ARMENIAN PROTESTANT COMMUNITIES IN SOUTH AMERICA
T.Ghanalanyan - An Expert of the Center of the Armenian Studies at “Noravank” Foundation
Today alongside with the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic communities, the Armenian Protestant community exists in South America. In particular, there are the Armenian Protestant communities in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay which are the integral part of the local Armeniancy. The study of the Armenian Protestant communities in South America is of great importance in the context of the issues connected with both the Armenian Protestants and local Armenians in general.
Argentina. The Armenian community in Argentina was formed at the beginning of the 20th century. There were 20 thousand Armenians in Argentina in 1914, and in 1962 there were 40 thousand Armenians. According to the data for 2003 there were about 70 thousand Armenians living in Argentina, and 60 thousand of them in Buenos Aires, 5 thousand in Cordoba. There are also Armenians in Mar-del-Plata and Rosario (500 in each)1.
The reason for moving and setting in Argentina for thousands of Armenians was the 1890s pogroms and the Genocide. Those events made the survived Armenians look for the shelter in the foreign lands. Thus, the establishment of the Armenian Protestants in Argentina was conditioned by the flow of the Armenians to that country in general.
In 1920s the first Armenian Protestant churches appeared in Argentina. Public prayers were held by Hrant Apachian and Nazaret Salipian in Buenos Aires. Soon the number of the adherents reached 200. In 1929 the Armenian Evangelical Conciliar church was established. In 1939 the number of the Armenians living in Buenos Aires and its surroundings reached 15 thousand, among which one tenth were Evangelicals. I.e. the number of the Armenian Evangelicals was 1500. In the mid-20th century the number of the members of the oldest of the three Armenian Evangelical churches – the Armenian Brotherhood church – was 80. Over the same period the second Armenian Evangelical church (which pastor was Rev. N. Ter-Khorenian) had 75 adherent families and the Armenian Evangelical Conciliar church (pastor – Rev. M. Palian) only 30 families2.
The Armenian Brotherhood church in Buenos Aires had about 300 and in Cordoba about 100 members in the mid-20th century. The Armenian Brotherhood church in Buenos Aires had its own building too3. Today the pastor of the Armenian Brotherhood Bible church is Luis Vinas4.
There are two Evangelical Churches, four Evangelical prayer houses in Buenos Aires and one prayer house in Cordoba5.
Today the pastors of the Armenian Evangelical Congregational church are Roberto Gongora and David Casaretto6. An important role in the life of the Armenian Evangelicals in Argentina is taken by the Armenian Missionary Association of Argentina.
In 1961-1983 in Buenos Aires “Erdjanik huys” (“Happy Hope”) monthly was issued by the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Brotherhood Churches. Since 1983 it has been issued in Pasadena (US). “Erdjanik huys” has spiritual content; it has also published news about the Brotherhood7.
2009 was marked in the life of the Armenian Evangelical community in Argentina by the events devoted to the 80th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Conciliar Holy Trinity church. Many spiritual pastors and benefactors who made an essential contribution to the history of the church participated in those events. Today the Church owns Cristo es el Cambio church in Floresta district. The Armenian Evangelical Conciliar church initiated the creation of this prayer house back in 1998. Today the main functions of the Armenian Evangelical Conciliar church are public prayer, panegyric and doxology, music biblical school for the people of different ages, Armenian and Spanish languages lessons8.
Thus, the Armenian Evangelicals play an important role in the biggest Armenian community in South America. Their close cooperation with the other groups of the Armeniancy is also topical. The active cooperation of the Armenian Protestants from Argentina with various spiritual and secular bodies in Armenia is important either.
Brazil. The Armenians settled in Brazil in the second half of the 19th century. In 1885 the number of the Armenians was 100. The bigger groups of our compatriots arrived to Brazil in 1920s and settled mainly in San-Paulo and other cities of the similar state. In 1994 the number of the Armenians in Brazil was 20 thousand9. At current moment there are 25-30 thousand Armenians. Their main part (15 thousand) lives in San Paulo and surrounding cities (Ozasko, Presidente, Altino and others). About 600 Armenians live in Rio de Janeiro and about 300 Armenians in the capital Brasilia. The rest are spread all over the other states (Parana, Ceara, Bahia, Mato Grosso, Minas Gerias, Santa Catarina and others) 10.
