As of yesterday, we have 1.5 million new Saints: the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. In a ceremony at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat, Catholicos Karekin II proclaimed their Glorification in what may be one of the largest such ceremonies in history. It is the first Glorification in the Armenian Apostolic Church in 400 years. In the Roman Catholic Church, this process is called Canonization, that is, adding the names of the Saints to the Canons (Lists and rules) of the Church.
At the very beginning of this blog, I ask for your action. A man whom I admire and support, President Obama, is waffling on calling this massacre a Genocide. Email him right now at https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments and tell him to Commemorate the 1915 Genocide as what it is, a Genocide, the first of the 20th (bloody) Century.
To understand this mass Martyrdom, it will be necessary to explore several aspects: The Real War on Christianity, The Armenian Church, Turkey, The Century of Genocides, and the Armenian Genocide itself. I am not illustrating this Blog Post except with one photo of yesterday’s Glorification as this is a sombre moment.
The Real War against Christianity
Right-Wingers and their mouthpiece, Fox Faux News, or Fox News-Enterainment (bearing the same relationship to real news that the WWE bears to real sports), often spout garbage about a so-called War on Christians in the United States. While there are some vocal detractors of Christianity in the U.S., there is no actual persecution of Christians here, rather, the majority religion in the U.S. is Christianity and it enjoys many privileges, along with other religions. LGBT people are waging no war on Christianity. For the most part, they either are Christians themselves, or members of other faiths, or they ignore the Church. Boycotting a Pizza Parlor for not catering an LGBT Wedding is just the exercise of both free speech and capitalism, not a persecution. Get real.
As an example, I remember one Guadalupe day Mass in Cambridge MA where I was a graduate student, one of the Professors was giving the homily, and she said “I identify with the disappeareds and persecuted peoples in Latin America, for I too am a persecuted person, a Woman in Cambridge!” Myself and other Hispanic students–women and men–shook our heads. Now there are plenty of ways in which American society still needs to acknowledge the full equality of Women, but to equate that with the bloody persecution of people in Latin America…no!
There is, however, real persecution of Christians in the world, as well as persecutions of other religions. Persecution of Christians has a long history.
At the beginning, of course, it was the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians, most notoriously under Emperors such as Nero and Diocletian. That was the first round of Martyrs. After that, Christianity took over the Empire, and Christians began persecuting other Christians. This went on in one form or another for the next 1700 years. We got very good at it.
During that time, however, others did their share too. Christians under the Persians and later under the Muslims, were tolerated, but not always. When the Ottoman Turks overran the territories of the Roman Empire, culminating in the Empire’s fall on Tuesday May 29, 1453, there began the period of the New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke. They are commemorated in Byzantine usage on the third Sunday after Pentecost.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the New Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion, Chinese and foreign Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants who were martyred in China.
Then came the horrific time of the New Martyrs of the Communist Yoke when Communist persecution of Christians was most vile. San Francisco’s St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow was among them, as was the Royal Family. Similar persecution took place in other Communist countries. They are commemorated on January 25.
The New Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide were slaughtered legally by the Turkish Ottoman Empire during the years 1915-1916, and are commemorated today, April 24.
From 1857-1992, Mexico was officially irreligious, and persecuted the Church legally. Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J., who lived at the Novitiate in Los Gatos where I picked grapes, was martyred November 23, 1927 for his faith. The Carmelite Monastery of Christo Rey, across from USF on Parker in San Francisco, was founded by refugees from religious persecution in Mexico.
And now we have the New Martyrs under Islamic Extremism in North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Even in countries where Christians are not persecuted, like Saudi Arabia, they do not have full rights. The Saudis do not allow the free exercise of religions other than Islam (and they actively promote the perverted forms of Islam: Wahhabism and Salafism). Pope Benedict XVI and I didn’t see eye to eye on many things, but I certainly supported his calls to the Muslim governments of the world to show reciprocal religious freedoms that Islam enjoys elsewhere.
In this country, we don’t just tolerate Islam, we celebrate it. We issue stamps for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. We know that we are a stronger nation because we are diverse, and the vast majority of Muslims in the U.S. are patriotic and productive Americans, just like their sisters and brothers of other faiths. Of course, every group has its bad actors (remember the White Supremacist Christian Bombers of Oklahoma City, and those who shoot up Planned Parenthood?), but they do not represent the mainstream.
While far more Christians have been killed by other Christians, there is real religious persecution in the world.
The Armenian Apostolic Church
Armenia was one of the first two Kingdoms to adopt Christianity as their official Faith, in 301. Georgia followed in the early 4th Century. Christianity was tolerated in the Roman Empire in 313, and Nicene Orthodox Christianity became the official religion of the Empire in 380. These Christians actively persecuted Paganism, and other forms of Christianity.
Armenians are still over 95% Christian. While most are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, there are minorities of Armenian Catholics (following the same Liturgical usage as the larger Church), Anglicans and Protestants. The Church has two Catholicates, one in Etchmiadzin in Armenia and one in Cilicia (Lebanon) which govern the Church worldwide.
The Armenian Tradition is one of the five great Traditions of the Church, the other four being Byzantine, Alexandrine, Antiochian, and Latin. Anglicans and Protestants are descendants of the Latin Tradition. It is characterized by some unique usages, and also a blending of Byzantine, Antiochia and Latin usage. They are an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning that they reject the Christological language of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, as does the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in India.
Armenians live in the Republic of Armenia, and in a diaspora throughout the world. As the Country of Turkey today was the heartland of the Roman Empire, there were millions of Armenians in Turkey.
