The completion of a 20-year, $1.7 million renovation project at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church culminated Sunday with the consecration and “elevation” of a new cross atop the steeple.

“It was a pretty difficult project because we did the church, the sanctuary, the hall, we did an elevator lift and we all did it ourselves,” said Greg Afarian, who chairs the North Andover church’s board.

The steeple and the cross alone cost about $100,000, Afarian said, and raising money from the community has been difficult.

“We have about a hundred members, as you can imagine, it’s tough to be going to the same people, fundraising especially during these past few years have been difficult,” Afarian said. “We had the gas explosion and now COVID; we did what we could to survive.”

The church was founded in 1970 by survivors and descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Church officials say that Armenians in the area are interested in preserving their identity, which was exemplified by the 3-foot-high, Armenian-style cross that was lifted atop the steeple Sunday.

“We have been persecuted from existence, most of our parishioners came to this country because of the genocide in 1915, that’s how we survived,” Afarian said.

The Armenian Genocide took place over a century ago when the Ottoman Turks massacred more than a million Armenians.

In 2019, the U.S. Senate declared the mass killing a genocide to the chagrin of Turkish officials, who claimed that the U.S. was ruining its relationship with Turkey — a key NATO ally — in doing so, according to The Associated Press.

The Senate vote followed another that imposed sanctions on Turkey after its offensive in Syria and the purchase of a Russian missile system, The Associated Press reported.

The Rev. Stephan Baljian, St. Gregory’s pastor, said Turkey remains an “adamant denier of the Armenian Genocide.”

“We have seen from history that history repeats itself and if we are (not) able to look at crimes from the past, crimes against humanity, and condemn them and come to grips with world history, it’s bound to happen again,” Baljian said.

“We have already seen that in the 20th century, there were several other genocides that happened, including the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Cambodian genocide, these all occurred we believe because there wasn’t enough international condemnation and response to the Armenian Genocide. In fact, Hitler used the Armenian Genocide partly as a justification for invading Poland.”

And Baljian hopes the refurbished church will continue to inspire Armenians to carry on their faith for generations to come.

“It’s a moral encouragement, it’s a figurative culmination or crowning as well in that our people, the people, our community, which is really the most important, would be encouraged and inspired to continue supporting our church and making it their spiritual home,” he said.

 

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