Ara Palamoudian, Chairman of Armenian Community & Church Council of

Interview of Ara Palamoudian, Chairman of the Armenian Community &
Church Council of Great Britain, with `Greetings London’ internet
Newsletter and Website:

Greetings London:

In most of our smaller communities in the Diaspora, the setup of the
Churches, around which the community structures are constructed,
typically consist of a democratically elected Diocesan Council
(Temagan Khorhourt) comprising of lay delegates and clerical
delegates, and an Administrative Council (Varchagan Khorhourt). What
is the setup here in our community and why?
What are the responsibilities and role of the Communal and Church
Council and how is it formed? To whom do they answer?

Mr. Ara Palamoudian Chairman of the ACCC
I would like to answer your first two questions together:
One needs to know the structure of each of the three Armenian churches
that function in the UK so as to understand the current structure of
the Community.

The oldest of the three churches is the Holy Trinity Church of
Manchester. The church is owned by a Charity Trust but is managed by a
Committee of Wardens who are elected by the members of the community
in Manchester and surrounding areas. The Trust is autonomous and
whilst the church functions under the jurisdiction of the Holy See of
Etchmiadzin, the Trust and trustees have full rights and control over
the church property and assets.

The St Sarkis Church in Iverna Gardens, in Kensington is also owned
and governed by a Charity Trust which was set up by the Benefactor,
Calouste Gulbenkian. The trustees are not elected by the community,
and any new trustee is invited into office by the exsting trustees. A
trustee can remain in office for life. The trustees are not answerable
to anyone for their decisions, and have full control of the St Sarkis
Church property and its other assets. The Trust has its own capital
and also receives contributions from the `St Sarkis Trust’ which is
another Charity Trust set up by Mr Gulbenkian.

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s, there was a large influx of
Armenians mainly from Cyprus and Iran, and some other Middle Eastern
areas, and the community number rose to a few thousands, and the
Community Council of the time felt there was the need for a church
managed by the community, for the community. They therefore decided to
lease a church building from the Church of England, initially in St
Johns Wood and later the St Peters Church in Cranley Gardens,
Kensington. The Community Council was renamed the `Community and
Church Council of Great Britain’
(ACCC) and so as to fund the running expenses of the community’s
church and also all the other functions carried out by the ACCC, a
community `community contribution’ was introduced. So as not to create
the burden of a `compulsory levy’ upon the community, the community
contribution has always been a voluntary one. Naturally it is hoped
that every adult member of the community would recognise his or her
responsibility and make the minimal payment which is currently £20 per

For some 20 years the community leased the St Peters Church for a
nominal rental from the Church of England. The church building was
aged and in need of extensive renovation which the community could not
afford. Luckily, the well known benefactor, Mr Vatche Manoukian, came
forward and purchased the property from the Church of England and
renovated the church to the splendid standard which it is in today,
and having renamed and re-consecrated it the `St Yeghiche Church’, Mr
Manoukian made the church available again to the ACCC for the
community’s church services.

Mr Manoukian etablished a Trust to look after the building of the
church and we are most grateful to him that apart from providing the
church building, his Trust also pays all the maintenance expenses of
the church building such as cleaning, heating and electricity. I must
stress that although the Manoukian Trust maintains the church
property, it does not in any way involve itself with the running or
management of the church in its eclesiastical sense, which is the
responsibility of the ACCC. That is to say, the ACCC is responsible
for the functioning of the community’s church and responsible for
paying for its clergymen and all other church functioning expenses.

I read the Editorial Column of your issue which was published last
Thursday, 19th November, and the impression you give about St Yeghiche
may be inaccurately construed. Whilst the St Yeghiche church building
does belong to the Manoukian Trust, Mr Vatche Manoukian has remained
faithful to his word when he purchased the building, and he has
returned the free use of the church to the Armenian Community & Church
Council, and the ACCC has full and complete authority over the
management of the community’s church. Naturally, as with all churches,
in all acclesiastical matters, the church and its clergymen are under
the direction of the Primate of the Armenian churches in the U.K.

