The icon of Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide is a unique work of iconography, depicting the first “new” saints recognized by the Armenian Church in several centuries: the martyrs who (in the words of the official prayer of intercession) “gave their lives during the Armenian Genocide for faith and for the homeland.” The Holy Martyrs are portrayed in the dress typical of the Ottoman empire in 1915, and represent all ranks of Western Armenian society: men, women, children, and the elderly; merchants, intellectuals, artists, clergymen, farmers—all of whom perished in the brutal crime of 1915.
Although the icon directly depicts God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the figure of Christ is not explicitly shown. However, the artist’s intention is that the multitude of figures represents the mystical Body of Christ: his holy Church. In this way, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are present in the icon.
In the manner of our Lord at his resurrection, the martyrs travel from Death to Life, emerging upon the precincts of God’s heavenly kingdom as the Church Victorious. Their path is bordered by desecrated khatchkars and the shattered remains of Armenian monuments, suggesting the centuries of sacred and material culture lost to the Armenians when they were driven from their historic land.
The icon of Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide was commissioned by the Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, and painted by Tigran Barkhanajyan specifically for the 2015 ceremony of canonization, marking the 100th year of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.
His Holiness Karekin II and a special council of bishops approved the icon for display as a sacred image. The original is on view at the museum of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, in the Republic of Armenia.