Soorp Khatch (Holy Cross) Church in Bethesda , Maryland is one of two Armenian Apostolic churches in Washington , D.C. area. It is the outgrowth of many years of cohesive struggle and resolute desire of the Armenians settled in this area to worship freely and continue the cultural traditions of a people who endured massacres and the first Genocide of the 20th century perpetrated against them by the Turks.
A great number of Armenians who fled or escaped the massacres of 1890’s and 1909, came to these shores in search of a haven where they could enjoy a peaceful existence free of periodic persecutions and extermination. They were followed by survivors of 1915 Genocide. They settled in New England , Metropolitan New York , Detroit , and California .
By late 1920’s to early 1930’s a small number of Armenian immigrant families and individuals joined those who lead settled in the nation’s capital in earlier years, when the first Armenian Ambassador, Dr. Garo Pasdermadjian had established the diplomatic mission of the first free and independent Republic of Armenia.
During and after World War II a greater influx of Armenians some of whom were born in the U.S. moved to Washington D.C. The enlarged community was in need of a church, a community center or at least a meeting place in order to manage its collective affairs and uphold its religious and social traditions. Various groups and organizations of the community held their meetings and gatherings in rented spaces while church services were held in local Episcopal churches.
As early as in 1931, the small Armenian Community of Greater Washington had elected a Board of Trustees. Its members were Hovhannes Karibian, Vahram Kavaldjian and Hagop Tossounian. Nazaret Caroglanian and Moushegh Dellalian joined it later.
As the community grew larger, a new Board of Trustees was elected in 1942. Its members were Nishan shamigian, Mihran Seferian, Markos Davitian, Nazaret Caroglanian, and Garabet Papazian.
In 1947 a “Buying and Building Committee” was elected. Its task was to see that the community became the owner of a church building. The committee members were Khachig Haroutunian, Mark Keshishian, Arshavir Shavarshouni, Vartanoush Karibian, and Vartkes Garabedian. During these years and up until 1959 a number of visiting priests were invited periodically to perform religious services. They were Father Movses Mannigian, Father Stepan Karapetian, and Father Yeghisheh Mekhitarian.
In 1956, Bishop Khoren Paroyan (Later Catholicos of the Great See of Cilicia ) visited America as the Legate of the newly elected head of the Church, His Holiness Zareh I; he traveled to many cities in USA to meet with Armenian Communities. While visiting Washington , D.C. he suggested that the community’s first need was to have a permanently assigned pastor who could manage its religious and community affairs properly.
Thus, in August 1959 Father Dikran Khoyan was assigned to Washington as the Pastor of the community. He served until October 10, 1962. During this time, the Ladies’ Guild was organized to assist the Board of Trustees. On October 1962, Father Sempad Der-Mekhjian became the second priest to serve the community as its permanent Pastor.
On June 22, 1963 , a membership meeting was held under the chairmanship of the Prelate Archbishop Hrant Khatchadourian. At this meeting decision was made to buy the present church at 4906 Flint Drive , Bethesda , Maryland 20816 . On October 10, 1964 , the church was consecrated by Prelate Archbishop Hrant Khatchatourian. Mr. Khachig Haroutunian was the Godfather, and the church was thus given the name of “Soorp Khatch”, meaning Holy Cross. The church building and adjoining land came about by the untiring efforts of Mr. George Kazigian. Major renovations of the church and its alter were undertaken by Mr. Garabed Devletian. The members of Board of Trustees were Michael Najarian, Edward Kocharian, Oscar Caroglanian, Garabed Devletian, Onnig Marashian, Peter Vartanian, and James Keshishian. However, the church structure was small and had no meeting rooms, no classrooms, and no hall that could satisfy the needs of the community.
January 1964 membership meeting elected a committee to build a hall and classrooms adjacent to the church. Committee members spearheaded by Milton Gelenian were Barkev Kibarian, Vartkes Allahaydoyan, Edward Kocharian, Jirayr Haroutunian, Chris Dedeyan, and Arshavir Shavarshouni. It was through the dedication and perseverance of this committee and the help of a generous donation of Hagop Arabian as well as funds donated by community members that the present day structure next to the church was built. It was dedicated in December 1967. Thus, the community had its own church, its own community center, classrooms, and a large hall for gatherings.
In November 1966, Father Keghart Baboghlian was assigned by the Prelacy Council of New York to become the third Pastor of Soorp Khatch Church . He served the community until October 1969, and was followed by Father Sahag Vertanessian. In January 1985, Father Khoren Habeshian became the fifth Pastor of Soorp Khatch Church . Our sixth and current Pastor at Soorp Khatch Church is Father Sarkis Aktavoukian.
Together the priests, the National Delegates, the members of the Boards of Trustees, members of different organizations and bodies, and many respectable individuals did their parts for the good and benefit of Soorp Khatch Church and community. They served their church and community with special devotion and dedication. The memories of their sacrifices will always be remembered.
The Chairmen of the Board of Trustees through the years have been as follows:
Haig Balian (1957), Aram Panossian (1958), Armen Loosararian (1959, 1960), George Kazigian (1961, 1962, 1963), Michael Najarian (1964), James Keshishian (1965), Oscar Caroglanian (1966), Levon Palian (1967), Harry Atanosian (1968), Milton Gelenian (1969), George Kachigian (1970), Edward Domabalagian (1971), Oscar Caroglanian (1972), Sarkis Boyadjian (1973), Jack Paul (1974), George Krikorian (1975, 1976), Malkon Baboyian (1977, 1978), Sahag Dardarian (1979, 1980), Edward Dombalagian (1981), Ara Papazian (1982), Malkon Baboyain (1983, 1984), Setrak Srabian (1985), Ara Sahagian (1986, 1987), Robert Roomian (1988), Paul Jamushian (1989), Guiragos Poochikian (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993), John Jerikian (1994), Shahen Tahmassian (1995), Dertad Manguikian (1996, 1997), Robert Roomian (1998), Hovsep Avakian (1999), Guiragos Poochikian (2000, 2001) and John Jerikian
The National Delegates have been: Nishan Shamigian, Garabed Papazian, Khachig Haroutunian, Arshavir Shavarshouni, Aram Panossian, Krikor Kazigian, Oscar Caroglanian, Jirair Haratunian, Harry Sachaklian, Levon Palian, Harry Atanossian, Milton Gelenian, George Krikorian, Onnik Petrossian, Ara Papazian, Gourgen Assaturian, Edward Dombalagian, John Jerikian, Sebouh Asatoorian, Ara Melkonian, and Guiragos Poochikian.
The following have served on the altar as Deacons: Garabed Devletian, Jirair Dickranian, Karnig Dinkjian, George Zabounian, Ardavast Dabbaghian , Aram Balekjian, Vrej Beshirian, Onnig Moutafian, Haroutioun Doukmajian, and Richard Doyan.
The Armenian Community of Soorp Khatch Church of Greater Washington has become a flourishing entity. The number of its parishioners has multiplied greatly. With its Hamasdegh Armenian School and various organizations-religious, educational, cultural, civic, and athletic- Soorp Khatch Church parish has become a lively and viable community. There are more than 700 families who are involved in different aspects of the church life. The Board of Trustees, as the elected governing body, maintains the Church and Community Center and lends its support to all organizations.
Board of Trustees