Armenians have as a result of their Christian faith. 

“There’s a simplicity and purity of that land which reminds me of, say the UK in the Fifties or here in the Sixties of Seventies. So, although things are hard, it’s very much built on a Christian foundation.”

Mr Gould describes the genocide of the early 20th century as an “open wound” among Armenians but says Christians have been involved in bringing about reconciliation between Turkish and Armenian people over the past decade or so.

“These things, they may have happened a very long time ago, but people carry them very much in their hearts and there’s a whole aspect of generational sins that are passed down. And so, for the Armenians, they really need help to handle the bitterness because it’s turned them away from God..." he says.

Mr Gould hopes the trip will help to bring unity to Christians in the nation so they can then reach out to the nations around them. 

“There’s a mission calling on that nation – they have an open door into Iran and they’re welcome into Iran...(but) at the moment they’re so locked up in their hurt and their needs...There’s a lot of division in that country but…if we can unite them in prayer for that land then we can begin to build a sense of working together and looking more outward.”

He hopes Australians will get behind the initiative in prayer, saying that while the group travelling to Armenia will be sitting down with pastors and talking about unity and praying together, it is crucial that the activity is “undergirded by the prayer movement we represent here”.

“So we’re looking to stir hearts and raise up prayer,” he says. “If people want to donate to support the cost of events, they’re welcome to do so. But it’s prayer we’re looking for.”

www.prayarmenia.net