Interview: Armenia

A SHINING LIGHT IN THE MOUNTAINS

Shushan is the daughter of a local church leader and a beacon of hope in her Armenian community

Interview and Photograph by Gareth Barton

GB: Tell me about your plans for your community.

SG: I see my generation as doers more than speakers – much has been preached, much has been said, but now it’s time for action. And it’s not just the church activities with its conferences and programmes but also a real focus on our society, to be more active out there – becoming a culture-maker in our time. We’ve got student Alpha in English so that young people who want to practise their language skills can hear about God, and dance groups, all sorts. We have to be evident, not sleeping, so that they will know that it’s the believers that are working to develop the city. We lay down this foundation so that people recognise that not all of what is said about us is true, and it gives us the chance to build good relationships with the community.

GB: But why stay here in the mountains when so much is going on for young people in the capital?

SG: Of course I’d love to move to the capital – I love the buzz and the activity there.  When I grew up here there was nothing for young people – no galleries, no concerts, no culture. But now I want to stop looking to Yerevan for those things and to get them here. As a group of friends, we decided to stop blaming others for this but to get on and do it ourselves. We’re applying for grants to get things started across the city. We’ve got all sorts of plans, from developing parks to careers advice centres and activities for children from the surrounding villages.

GB: What do you see when you walk these streets?

SG: I see the faces of people who are very sad but also I see their features – they’re so beautiful. I have to remember that – to keep looking at the faces. Sometimes I choose to get out of the car and use public transport instead so that I can get closer to the people and to remind myself that God loves each one so much and is crazy about them. I look at the faces. Like I look at the trees.

GB: Oh yes, tell me about your love of trees.

SG: Well, as I look out over the grey soviet block high-rises (the majority of which are abandoned and derelict), I get drawn to that small tree down there in its autumn reds. Isn’t it beautiful? I love trees. I love the colour they bring. I always look out for them. I think you choose what you see. And when I see them I always thank God for them. Like the faces. There’s real beauty here if you care to look.

GB: What has the Flame conference achieved?

SG: It’s really done so many things for us. You know, so much of church can become about being inward looking, “Am I good enough? What must I do to become more Holy? Am I different to others?” It’s all about what I should do for myself. But this conference helped us to think, “Hey, it’s time to take your nation into your hands, it’s time for action”. It’s time to stop worrying about how we feel about ourselves, get into the work and let God take care of that along the way. Flame have shown us that there’s a huge work to be done, to cleanse our nation, to heal the people. It’s really pushed us forward. I don’t like Armenia to be associated only with the genocide. It’s a beautiful country with so much going on right now. Everyone who visits always wants to come back again. Hopefully,  as the Christians get to work, we will have a different Armenia in the next few years.

GB: Will the churches work together to that end?

SG: Yes, of course. Although it wasn’t always possible. In the past there’s been a spirit of competition between the churches but that’s been broken and so now we meet regularly and find ways to pray and work together. We saw this week what a touching moment it was to have two pastors holding hands and praying together for the nation – we knew that something was happening in the spiritual realms. And it’s not just the leaders who are changing. So many people are now opening up to tell painful stories that have been suppressed, and they’re finding freedom and relating better with each other.

GB: So what’s next?

SG: So now we have to get to work. We’re surrounded by refugee neighbours who call themselves atheists because of the Nagorno-Karabakh War. There’s lots to do and we can’t let this be just another conference that people enjoy and let disappear off into the past without seeing a change, because there was a change in the spiritual realm. It wasn’t a game, it wasn’t a show or just an outburst of emotions. We can’t let this go by and not change anything – we have to see the change in the physical realm – in the city. We’re excited. Excited and nervous.