Speaking about the St Yeghiche Church, I may have agreed with your
arguments in your Editorial had the situation been that the Manoukian
Trust appointed the church pastor and became involved in the
management of the `church’ in its `ecclesiastical’ sense, however,
clearly that is not the case, and I am convinced also, that it was
never Mr Manoukian’s intention for it to be so. We are most fortunate
and grateful to the benefactor for free use of the church building –
with heating, cleaning and lighting all paid for – the ACCC does not
receive financial support from Mr
Manoukian for the management of the church and it is up to the ACCC to
find the funds to pay for our share of the Primate’s stipend, the
pastor for church services and all other church running expenses,
which, by the way, amount to about £45,000 per year. The ACCC has no
hidden sources of funding and unless every member of the community who
attends the community’s church and makes use of its services, pays the
small annual contribution request of them, then the community’s church
and the other functions organised by the ACCC for the community could
continue to be maintained. To support the ACCC is a community duty,
and I would like to appeal to every member of our community not to
neglect their responsibilities.

The structure of the ACCC is as follows:

Every four years those members of the community who have registered
themselves with the ACCC and have paid their Community Contribution
elect seventeen persons to serve on the Community’s Council.

The Council appoints its Executive Committee which normally comprises
some members from the Council together with volunteer members of the
community. The Executive Committee is entrusted with the day to day
business of the community and it is responsible for the proper
functioning of the community’s church, collection of the Community
Contributions, etc. To assist the Executive in its duties, the
Executive appoints various sub committees and the unsual ones are (a)
The Church and Pastoral Committee, (b) the ACCC’s Ladies Committee,
(c) the Heritage and
Cultural Committee, (d) Community Contribution and Membership
Committee and (e) the `e’ Committee which deals with Information
Technology and has just assumed responsibility for the ACCC’s new

Apart from its responsibility for the functioning of the community’s
church, the ACCC also deals with all matters in the interest of the
community. The ACCC has a close interest upon the K. Tahta Armenian
Community Sunday School which was started by the ACCC and the ACCC
appoints the school’s trustees. We also, pursue all matters of
national interest such as campaigning for recognition of the Armenian
Genocide and also of course we do all we can within our limited
resources to support and maintain relationships with Armenia and the
Armenian Embassy in London.

You will see that the structure of the ACCC is very much in the lines
of the `Diocesan Structure’ you describe in your first question,
although its remits are much wider since it functions as a universal
representative body of the British Armenian community, and within its
sphere of responsibilities is of course included the community’s

The Armenian Community & Church Council is the only body which is
democratically elected by the registered members of the community, and
naturally, as in all democratic systems, the Council is answerable to
its electors, the community. Every registered and contribution paying
member of the community is entitled to question the actions of the
Council and is entitled to exercise his or her democratic right to
elect the Council and also to stand for election to membership of the
Council. All the rules and regulations are clearly defined in the
Constitution of the ACCC and a copy can be emailed to anybody who asks
for it by emailing [email protected].

What are the main problems and concerns that the C and C council has,
taking into account the multicultural and multiethnic country in which
we live?
We are extremely fortunate to be an ethnic minority in the United
Kingdom since as you say, we live in a multicultural and multiethnic
State and as British Armenians, we enjoy complete freedom to cultivate
our ethnic culture and traditions and to enjoy freedom of speech and
worship. Concerns naturally exist, as in all similar societies
throughout the World, about dangers of assimilation and gradual loss
of our national identity and culture.

The widespread use of English and parallel to that the dwindling
numbers of adults and young persons who use Armenian in their homes
and in between themselves is a worrying trend. What are we doing to
stem the tide? Are the measures we have taken effective?
The concern you express about the diminishing use of the Armenian
language within the younger generations is a most serious one and the
problem exists throughout the World except in Armenia. Communities in
countries where the national culture and religion has been vastly
differing to ours, for example in non-christian societies, the
Armenian community has had the need to congregate around its church,
schools and clubs, and the use of the language has been somewhat
preserved. However, as we all know, in the USA and Europe, the battle
is being gradually lost due to
the pressures of modern life, and indeed, even the need for advanced
levels of education which can only be obtained in the language of the
host country.