Turkey is the successor Republic to the Ottoman Empire, and occupies the area called Anatolia in Antiquity. Muslim forces had long harried the boarders of the Roman Empire, and from almost the beginning of Islam in 7th Century. The Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine) fell in the mid 600s, including Jerusalem. From 780-1180, Roman Emperors fought many wars with the Arabs, taking back a great deal of territory.
In the 11th Century, the Seljuk Turks began to penetrate into Roman Anatolia, gaining a foothold there. It was in response that emissaries of Emperor Alexios I asked Pope Urban II for western troops to assist him in retaking Roman lands. Urban, however, had his own agenda: unify the feuding Kingdoms of Western Europe, and also subdue the Eastern Orthodox Church and bring it under his own control. Rather than follow the leadership of the rightful Emperor, the Westerners, while formally pledging fealty to him, plundered and slaughtered countless Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, and set up their own Latin Kingdoms. In 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, they even sacked the Christian Capitol, Constantinople.
If the troops had obediently followed the Emperor, a great tragedy of history would have been averted, and many lands returned to the Empire. As it is, they hastened the Fall of the Empire, and did lasting damage to Christian-Muslim relations, as well as Orthodox-Catholic relations.
After the Seljuks were devastated by the Mongols, the Ottoman Turks followed with conquests in Anatolia, and ultimately the capture of New Rome (Constantinople) in 1453, ending the 2100 years of Roman civilization.
The Ottomans ruled successfully from 1453-1566, but then began a long stagnation and decline. The apogee of Islam was far past, and decadence was setting in. Much of this is discussed in a excellent work by Muslim scholars, What Went Wrong? By World War I, when the Ottomans sided with the other Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria, against the Allies, the Ottomans were at their nadir, and ready to fall.
In 1915, the Ottomans began to deport the entire Armenian population of Turkey, in the process of which, the Armenian Genocide took place when 1.5 million Armenians perished from deliberate, state-supported violence and starvation. They also persecuted the Christian Greeks and Assyrians within their borders.
The Allies had earlier sent Archeologist and Officer T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) to work with the Arabs in the Levant, Middle East and Mesopotamia (all Ottoman territories) to foment a revolt against their Turkish overlords. He was authorized to promise the Arabs sovereignty at the successful conclusion of the War. After the War, of course, the British, French and Russians perfidiously signed the secret Sykes-Pecot Agreement, dividing up the Arab Lands among themselves. This set the stage for the disastrous situation in the Middle East today.
Following the occupation of Turkey by the allies, a nationalist movement ended the Sultanate and Caliphate, and the Republic of Turkey was declared, led by Mustafa Kemal (later given the surname “Atatürk”), in 1922 as a Parliamentary, secular, democracy.
The Turks, feeling attached to their Ottoman past, steadfastly deny that there was an Armenian Genocide. They lie, obfuscate, and cloud the issue. They are joined in this by the Government of Azerbaijan. In 1985 there was a published denial of Genocide by 69 American scholars. It was later learned that most, if not all, received benefits directly or indirectly from the Turkish Government.
U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. spoke out strongly against the Armenian Genocide and similar treatment of Greeks and Assyrians in 1915-1916. In 1918 he wrote: “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.”
There is no doubt that the Armenian Genocide occurred. Turkey, admit it and make reparation!
A Century of Genocide
Whole populations have been persecuted in the past. We only need to look at the way the European Colonial powers dominated almost the entire world for centuries. The English occupation and persecution of the Irish is a prime example, which has not yet been fully ended. Genocide was committed against the native populations of the Americas by the colonizers, and later, the Americans. As is shown in the excellent study, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, the population of the New World was somewhere from 50-100 million before Columbus. By the 17th Century, about 90% had died from disease and violence. Their cultures have been extinguished or severely diminished.
The 20th Century, however, specialized in a new, very efficient, kind of Genocide. The term Genocide itself is of 20th century coinage. Raphael Lemkin, in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944) created it from Greek genos (γένος), “race, people” and Latin cīdere “to kill.”
It is defined as “the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group.” Beginning with the Armenian Genocide in 1915, there have been other deplorable Genocides.
The Holocaust was the Nazi attempt to eliminate all the Jewish people they could get their hands on during World War II. They also tried to eliminate a huge population of Romas, Polish Catholics, and Gay people. Approximately 7.4 million Russians in captured areas were systematically killed or starved. Anyone who is a Neo-Nazi is seriously deluded. Japan likewise massacred huge numbers of Chinese in the 1937 Rape of Nanking and other atrocities.
Stalin and Mao both killed millions in their ruthless campaigns. Mao certainly wanted to commit Genocide on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and both tyrants severely persecuted Christians.
From 1963 until 1997, Pol Pot committed Genocide on his own people, seeking to eliminate all intellectuals, urban dwellers, turning the remaining into farmers which he could control. A Jesuit I know who worked in the refugee camps told me that on one occasion Pol Pot told his troops, “There is nothing you cannot accomplish if you fill yourselves with Hate.”
There have been genocides all over the world. Some of the latest have been the Rwandan Genocide and the Ethnic Cleansing by the Serbs. Genocides did not end with the 20th Century.
The Armenian Genocide
Wikipedia gives a succinct summary of this Genocide:
The genocide was carried out during and after World War I. It started while the Ottomans were fighting a devastating two-front war against Imperial Russia, France and Britain. The genocide was directed specifically at the Armenian population of eastern Anatolia, which had become a war theater for the brutal conflict between the Ottomans and Russia. It did not target Armenians in other parts of the empire. The genocide was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. The majority of Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.
Today we commemorate this terrible injustice, and call for Turkey to admit the truth of this, and pay reparations. It is time to end this, and all Genocides.
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant