Armenian Writers
The Catholicos
Armenian Writers
Palm Sunday
Change of Guard
Gates of Heaven
Armenian Writers' Conference
April 7th, 2006 - Post No. 46

The Third Pan-Armenian Writers' Conference began last night with sessions taking place at the Armenian Catholicosate in Antelias, today and tomorrow. About 120 writers are attending the conference from all over the Armenian world. There are writers here representing the Armenian Diaspora from Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, England, Australia, Georgia, the United States and Canada. In addition, 50 writers flew in early Thursday morning to represent the Writers’ Unions of Armenia.

Bishop Nareg, pictured here in the blue cassock of the higher ranking Armenian clergy, has been hard at work as a member of the planning team for the conference. The sudden cancellation of a flight originally scheduled to bring the 50 writer-participants from Armenia to Beirut, caused a major headache. There are only one weekly flight from Armenia to Beirut, so the cancellation meant that the Armenian writers would miss the  conference or be required to travel from airport to airport around the region to circumvent the situation. Fortunately providence prevailed and arrangements were made so that the regularly scheduled flight from Armenia to Aleppo would carry the Armenian writers and make an exceptional second stop in Beirut.

Hosting an event of this scale is a major undertaking, and the entire staff of the Catholicosate is in rush mode, yet good humour prevails with people here welcoming many old friends in town for the conference. Among the more distinguished guests, His Eminence Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Patriarchal Vicar and Grand Sacristan from the Armenian Patriarchate in Old Jerusalem. I am pleased to meet him, to share a cup of green spice tea and settle some of the details about the next stop in my ecumenical pilgrimage. We also "the situation" in the Middle East from the Christian perspective, and Nourhan Serpazan muses on how one might let the Western world know the sorry times Christians in the region are living. There are barely 100,000 Christians left in the Holy Lands, and their numbers are shrinking possibly faster here in Lebanon than elsewhere. This is a recurring theme, I note, in conversations about the Christian population of the Middle East.

Our conversation takes place in the unofficial headquarters of the Catholicosate, the Bookstore with its capable and gracious manager Suzy "Hokis." She is known throughout the Armenian world, and she is the heart of the action in the circulation of the many books published at the Catholicosate. She is also a storehouse of practical knowledge. I tease her about running an unofficial travel agency in the bookstore. Suzy is certainly the person to see for advice on booking a taxi or catching a bus to go to Aleppo or just about anywhere else; and she is the go-to person for any questions about books, local customs, the shipment of packages, or just about anything else.  She is helping me organise the shipment of two parcels back to Canada, of books and materials that I don't need to carry around with me during the next phase of my journey in the region.