Interview with Rev. Vahan H. Tootikian

There have been a lot of questions regarding the American Armenians in general, and the American Armenian Evangelicals and Churches in particular. We gathered our questions from our society and we went to Rev. Tootikian to help us in getting some of our questions answered.

We received his reply to our request and we posted his answers below...

But before that we would like to say that Rev. Tootikian was very encouraging. Here is some of what he said: "...sincerely I wish to congratulate you on your noble enterprise, the blog website. This is an excellent medium that will serve as the newsletter for your Christian Endeavor Union ("Chanitz"). A commendable venture indeed! Bravo. God bless you and your efforts."

Chanitz- The Armenian Apostolic Church stresses on "keeping the Armenian identity" more than evangelism and preaching about Christ. On the other hand, the Armenian Evangelical Church preaches about Christ without much mentioning of "keeping the Armenian identity". Do you think that this comparison is correct today? Do the Armenian Evangelical Churches balance these 2 aspects? Should they?

Rev. Tootikian-
Regarding Armenian identity. It is true that generally speaking the Armenian Apostolic Church emphasizes the necessity and importance of keeping the Armenian identity more than evangelism and Armenian Evangelicals lay more emphasis on preaching the Gospel. But I do not agree with your description of “without much mentioning of keeping the Armenian identity.” It depends on the church and the minister of that church.

It is a fact that some Armenian American ministers are not very concerned about Armenian heritage and identity. And that itself is a great tragedy and deplorable thing. Others are true Armenian patriots and are determined to preserve and perpetuate their heritage. I strongly believe there should be a healthy balance of our ethnicity and faith. The Armenian Evangelical Church, being a member of the Body of Christ, is a divine institution and should not deny that reality. It is its indispensable calling to preach the Good News. It is also a human institution composed of Armenian men and women who cannot and should not escape their history. God created them as Armenians. They are formed and molded by the forces of Armenian culture. They should be proud of their Armenian identity and heritage. I believe there should definitely be a balance to these two aspects.

Chanitz- In preserving the Armenian language, Mr. Harout Sassounian says that in the coming 50 years, the Armenian language will be obsolete and that the Armenian newspapers and magazines will be published in English. Do you agree with Mr. Sassounian (Chief Editor of California Courrier)? What will the primary language of most of the Armenian Evangelical Churches be?

Rev. Tootikian- Keeping the Armenian language. Although it is extremely difficult to preserve the Armenian language in America, it’s a challenge but it is not an impossible thing to do. Today, as in the past, there are many pessimists like Mr. Harout Sassounian. In fact some eighty or ninety years ago, there were many Armenian community leaders, including some Armenian Evangelical ministers, who predicted that in one or two decades the Armenian language in America will be a dead language, but Armenian is still being used in our churches and in the Armenian organizations. It is true that there is a great erosion of our ethnic heritage and language due to many factors. We should continue to encourage and educate our new generation to learn the Armenian culture and language and inculcate in them the pride of being Armenian. We should not be prophets of doom! Therefore, I do not share Mr. Sassounian’s pessimism.

Chanitz- Why do we see Presbyterian, Congregational, Nazarene and other words in the names of the Armenian Evangelical Churches? Many Armenian Evangelicals in Lebanon think that these (for example, Armenian Presbyterian Church) are different sects and do not have any affiliation with the Armenian Evangelicals. Does this create a unity problem?

Rev. Tootikian- Concerning various denominational affiliations in the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEUNA). AEUNA is the product of the merger of Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States and Canada and Armenian Evangelical Union of California. It was formed in 1971, in Detroit, Michigan. Historically these two Unions were comprised of churches, which were supported by Congregational and Presbyterian denominations thus they maintained denominational ties with Congregational (later United Church of Christ) and Presbyterian churches. From their inception in the early 1900s, our churches had denominational affiliations. What is new in recent years is that there are some churches, which joined AEUNA that have Nazarene and Brotherhood denominational affiliation. In the future there will be other churches, which will join AEUNA with other denominational affiliations. The important fact to remember is any church that joins AEUNA must abide by its Constitution, Bylaws, Statement of Faith and practices. I don’t believe that creates a unity problem.

Chanitz- Based on what we see, there is a rapid move of pastors from the middle east regions to USA. Is God guiding these moves, or is it more based on the pastors' decisions? If there is a guidance from God, why doesn't God guide to Iran, Syria, Georgia,...?

Rev. Tootikian- Immigration Issue of UAECNE ministers to USA. Some years ago, the policy of AEUNA was not to encourage the immigration of ministers from the Middle East. Exceptions were allowed provided that there was a mutual agreement between the two Unions. I do not know anything about the recent moves. Such pastoral calls are a matter of individual decisions. Only God and the immigrating minister know whether this decision is based on God’s call or on ulterior motives. You and I both know why they come to USA and not other countries you mentioned, supposedly because of the political stability.

Chanitz- Is there a union among the different Armenian Evangelical Churches and the different Armenian Evangelical Church Youth Groups? If there is, how strong is each union?

Rev. Tootikian- AEUNA and Affiliated Youth Organizations. AEUNA has 2 Youth Fellowships: Armenian Evangelical Youth Eastern Region, whose Youth minister is Rev. Ara Jizmejian and Armenian Evangelical Youth Fellowship, Western Region, whose Youth Director is Mr. Raffi Kaljian. These two youth leaders are members of AEUNA Board, and regularly report to the Board. They are active groups, they have regular conventions, retreats and seminars separately and joint. There are two youth camps, Camp Arev in the West Coast and Camp Arevelk in the East Coast. They are both very active and are very involved in mission work.

Chanitz- What would you like to say to the Armenian Evangelical Youth of Lebanon?

Rev. Tootikian- Armenian Evangelical Youth of Lebanon. Because my knowledge on Armenian Evangelical Youth of Lebanon is limited, it will not be fair to make any comments. However, I am very pleased to know about your group who started your website to connect with other Evangelical youth all over the world. It is a great idea and you are to be commended for doing so. We do need to strengthen the ties of our youth, and keep one another informed of our activities to the glory of God and advancement of His Kingdom.

I hope that I have answered your questions, Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you the concerns of our Evangelical youth here and abroad.

Best wishes to you and your many endeavors on behalf of our Armenian Evangelical youth. God bless you.


Rev. Vahan H. Tootikian
August 8, 2007