Armenian Church In Swansea Celebrates 50 Years

By Teri Maddox

Belleville News-Democrat, IL
Nov 12 2006

Lisa Bedian drives more than 100 miles round trip to attend services
at Holy Virgin Mary and Shoghagat Armenian Church in Swansea.

She was married by its Armenian Orthodox priest last weekend.

"It’s very important to me personally to keep the Armenian culture
and traditions alive," said Bedian, 49, of St. Charles, Mo., the
granddaughter of Armenian immigrants. "Armenia was the first country
to adopt Christianity (as its national religion) in 301 A.D."

The church is celebrating its 50th anniversary today with a 10
a.m. service and Divine Liturgy by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of
the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.

The service will be followed by a 1 p.m. banquet at the Sheraton Four
Points Hotel in Fairview Heights.

Many church members are descendants of people who survived or died in
what some historians call an "Armenian genocide" that peaked during
World War I, when Armenia was ruled by Ottoman Turks. Hundreds of
thousands of non-Muslims were killed.

"My mother was a survivor," said 50th anniversary committee chairwoman
Zabelle Vartanian, 65, of Belleville. "My father was already (in the
United States)."

Vartanian’s parents were founding members of the church, organized in
East St. Louis in 1956. The Swansea building was consecrated in 1978.

Today, the church has about 100 members from throughout the St. Louis
region. That includes recent Armenian immigrants escaping political
unrest and religious persecution in Azerbaijan.

"For the Armenian community, this church is a lifeline," said
Vartanian, a school counselor. "It’s our religious home. It’s our
cultural home."

The church is led by the Rev. Abraham Ohanesian, who commutes from
Detroit two weekends a month.

"I fly in on Saturday and visit families, take care of issues and
get the altar ready for the Sunday service," he said.

On Saturday evening, the church dedicated a khachkar (stone cross).

It will be surrounded by a memorial garden, where people can meditate
and remember genocide victims.

The 6-by-3-foot cross was handcarved in Armenia out of native stone.

"It’s a true piece of art," Vartanian said. "It’s gorgeous."

Holy Virgin Mary and Shoghagat Armenian Church is at 400 Huntwood
Road in Swansea, near Wolf Branch schools. Today’s celebration will
include remarks by U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello. For more information,
call Vartanian at 398-4302.

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