I cannot accept any argument put forward in the lines that in larger
Armenian communities, there are flourishing Armenian schools. Firstly,
even the students of those schools turn to speaking English, French
etc as soon as they are outside the school gates, and secondly, I am
aware of only one or two educational establishments which teach to
University level. Therefore, of necessity, every young Armenian must
be profficient in the language of the host country and therefore also
of necessity, Armenian will inevitably be the young person’s second
language. Most regretably, my
opinion is that we must reconcile ourselves to these realities.
However am not saying that we should succumb to these pressures, but
must do our utmost that our children become either bi-lingual or at
least attain a satisfactory command of Armenian as their second
language, and I am convinced that however hard we try to teach the
Armenian language in our full-time schools and Saturday or Sunday
schools, there is the absolute need to instil withing the young person
the Armenian identity, and that can be achieved only by our youth
spending time in Armenia as young
students, charity workers, in summer camps especially arranged for the
youth, etc. I am certain that the whole mindframe of a young Armenian
changes and he or she assumes pride in being Armenian once he or she
visits Armenia and witnesses the fact that everything around him or
her is `Armenian’, and that it is OK to be `Armenian’ and to be proud
of being one.

In reply to the final part of your question, the measures taken thus
far have not been fully effective for the reasons I have stated, but
they were the best possible under the circumstances. Now that Armenia
is freely accessible, I am optimistic that the tide will gradually
turn and our younger generations, because of their contact with
Armenia, will want to be bi-lingual, and indeed, also more energetic
and active members of the Armenian community, wherever they live.

In London, we have branches of nearly all our national organisations:
cultural, spiritual and political. How would you characterise the
relationship of these organisations with the Council? And how would
you assess their work?
The Council not only wishes to encourage the activities of all
Armenian organisations, but we would be very happy to maintain good
relations with all of them and to assist if at all possible. The
Council is elected democratically by the community and therefore any
person with whatever political conviction could be elected to serve in
the Council. The Council is non-political, and it represents all the
members of the community without discrimination. As you say, there are
a number of political organisations, cultural and charitable
organisations, and also religious, and if their work is for the
benefit of the community, then we wish them well. It is our duty to
support and encourage and respect all, and we
hope that the courtesy would be reciprocated.

Just recently, Turkish President Gul, the president of a country
occupying a fellow EU state, Cyprus, the president of a country
repressing all kinds of civil liberties and so on and so forth, was
honoured and awarded a prize for his alleged work in promoting
international relations. Yet not a single cry of protest was made by
us. How do you explain this and do you justify our silence?
The ACCC is mandated to look after the interests of the British
Armenian Community and in that capacity we pursue the generally
accepted issues which interest the Armenian Nation in general and
British Armenian community in particular.

Although, quite a sizable community, our community has not managed to
acquire or establish even an elementary school of her own. What are
the reasons for this and how does this affect the upbringing of our
youth and their feelings of a national identity?
We are a microscopic community of a few thousand within a metropolis
of over 10 Million and Armenians are dispersed over many hundreds of
square miles which comprise the London Metropolitan area. Although
there is a fair concentration of Armenians in West London, I think
that when it came to reality, we would not be able to muster a
sufficient number of students. Secondly, as I mentioned previously,
the level of education in such a school would need to be of a very
high standard, and the cost of purchasing and maintaing a school with
the qualified staff that would be needed is way beyond our means, and
the number of students we could muster would probably not be
sufficient to qualify for government assistance. However, in due
course, I hope our aspirations will be realized, and we will be able
to establish the first full-time school in London. In fact, with the
recent introduction by the Government of independent Academies, it
would be prudent to make appropriate study of the possibilities. In
the meantime, in London we have two one-day-per-week schools, one on
Saturdays and one on Sundays, and I would encourage all parents to
take their children to these schools where the Armenian language and
culture and heritage is taught to a high standard.

