Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
This month and year we remember the centennial of the Armenian genocide, the systematic eradication of a people by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.
Andrew Doran writes about this and the title explains that this event is still remembered, and it is still denied: A Genocide Remembered and Denied
Doran recounts the beginning of this genocide.
In the night of April 24, 1915, as Constantinople’s Armenian community was deep in slumber following Easter celebrations, Turkish gendarmes, following the orders of the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP), made their way through the ancient Byzantine capital to the homes of 250 Armenian cultural leaders. As Peter Balakian wrote in The Burning Tigris, Constantinople’s Armenian community had been “the center of Armenian cultural and intellectual life” since the nineteenth century. The Armenians were a minority community that excelled in the arts, academia, and the professional classes; successful, intelligent, and very much “the other” in a Turkey whose young rulers were influenced by the racialist ideologies then prominent in Europe.
That night, the Armenian leaders of the city were arrested and imprisoned, sensing what one of the few survivors called “the terror of death” in the air. Within days, the events in Constantinople were replicated across Turkey. By early summer, most were executed. The event marked the beginning of a systematic campaign of genocide, which soon took on greater scope.
Although that night may have marked the beginning of this genocide, it certainly was not the end. The final toll: the decimation, destruction and death of 1.5 million Armenians (including Assyrians and Greeks).
While many Turks and Kurds watched with approval or indifference as their Christian neighbors were eradicated, there were some who hid Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks in their homes. Their names are lost to all but the oral histories of the survivors’ descendants, many of whom are scattered from California to the shores of the Mediterranean. A few made the trek north into Anatolia to historic Armenia in the South Caucasus, where they would re-forge a nation that had not existed for centuries.
More than 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks died during the genocide.
Why did this occur? What was the fear? Ottoman Turkish officials feared Christian Armenians would side with Russia, its enemy in WWI.
So is this atrocity along with the incredible numbers of deaths history, fabrication, inflation, or wrongly identified? Armin T. Wegner, serving as a second-lieutenant in the German army stationed in the Ottoman empire, took the initiative in 1915 to investigate the atrocities committed against the Armenians about which he was hearing. Disobeying orders to keep the massacres silent, he collected information and took hundreds of pictures of the Armenian deportation camps. Wegner was arrested but not before he was able to get some of this information and pictures to Germany and the United States. The next year (1916) he was transferred to Constantinople secretly taking some of the photographic plates depicting these horrific acts against the Armenians.
Most historians refer to this as genocide. Turkey officials, the successor to the Ottoman Empire, deny this, but rather claim the numbers are inflated and were due to civil war. As an example, Pope Francis remembered the Armenian genocide, referring publicly to this as genocide, and he was immediately chided by the Turkish government.
Pope Francis was among the few world leaders to publicly recognize the genocide. The Turkish government immediately responded, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan lashing out at Pope Francis for his remarks. “I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again,” said Erdogan. A century later, even as Turkey continues to deny the events of 1915, the descendants of the Armenian and Assyrian survivors are once more in danger. Many took refuge in cities like Aleppo and, there since 2011, they have been the target of attacks by Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists—which Turkey has supported in Syria without meaningful reprimand from the international community.
These fellow image-bearers not only experienced this atrocity, today they remain the target of attacks by Muslim terrorists. Most of the Muslim terrorist killings are not indiscriminate – the focus is Christians.
The statement after the rise and fall of Hitler’s Nazi regime was “never again.” That statement, commitment and resolve is absolutely right. What the Ottoman Turks did against the Armenians in WWI is what Hitler replicated against the Jews in WWII. And since then, the killings have continued.
We do all we can as individuals, Christians, the church, and citizens of this country. But ultimately our hope is in none of that. Our hope is in the Lord. This does not mean we remain inactive or passive. Rather that God-directed hope imbues our engagement with meaning and significance, not in the moment only, but for the long-term. That long-term, sure and certain hope of God and the fulfillment of his plan give us the strength to engage fully here and now, while we await the Lord’s return when he will make all things right.
The certainty of this truth, and the inaugurating stages of this experience, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is how N. T. Wright spoke of this truth in an Easter sermon.
The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the final putting-to-rights of all things. In the light of the resurrection, the church must never stop reminding the world’s rulers and authorities that they themselves will be held to account, and that they must do justice and bring wise, healing order to God’s world ahead of that day. Those who want to depoliticize the resurrection must first dehistoricize it, which is of course what they have been doing enthusiastically for many years – and then we wonder why the church has sometimes sounded irrelevant! But we who celebrate our risen Lord today must bear witness to Easter, God’s great act of putting-right, as the yardstick for all human justice.
Addendum: To read of a work of God between the Turkish and Armenian Christians, cf. Turkish and Armenian Christians Reconcile on Genocide Anniversary