The Armenian Evangelicals in Brazil has held public prayers since 1920s. Over that period an important role was taken by Rev. Mikael Pichmenian. In a short run an abrupt growth of the number of the adherents was registered. Pichmenian held the public prayers till April 1930. On April 7, 1930 a church which consisted of 65 members was formed in San Paulo. The church formed in 1939 included 42 families, 234 people, 73 church members; the number of the pupils of Sunday schools was 30, and number of the members of “Zargatsman Arshaloys” (“Development Rising”) was 4511.
The activity of the Armenian Brotherhood Biblical church in Brazil (San Paulo) is also remarkable. Today the pastor of the church in San Paulo is Movses Nersisian12.
Currently there are three Armenian Evangelical organizations in Brazil – two Armenian Evangelical churches and regional committee of the Armenian Missionary Association. The pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Central church in San Paulo is Roy Abrahamian, and his assistant is Dionisio Palha Ataide. Roy Abrahamian is also the pastor of the Armenian Evangelical church established in 1970 and his assistant is also Dionisio Palha Ataide. The activity of the regional committee of the Armenian Missionary Association, which head is Hampartsum Moumdjian, is of great importance in the life of the local Armenian Evangelicals13. It is obvious that Roy Abrahamian as well as Dionisio Palha Ataide play an important role in the Armenian Evangelical community in Brazil. But the scantiness of the qualified ministers of church is a negative phenomenon.
Currently there are 400 Armenian Evangelical families in Brazil; they have church in San Paulo. They have often arranged public and beneficial events, issue periodicals (in Armenian and in Portuguese). “Evangelical Brothers” union functions14.
In Brazil the Armenian Evangelicals also carry out important educational functions; they have Sunday schools which are of great importance for not only the Armenian Evangelical community but also for the entire Armenian community in Brazil.
It is obvious that the Armenian Protestant community in Brazil is of great importance for the Armenian community of that country both in terms of quantity and its functions.
Uruguay. The Armenians has settled in Uruguay since the 19th century, but before 1900 only 15 Armenians migrated to Uruguay. The Armenian community in Uruguay had been formed in 1920s when a big groups of the Armenians who survived the Genocide and then found shelter in the countries of the Middle East decided to move there. In that period the number of the Armenians was 3 thousand. The community enlarged in 1926 when the second big group of the Armenians arrived. In 1931, according to the community census, 4 thousand Armenians lived in Uruguay. According to the information for 2003 the number of the Armenians in Uruguay was 15 thousand; they are mostly centred in Montevideo; there are also several Armenian families in Piriapolis15.
In Uruguay, just like in Brazil and Argentina, the Armenian Protestants started their eager activity in the 1920s. At that time their preacher in Montevideo was Z. Karapetian. In 1920s there were only 6-8 parishioner families. In 1934 H. Ataturian spread his spiritual activity there; in the same year Rev. H. Ter-Ghazarian was invited as a preacher. In 1938 the church community consisted of 60 families. There was also a Sunday school where 30 pupils studies16.
The activity of the Armenian Brotherhood Bible church in Uruguay is also remarkable. In the mid-20th century it had about 100 members in Montevideo. Today the pastor of the Armenian Brotherhood Bible church in Montevideo is Rev. Pedro Lapadjian17.
In Uruguay, side by side with the Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Catholic churches, two Armenian Evangelical churches work18. The Armenian Evangelical church spreads eager activity. In a consequence, the number of the Armenian Evangelicals in Uruguay has abruptly grown over the recent two decades19. This does not mean that the Armenian Apostolic church does not play its traditionally important role in the life of the Armenian community of Uruguay, but the presence and activity of the Armenian Protestants in the life of the Armenian community is getting more prominent.
The pastor of the First Armenian Evangelical church in Montevideo is Obed Boyajian. The regional committee of the Armenian Missionary Association in Montevideo also takes an important place in the life of the community. It is headed by Jeremiah Elmasian20.