The European Union encourages and supports efforts by minority groups
to keep and develop their national identity. Most of our communities
in the other EU countries receive incentives and generous
contributions from the EU for maintaining national schools,
newspapers, cultural activities and so on. Does this apply to the UK?
If yes, then does our community use these facilities? If no, have we
made representations through UK’s EU parliamentarians to this effect?
I am not aware of any assistance being received from the European
Union by any Armenian school or organisation in the UK. I am certain
that both schools would be glad to receive such assistance, and
perhaps after they have read this interview, their governing boards
will wish to look into the possibilities. The ACCC would of course
assist and make representations on their behalf if we are asked to
intercede or assist. The only assistance that I am aware of that the
community’s K. Tahta Sunday School used to receive from abroad was a
grant of £4,500 from the multi-million Eurorich Gulbenkian Foundation
of Lisbon, and I am very sad to inform you that even that minimal
contribution was cut off about two years ago, by the Armenian Section
of the Foundation, with the feeble excuse that they are short of

As Chairman of the Council, what is your vision for our community and
what you would have liked to see there?
In an increasingly strenghtening secular world, and with the emergence
of an independent Republic of Armenia, I am convinced that communities
in the Diaspora should no longer exist as `religious groups’. Each
community should have a religious as well as a secular structure and
therefore the community should have a democratically elected Community
Council to represent it and to attend to not only the community’s
religious needs, but also to its secular and political needs. Such a
community with a strong structure would receive proper acknowledgement
from the authorities and would be able to command respect and
influence. The Armenian Community and Church Council which has existed
for over sixty years, is based exactly on such a structure, and what I
would like to see is for every member of the community to have pride
in its representative Council and to support it.

The annual functions to commemorate April 24 such as the Commemorative
Evening and the Commemorative March are organised by committees of the
ACCC. The annual Celebration of the Independence of Armenia is
organised by a committee of the ACCC. The K. Tahta Sunday School was
established by the ACCC and functions under our auspices, and as I
mentioned previously, the ACCC appoints its Trustees. The Church
Services at the community’s St Yeghiche Church is the responsibility
of the ACCC.

Behind the scenes, we become involved as the Community’s Council in
protecting and assisting persons of Armenian ethnic origin. As an
example, we have made strong representations to the Government on
behalf of Armenians who have been on the verge of deportation, and I
am glad to say with success. Recent examples are our involvement in
the prevention of a mother and daughter, and on another occasion, of a
young man, of Armenian ethnic origin, from being deported to
Azerbaijan and certain ethnic persecution.

The ACCC also actively supports charitable activities in Armenia and
very recently raised in the region of £30,000 by its `Kashadagh
Redevelopment Committee’ for rebuilding homes in Karabagh.

The ACCC was instrumental in negotiating with the St Sarkis Church and
the Holy Trinity Church in Manchester for the preparation of a
Diocesan Constitution under which the three churches would for the
first time come together to form a Diocesan Assembly of the United
Kingdom and Ireland and would thus strengthen and consolidate the
Armenian Church of the UK. The draft constitution has been submitted
to His Holiness the Catholicos of All Armenians, and we are awaiting
his ratification.

All these functions carried on by the ACCC are achieved by the
voluntary work of the members of the Council and the ACCC’s various
committees. Nobody receives a salary. All that is expected from our
brothers and sisters in the community is for them to realize their
responsibilities, and to support their Council, first of all by
registering as members of the community and of the St Yeghiche Church,
and secondly but equally importantly, by making the very small annual
Community Contribution which is expected of them. Registration is free
and forms are available at St. Yeghiche Church and through the ACCC’s
website – . Without those contributions the
Council could not function. If every Armenian paid the £20 per year
that is asked, then we would have sufficient funds not only to
maintain the Church, assist our schools, and carry out all our other
activities, but the Council could then look towards acquiring a
suitable Community Centre which is so very sorely needed. If we could
afford a Community Centre – even if one had to be rented initially –
it would create the opportunity for the members of the community and
especially the youth, to convene in an Armenian environment and create
friendships and relationships with other young Armenians. An Armenian
community anywhere in the world could not survive unless it enjoyed
the benefits of a Community Church, a Community School and a Community
Centre with cultural activities. All these are complementary to each
other. All are achievable, and I hope that with the help of our
community, the ACCC will be able to maintain those that already exist
and achieve those that this community is still lacking.