The Armenian Genocide Remembered

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion on 301 CE, although the presence of Jesus followers dates back to the first century, where we learn in extra biblical literature that two of Jesus’ disciples, Bartholomew and Thaddeus, who traveled to Armenia sometime between 60-70 CE. Since it’s inception, this church has been an oppressed church, spending much of their Christian existence in hiding, persecution, or in suffering.

The Armenian people have lived in the modern day Turkish region for some 3,000 and were an independent nation, although control over their region had many empires who came into and went out of power and control of that area. In the 15th century, the Armenian people were swallowed up and absorbed into a very powerful empire called the Ottoman empire.

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The Ottoman empire was a Muslim empire, and they allowed the Armenians to maintain some of their identity as orthodox Christians, but were also treated as subservient subjects and had many economic, political, and social obstacles that kept them from thriving, but they thrived none-the-less. Armenians were known to be better educated and wealthier than their Turkish neighbors somehow, which slowly led to resentment of the Armenian people. There was also a fear among the Ottoman empire that the Armenians would be more loyal to a Christian government, particularly to their neighbor, Russia.

Over the next few centuries the Ottoman empire began to lose power and in the late 19th century, the Armenians had a strong voice and were fighting for civil rights among their people. This angered the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, who was fanatically committed to the Ottoman empire and demanded loyalty to it and was committed to silence the Armenian voice again.

In 1894 and in 1896, many Armenian villages were attacked and hundreds of thousands of Armenians were slaughtered. This was the first organized ‘silencing’ that gave rise to young militant Turks who were committed to removing the “pesky” Armenians. In 1908 Turkey had a regime change. These were the young reformed Turks who wanted a more modernized Turkey, which eventually was realized by the Armenians, that a modern Turkey meant a Turkey without Armenians. These “pesky” successful Armenians (despite opposition) just kept thriving and this was a threat to Turkish leadership.

Then in 1914, Turkey entered World War I on the side of Germany, and at the same time the Ottoman empire declared a holy war against Christians (namely Armenian Christians), because they saw them as traitors. The Armenians had sided with Russian military during this time, and then the dam broke.

On April 24th, 1915, genocide of the Armenian people began. This day in history, 100 years ago, marks the day when Turkish military arrested and slaughtered hundreds of Armenia’s top leaders and thinkers. Then they focused on the institutional removal of all Armenians from that region. They were forced out of their homes, sent on mass marches into the desert that led them to slaughter.

Many Armenians died by being stripped naked while being forced to walk in the desert for days with no food or water until they died. If they resisted, they were shot and killed. The method of murder ranged from anything one could think of; they drowned people in rivers, threw them off cliffs, crucified them and burned them alive, smoked them out in buildings, etc.

Stories like these were shared in a small meeting that myself and a handful of other friends had with Armenian friends in Scottsdale. We share a time of refreshments and a short movie with them before we had a chance to hear their family stories of pain and loss at the hands of Turkish rulers. Children were kidnapped and converted to Islamic faith, women were raped and forced to be sex slaves, and Turks moved into the abandoned homes of the Armenians.

This went on until the early 1920’s. Many sources vary in the final number of Armenians who were slaughtered during the genocide, but most agree that over 1.5 million were killed, and many more were deported and never allowed to enter their homeland again.

To this day, the Turkish government still does not acknowledge this genocide nor do they admit that these events actually happened as stories tell them. Many Armenians and social justice advocates speak out against the Turkish government, but it has not changed the fact that it is still illegal in Turkey to talk about what happened to Armenians during during that era.

To add to the injustice, American news outlets and politicians have also been reluctant to use the word “genocide” to describe what the Turks did to the Armenians. The United States of America has still not formally recognized what happened to the Armenians as genocide out of fear of losing Turkey as an ally. Some ground has been gained to honor the families of this genocide and to recognize what has happened, but we still have a long ways to go.

I write this post to honor my friends who have taught me how to suffer and not die from the pain and to bring awareness to grave injustices that still go on in the name of keeping allies. Many Orthodox Christians being killed in the present day in the Middle East are Armenians, and the silence of this event allows other dictators and terrorists organizations to think they are capable of such great evil without proper consequences and accountability. There is no doubt that Adolf Hitler learned from the Ottoman empire  on how to systematically slaughter a whole people group and justify it.

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This is Father Zacharia, he was exiled from Turkey and is now the first Armenian priest in Arizona. He and the other leaders and parishoners at St. Apkar in Scottsdale are godly people who have welcomed us into their lives as friends.

We must speak out against the silencing of all evil, terrorism, dictators, and work to eradicate such evil in this world. The first step is to recognize this still goes on today even though we don’t see it as clearly as we can see other types of genocide in hind sight. Your voice matters. Retell these stories. Get to know survivors of genocide from various nations. Open up your world view and become friends with refugees and immigrants who most likely live next door or around the corner from where you live.

Today, I want to honor the Armenian people group and thank them for not giving up and continuing the legacy of their people through story telling no matter the cost. I pray you would have the courage to tell the unspeakable stories in your life and to stand for those who have been silenced for too long. I pray that through this story you may have the courage to fight for those being oppressed in your world and to stand and fight for those who can’t stand or fight on their own. We need communities of courageous healers in the days to come, and want to invite all who have ears to hear and eyes to see, to commit to a new way of living that fights and stands and pleads for those who need allies.

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100 Years of Resurrection and Life

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This is my new friend, Reverend Father Zacharia Saribekyan. My wife (Amy) and I, along with our youngest son (Isaac, 4) walked onto the campus of the Armenian Apostolic Catholic Church and Cultural Center yesterday, impromptu, and he welcomed us and gave us his time, teaching us about his people and the perish he leads. Father Zacharia is the first Armenian Catholic priest in Arizona, who moved here over 6 years ago from Jerusalem. He probably leads the most culturally diverse church body in the state as well. The members of his parish come from over a dozen nations, of which Father Zacharia speaks most of their native languages.

What’s unique about the Armenian people is that they often seem to be a forgotten people group who the Ottoman Empire (which was ruled by the Turks) tried to wipe off the map in 1915, just on the eve of  World War I. At that time there were two million Armenians in the declining Ottoman Empire, but by 1922, there were fewer than 400,000. The others, some 1.5 million Armenians, were killed in what historians rightly consider a genocide. As you can see, they are a small country that is sandwiched in between world powers. Today, there is an estimated 9-13 million Armenians world wide, and I’m thankful I was able to meet Father Zacharia.

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In 2015, this local congregation, led by Father Zacharia will be celebrating the resurrection and the life that God has given the Armenian people. Father Zacharia and his parishoners love Jesus and have lived out the gospel while honoring their past, recognizing today, and defining the future; a very Trinitarian way to live (living in the past, present, and the future!).

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Father Zacharia and the Armenian people have stories that needs to be told and re-told. My prayer is that the evangelical churches of Phoenix would be willing to come along side this parish in 2015 during their centennial remembrance of their tragic genocide.