The cooperation of the Armenian Protestants of South America, in this case the Armenian Protestant community in Uruguay, with other Protestant churches and organizations is important. It promotes strengthening of the community in the country, and due to this the role of Armeniancy in that state is raised.
The Armenian Evangelical church is a member of the Federation of the Evangelical Churches of Uruguay, which was established in 1956; it has 8 members and 5 associate members. The Federation of the Evangelical Churches of Uruguay is affiliated with the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches21.
The activity of the Armenian Missionary Association of America in South America. The activity of the Armenian Missionary Association of America also plays an important role in the life of the Armenian Protestant communities in South America. Particularly, in Argentina the AMAA mainly helps poor and elder as well as disseminates Bible and spiritual literature. Among main functions of the AMAA in Brazil is the assistance to the Armenian Evangelical church, dissemination of the spiritual literature, granting scholarships to needy students, assistance to poor families. In Uruguay the AMAA furnishes financial assistance to the local church, needy families, spreads Bible and Christian literature22.
So it is obvious that in the Armenian Protestant communities in South America the AMAA mainly deals with rendering assistance to the most vulnerable strata, as well as dissemination of Christian literature. Thus, in these communities the AMAA singles out social issues, as well as evangelical work in order to satisfy the spiritual needs of the coreligionists. The eager social activity in those communities is conditioned by the general social and economic situation in South America. To compare, in the Armenian Evangelical communities in North America, i.e. in Canada and especially in the US, the AMAA mainly deals with educational and cultural issues, establishment of the strong organizational structures, which, naturally, is conditioned by the auspicious situation in those countries.
Nevertheless, it should be mentioned, that the Armenian Evangelical communities in South America do not play a leading role in the life of the Armenian Evangelicals in general. This can be proved by, e.g. the fact that none of the 13 members of the Armenian Evangelical World Council represents South American communities. Meanwhile, there are 8 representatives from North America. Three of five key posts in the council are occupied by the representatives of the Armenian Evangelical community in the US. They are the president Mgrdich Melkonian23, Treasurer Albert Momjian, executive director Rev. Vahan H. Tootikian. There are also 4 other representatives of the Armenian Evangelical community in the US in the council24. So, the Armenian Evangelical communities of South America look much moderate as compared with the leading role of the Armenian Evangelical communities of North America (especially US). This is conditioned by more powerful organizations of the Armenian Evangelical community in North America and its longer history.
The American Evangelicals of South America are an integral part of the Armenian Protestants spread all over the world. In Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay the Armenian Protestant communities constitute a part of the Armenian communities in those countries and Armeniancy in general. The development of the relations of the Armenian Protestant communities in those three countries with the other Armenian communities there, as well as with each others is important. The cooperation of the South American Armenian Protestant communities with the Armenian Protestant communities of North America and other communities all over the world is also valuable. The collaboration of the Armenian Protestants of North America with the adherents of both Apostolic Armenian church and Armenians of other confessions is of topical priority.
1Մալխասյան Մ., Հայերն աշխարհում, Երևան, 2007, էջ 21-22։
2Ատանալեան Կ.Պ., Յուշարձան Հայ Աւետարանականաց եւ Աւետարանական եկեղեցւոյ, Ֆրեզնո, 1952, էջ 465։
3Ibid, p 457։
5Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 103:
7Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 110:
9Հայերն աշխարհում, հանրագիտական համառոտ բառարան, Երևան, 1995, էջ 33։
10Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 118-119:
11Ատանալեան Կ.Պ., նշվ. աշխ., էջ 463։
15Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 613:
16Ատանալեան Կ.Պ., նշվ. աշխ., էջ 463, 465։
18Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 614:
21Federation of Evangelical Churches of Uruguay, http://www.oikoumene.org/gr/member-churches/regions/latin-america/uruguay/fieu.html
23Previously the post of the vice-president was occupied by the representative of the Armenian Evangelical community in the US Avedis Boinerian; see: AMAA Directory 2010: Armenian Evangelical Churches, Institutions, Organizations, Pastors and Christian Workers Worldwide, p. 2.
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