By Florence Avakian
It’s a remarkable Armenian village somewhere in Iraq with about 200 to 500 people. A village that very few, if any, people have heard of. And it is surviving through courage, faith, fortitude, and about 22 dedicated men against the massive force of the Islamic State. Its name “Havresc” translates to “Big Revenge”, and its history dates back to 1915, when survivors of the 1915 Genocide constructed it.
On Thursday evening, December 8, at the Zohrab Information Center in New York, David Ritter who spent months in the village, presented his documentary entitled, “Havresc, Stand on Courage”, to a large audience, detailing the daily struggles of Armenian and Assyrian Christian Iraqis and the village they have built on the edge of ISIS-controlled territory.
Ritter was introduced by the Zohrab Center’s Executive Director the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan who related that this issue “transcends ethnic interests. One doesn’t have to be Armenian to care about others.”
Before showing the film, Ritter who is non-Armenian, commented that he was “filled with rage at the plight of the Christians, not about ethnicity,” he said, and praised the leader of the 22 soldiers, Murad Vartanian, whom he called “one of the most amazing men I have ever met, a man of conviction, courage, tenacity, and also a poet and an artist, a natural born leader.”
Village Still Holding Out
The film detailed the history of the Genocide with disturbing graphic images of death and destruction. It was a group of survivors from that tragedy that went to Iraq and built villages, including the mostly agricultural village of Havresc. In time, other persecuted Christians, Assyrians, Yezidis also came. In 1975, many Christian villages were destroyed, in order to foster assimilation of the population, including Havresc. The villagers fled. The only building that remained was the ruins of the original school.
In 2006, many of the people of Havresc returned, and decided to rebuild their homes, churches and schools. Armenians also came from abroad and helped in the construction. Murad who was originally born in the village led the effort, and with other villagers created a communal system where goods are shared. They also erected a monument to the victims of the Genocide.
Today, it is 22 young and old men led by Murad who protect the village 24 hours a day against ISIS. Kurdish militias are also helping these 22 soldiers. The film showed Murad’s home which is the center of the militia, and houses an armory of weapons. Also seen are the villagers tending to their flocks of sheep and peacefully farming the land. In the future, a small airport will be built.
We Never Give Up
Shortly after the film was completed, Murad was shot by ISIS. He is now recovering, and has said, “Even trees need water to live. We are like these old trees. We never give up. Let us live like lions, and if need be, die like lions.”
Ritter who was born to a Roman Catholic family in Haiti, is a documentarian who has gone to areas of the world where Christian communities are in danger, and filmed their struggles. He is currently traveling to Armenian communities and showing this documentary of Havresc. He announced that 30 percent of the proceeds of this DVD will go back to Havresc. Already, he said, $2000 has been raised.
For more information, to purchase a DVD, or to help Havresc, visit www.echo612.org