The 2015 International Peacemakers have begun their visits across the United States, meeting with churches, presbyteries and synods. One of them, Vartkes “Kass” Kassouni, recently reflected on the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East.
Kassouni was born and raised on the island of Cyprus. His father taught at the American Academy, an American Reformed Presbyterian mission. Hearing a call to ministry, Kassouni came to the United States in 1949 and was ordained in New York City in 1957.
He has served in numerous pastorates and leadership roles with presbyteries during his career in New York and California. In addition, Kassouni served the Armenian community as moderator of the Armenian Evangelical Union and helped form the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America.
The International Peacemakers hail from a wide range of countries, including Iran, Cuba, Sri Lanka and South Africa, and will be traveling across the United States in the next several weeks.
While he has lived in the United States for many years, Kassouni has traveled extensively to the Middle East, maintaining contact with church leaders. As he speaks across the country, he will share his observations, thoughts and concerns for those who have been displaced by hostile forces.
“It’s horrible what has happened. Four million people displaced, scrambling into Europe,” he said. “How much can Europe take in before its own identity is obliterated in terms of who they are? We don’t know what will happen, but we are quite anxious.”
Kassouni said his desire is for the church to do what it can to alleviate the suffering of refugees in Europe as well as those still living in Syria and its neighbors.
“We need to maintain contact with the Christian minority groups in these countries,” he said. “Christianity is slowly being wiped out in the Middle East. What are we going to do about that beyond providing immediate support for the suffering?”
Kassouni said he is unsure what the end solution will be. But he believes the public needs to know how serious the situation has become for refugees forced from their homes.
“There are stories within stories within stories among Armenian Christians. It’s a greater tragedy than the general public is aware,” Kassouni said. “We ought to be doing what we can as individuals to provide financial support, and we should do that through established channels such as the church.”
Kassouni says he is pessimistic about the refugee situation. As millions flee in search of a better life, he believes it will become harder for host countries to provide opportunities for refugees to find jobs and to feed their families.
“As children, we used to come up on anthills, kick them and watch as thousands of ants would pour in and out. Sometimes we would be bitten,” he said. “The U.S. and other world powers have gone into the Middle East over the years and established themselves in many ways. But politically, we’ve kicked the anthill.”
Kassouni now looks to the United Nations to see how leaders will address the immigration issue. “My heart goes out to them.”