The Destruction of the Armenian Church during the Genocide, by Simon Payaslian
Today marks the 105th commemoration of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. The Armenians were a minority Christian population within the larger Turkish and Kurdish Muslim population. For centuries they had lived in a divided nation, one side Ottoman, the other either Russian or Persian, depending on who won the last war. For countless centuries, they learned to survive this way.
Why note this now, at this time? I was thinking about this in the context of church leaders in our time, meekly giving up services to include the most sacred Holy Week and Easter – the most joyous time for Christians, the reason that Christianity even means anything.
I thought a look at how earlier church fathers acted in a time of national and religious persecution. What does this have to do with today? If Christian leaders don’t realize that they are under persecution today in the West, God save them.
…Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian, who served as the Armenian patriarch at Constantinople from 1896 to 1908, [made] the following observation: ‘‘The Church of Armenia has been crushed for centuries between the upper and the nether millstones of political rivalry and conquest, and during these long ages…‘religious liberty’ has had to be secured by sheer independence of character and the shedding of much blood.’’
That’s real persecution, as compared to taking the risk of being ticketed for handing out plastic-wrapped palm branches.
[In 1896, Johannes] Lepsius estimated that 646 villages were forcibly converted to Islam, 645 churches and monasteries were desecrated and destroyed, and 328 churches were turned into mosques.
And in 2020, one million churches (I am just making that number up) were voluntary closed by their Christian leaders, because “we are to obey governing authorities.” Blegh.
[In April 1909] two rounds of massacres were launched against the Armenians, in the region of Adana, that by the end of the month left more than 20,000 Armenians dead.
Before 1915, it was clearly obvious to Armenian Christian leaders that challenging the authorities was asking for trouble – real trouble, not just getting a hand slapped.
Christopher Walker has correctly noted that ‘‘The Armenians failed to grasp the nature of Turkism. They continued to see themselves as Christians.... Religion was an integral part of being an Ottoman Armenian, so a nonreligious ideology was hard to comprehend. They found it almost impossible to see what it meant to be up against a nonreligious, race-based ideology.’’
“Yes, but it’s different for us. America is a Christian nation with Christian leaders like Donald Trump.”
But on Saturday 24 April, soldiers were stationed throughout Constantinople, home to some 150,000 Armenians, and the authorities arrested about 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders, including the renowned musicologist and priest Gomidas Vartabed Soghomonian.
Arrest? That was the easy part.
Soon the entire Armenian nation became engulfed in terror, as the Young Turk regime began the deportations while Turks and Kurds attacked Armenian towns.
Well, maybe it is a little bad.
The Armenian prelate of Kayseri, Bishop Khosrow Behrigian, was arrested and handed over to the military courts …Bishop Nerses Tanielian, [was] arrested, marched out of town, and finally murdered in a valley some distance away. The prelate of Erzurum, Archbishop Smpad Saadetian, along with a caravan of 7,000 Armenians, was deported to Malatya and met a similar fate in July.
Three church leaders down, a few hundred to go. Eventually, most Armenian Christian leaders would be killed or deported, along with their flocks. Some took a more noble calling, putting on the armor of God.
Most of the local Armenian priests were imprisoned and murdered or, if left alive, deported; some of them chose to depart from the customary orientation of the patriarchate and took part in local resistance movements.
I think Chuck Baldwin might be one of the few today that can identify with this.
Before World War One, there were over 2,100 Armenian churches in the Turkish sections of the Ottoman Empire. By the early 1950s, the number was less than forty. The church leaders, even during a time of horrendous persecution, did not leave their flock, stood in front of the Young Turks in protest of the treatment of Armenians, and even joined the laity in armed fighting against the injustice.
I find it hard to imagine that when Jesus said “The meek shall inherit the earth,” that what we see around us by Christian leaders today is what He had in mind.
Armenians have a history that dates back at least 3,000 years. They are the first Christian nation, well before Rome, with the king adopting Christianity in 301 AD. They have been surrounded almost continuously by much stronger empires, and for over a thousand years to include Muslim invaders. It was their Christianity that saved them as a nation for the last 1,700 years.
Want to bet nothing about America lasts nearly this long?