Today, April 24th, marks the 100th year since the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turkey – often described as the first genocide of the 20th Century.
Adolf Hitler, when pitching his so called ‘final solution’ before his government assembly, in justifying his plan of action towards Jews in Germany cited the fact of his day; “Who remembers the Armenians?”
Here in Jerusalem, and throughout the world, Armenians in their Diaspora are commemorating the horrible events that saw the death of an estimated 1.5 million of their past relatives.
In Armenia’s capital Yerevan, these individuals where canonized – the first such ceremony in 400 years in the life of the ancient Apostolic church, signifying that they were martyred for their faith, ethnicity, and land in the massacres and deportations.
Faith indeed was a major contributor to the Ottoman’s premeditated plan, as was economics for the Muslim empire that was crumbling.
With the emergence of photographic documentation, both stills and film, and the widespread practice of diplomatic filing of communication cables – the evidence of atrocity is hard to overlook as anything but ethnic cleansing.
Turkey today has resisted the international calls for it to recognize the 1915 killings as genocide.
They prefer not to associate the history with such a term that many see as a legal one. Recently we have seen sharp political fallout between Turkey and those governments who, such as the Vatican and Austria, recognize the Ottoman mass killings of Armenians as Genocide.
Turkey has accepted that they perpetrated mass acts of murder but argues no systematic attempt was made to destroy Christian Armenians.
They have made steps, such as a memorial service in Istanbul where the country will “share the pain” of Armenians, to move towards an acknowledgment of their disturbing past as Germany did with theirs concerning the Jews. Germany in fact, on this day, officially recognized the events by the Turks as Genocide against the Armenians.
However, Turkey has successfully avoided admission of genocide, being able to leverage threats of non-cooperation because of the West’s multilayered need for them at this very delicate time here in the Middle East.
Israel too, ironically, has not officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, some saying here that it diminishes the strength of sympathy the International community has towards Israel due to the holocaust.
That denial also has more to do with politics, as potential for relations with Turkey trumps those with Armenia. However, the reality is is that if the events of 1915 against the Armenians were recognized internationally as Genocide, it may have prevented that actions of Germany against the Jews in 1939.
The Armenian Genocide does have a key difference to the Jewish Holocaust.
While it is very true that many Jews perished in WWII in Nazi controlled Europe, Jews largely resided throughout the globe, as the State of Israel did not yet exist.
It is very difficult to find an Armenian family anywhere in the world today which was not effected by the Genocide – because they were in their homeland, much larger than what exists today, and not having so many dispersed abroad.
The conclusion of the matter is that man finds himself not wishing to live with man in this sin cursed world – it has been this way since Cain killed Able.
We have to look to Christ to learn to live, forgive, and reconcile when we think in terms of justice for painful things done against us.
This is partly why there are so many services being held here in Jerusalem today, even within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as Armenians keep alive the remembrance of this dark chapter of humanity – asking God to help man live with his neighbor.
Middle East Correspondent