Rev. Markarian’s ‘The Thirsty Enemy’: A Story Of War, Faith And Pass

By Ed Ackerman

Dec 5th, 2009 and filed under Book Review, Reviews.

PARAMUS, NJ-A rocket propelled grenade slams into the terrace outside
of the bedroom window of the apartment he and his wife share in West
Beirut, Lebanon. It makes a much louder sound than the routine gunfire
to which they’ve become accustomed.

A half-dozen members of a Communist militia group, all brandishing
AK 47s, pound on the door in the middle of the night. This scene is
repeated over and over throughout a seven-year period, with armed
militia representing the Mourabitoun, Saiqua, Druze, Fatah, Kurds,
PPS (Partie Populaire Syrienne) and Syrian army. One night, a group
storms in with fixed bayonets, their leader ripping the phone line
out of the wall and threatening their lives.

Abu Abed, a powerfully built militia leader nearly as broad as he is
tall, with a .45 on each hip, who speaks with a mechanical voice box
because his own was lost in battle, becomes an ally in smuggling tons
of food through armed blockades in order to feed thousands of refugees.

These are just some of the events which make the book "The Thirsty
Enemy" read like an adventure novel.

But "The Thirsty Enemy" is not a novel. It is a memoir, the life
story of John Markarian, of West Pittston, Pa.

Markarian, the 92-year-old retired college president and ordained
Presbyterian minister who occasionally preaches at First United
Presbyterian Church on Exeter Avenue, West Pittston, has resided in
that community with his wife Inge since 1987.

According to the book’s cover, "The Thirsty Enemy" is "a story in
which a growing faith in God and awareness of purpose in life meet
to form the adventure. The primary setting for the book is the city
of Beirut. It tells about the beginning steps in the creation of an
institute of higher learning and finds its theme in seven years of war,
giving a drink to the thirsty enemy."

Electing to remain in Beirut for the purpose of protecting Haigazian
College (now University), of which he was founding president, John
Markarian and Inge manage to survive a seven-year period of war,
during which life was cheap on the streets of West Beirut, by inviting
groups most would label "terrorists" to sit down and talk over coffee.

Markarian, who has a doctorate in theology, took inspiration from an
Old Testament proverb and repeated in the New Testament Epistle of
Paul to the Romans: "If your enemy is hungry, give him something to
eat, if he is thirsty give him a drink for by so doing you will heap
burning coals upon his head."

Interwoven throughout the book are Markarian’s personal memories of
growing up as a son of a pastor, being trained in a family member’s
Oriental rug business, working as an accountant for a public utility,
graduating with two degrees from Lafayette College and then from
Princeton Theological Seminary and of, in 1955, accepting a challenge
to launch a new university program in Beirut.

It was the Armenian Evangelical Church that invited Markarian, at
the time in his ninth year of teaching at Lafayette, also the alma
mater of his father and two older brothers, to launch a new university
program in Beirut for the purpose of training leaders for the Armenian
Evangelical Church in the Near East. His first and founding presidency
of Haigazian College ended in 1966. He served as Dean of the Chapel
and Chairman of the Religion Department at Central College in Pella,
Iowa, for three years, returning to Beirut in 1969 to become Director
of Development and Professor at the Near East School of Theology. He
returned to the helm of Haigazian College in 1971 and retired in 1982.

The Markarians returned to the United States residing in Los Angeles
from 1982 until 1987 when they moved to Pennsylvania. At 92, John
Markarian is an avid tennis player and golfer.

"The Thirsty Enemy" (pb, 450 pp, Item #335) is published by The
Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), headquartered at
31 W. Century Road, Paramus, NJ. Each copy of the book is $22.95. To
order, Please contact the AMAA at 201.265.2607, E-mail: [email protected]
or visit the website