5 • Nersès Khachadourian

Nerses Khachadourian: from genocide victim to ACO superintendent

“My heart overflows with gratitude when I remember God’s goodness towards me. In 1915, at the age of 7, the deportations cruelly separated me from my family and I lived as a slave with Kurdish peasants for 4 years. Then 10 years of tribulation took me to Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece to finally arrive in Marseilles. All this time, the Lord watched over me and repeatedly delivered me from certain death. I did not know then that by this furnace, God was forging me for his service. »

Extract from a letter to Paul Berron in 1961

Nersès Khachadourain in Aleppo

Nerses found support and comfort with the Christian organizations he met along his journey and it was only natural that he decided to become involved with the Armenian Church in Marseilles.

There, he met Paul Berron who saw his potential and encouraged him to study theology to become a pastor. He then called on him to practice in Syria where, according to him, evangelization should be entrusted to « Eastern collaborators ».

Selling Christian literature at the market of Afrin, near Aleppo

In 1936, Paul Berron asked him to initiate a new dynamic in the Christian communities of Djezireh, in the North-East of Syria. He was in charge of setting up a missionary centre supported by the ACO with schools and churches. He was also asked to establish links with the Protestant Arabic-speaking Church of the Arab Synod. While remaining based in Aleppo, he travelled extensively to this region until the 1960s.

A girl’s class in Hassaké, Al-Jazira, 1951

A turbulent period followed Syria’s independence in 1946 against a backdrop of nationalism and decolonization. This is a turning point for the ACO as most foreigners had to leave the country. The local churches were also asking to organize their relations with missionary organizations differently.

It was with confidence that Paul Berron then appointed Nerses as his counterpart in Syria and as the official representative of ACO when dealing with the Syrian authorities. He therefore endorsed new responsibilities such as negotiating the transfer of property and work from the ACO to local churches.

Nerses and his wife, Gulenia (front row on the left) with some other missionaries, Aleppo

The signing of the agreements with the Arab Synode

The missionary centre of Aleppo was entrusted to the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches under the name of « Church of the Christ » in 1959. In 1962, an agreement was signed with the Church of the Arab Synod, operating in Syria as well as in Lebanon. It is in this latter country that some of the missionaries expelled from Syria will continued their ministries and that new prospects opened up for the ACO.

The signing of the agreements with the Arab Synode

In 1966, Nerses left Aleppo for Tehran where he took on a new challenge in helping the Christians of Iran who, according to him, needed the ACO’s spiritual and material support. Thanks to him, lasting links were established between the ACO and the Protestant communities of the Synod of Iran.

He remained there until 1981 and retired to the United States where he died in 1984.

He used to sum up his destiny in a few words: Life in Christ, Church and Mission.

Nersès in the Armenian school in Gohar, Teheran