Images of the Haghartsin monastery during the Meeting (Photo: Archivio Meeting)

A moved heart changes history

At the Meeting, an Armenian woman bursts into tears in front of images of an ancient Christian monastery restored by the Emir of Sharjah. The video reaches the Emirates and is the beginning of something unimaginable.
Maria Acqua Simi

There are gestures of unprecedented power that can change the course of history. Like the subdued cry of an unknown woman, a face among many in the crowd at the Rimini Meeting, sitting listening to a meeting, dragged along by a friend. But let us do things in order.

One year ago the Rimini Meeting was the guest of the largest book fair in the world, the International Book Fair in Sharjah, in the Arab Emirates. Right now, this might seem like a side note, a piece of news and nothing more. Instead, it was the beginning of something big. While the political centre of the Emirates is Abu Dhabi and the economic and commercial centre is Dubai, Sharjah represents the cultural capital of these seven small but very important Muslim kingdoms. When the President of the Meeting, Bernhard Scholz, travelled to the city last year together with Wael Farouq and other friends, a sincere relationship of esteem was born with Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), and with several exponents of this impressive cultural reality. Thus, this summer, Al Ameri attended the Meeting.

He was struck by the words of Cardinal Zuppi, by the curiosity of the many young people wandering around the pavilions (he, who organises the largest fair in the world) and full of gratitude, as he himself said while speaking at the meeting entitled 'Friendship between cultures, cultures that cherish friendship'. Challenged by a question on how the International Book Fai strives for intercultural dialogue, Al Ameri explained that they care a lot about preserving historical and artistic memory. For example, the Emir of Sharjah, who is a historian by training, worked to finance the reconstruction of the ancient monastery of Haghartsin in Armenia, which was partially destroyed. "For him, that church was a precious cultural heritage and so he moved to restore it and make the now ruined road accessible," says Wael Farouq.

"In the audience, as the images of the Armenian monastery scrolled by, a lady burst into tears. She was from Armenia, she had come to the Meeting almost by chance, invited by a friend. The monastery in front of her in the photographs was 'hers'. At the end of the meeting, still in tears, she shyly introduced herself to say thank you.” Al Ameri was impressed by how moved the woman was, someone took a video of her, and that video reached the Emir of Sharjah, Sultan III bin Muhammad al-Qasimi. "I am a lecturer at Yerevan University and during the summer I accompany many groups of Italians as a tour guide to visit this monastery. I tell everyone who restored it and why. Seeing those images today at the Meeting moved me and I want to personally say thank you to those who made this possible, on behalf of my people.” In turn, thousands of kilometres away, the ruler was so moved by the tears of an unknown Christian woman that he immediately discussed the construction of new churches in Sharjah with his collaborators.

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"This emir is a historian, an intellectual who has published over 50 books and among other things financed the restoration of the oldest library in Italy, in Bologna," Farouq explains. "He is a man deeply in love with history, and when he sees a beautiful thing that is falling apart, he does everything to save it. He did it in the Islamic world but he also started to do it in the western world for the love of history and beauty. He did it in Italy, he did it in Armenia, he did it in other countries. He is a man who knows how to be moved, and so he was not insensitive to this Armenian woman's weeping and sincere gratitude. That very evening, he told his family that he intended to work to build new churches in Sharjah.” This is what happened. A small, genuine miracle.