[notice]By Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She is Adjunctnct Research Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at the Melbourne School of Theology. She is Director of Advocacy for Christian Faith and Freedom based in Canberra, Australia. [/notice]
On the night of 24 April 1915 the Young Turk government arrested over 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople (Istanbul) and dragged them off to prisons in central Anatolia (modern day Turkey). This event, known today as Red Sunday, is generally regarded as the beginning of the Armenian Genocide as it was the first in a series of arrests and deportations that saw 2 345 leading Armenians arrested, deported and (mostly) summarily executed.
By 1923 some 1.5 million Armenians (out of a total population of two million) had been savagely murdered or deported and starved to death by Turks who had been incited to kill and who were guaranteed impunity.
The Armenian Genocide occurred in the context of a wide-scale ethnic-religious cleansing in the Turkish heartland as the Ottoman Empire unravelled. Also eliminated were at least 500 000 Greeks throughout Asia Minor and up to 750 000 Assyrian Christians throughout Mesopotamia.
Whilst the Turks must bear most of the guilt, Kurds and Arabs were also involved. Though 24 April 1915 is regarded as the start of the genocide, the killing actually began much earlier. Through the 19th Century, as the Ottoman Empire became ‘the sick man of Europe’, the captive Christian nations long-subjugated within it grasped the opportunity to agitate for independence. Inevitably, Christian uprisings were brutally suppressed and Christians executed, massacred and deported into slavery.
Generally Russia (long the protector of Eastern Christians) would intervene in defence of persecuted Christians as was its right according to the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, brokered by Catherine the Great in 1774. In 1853, after issuing several warnings, Russian troops crossed into the Danubian Provinces in defence of severely persecuted Greek Christians (although Europe regarded this as a mere pretext for imperialist expansion).
Aware that defeat was imminent, the Turks appealed to Britain for help. The Ottoman Empire’s size, along with its location between imperial Europe and imperial Russia, afforded it economic and geo-strategic value. Not only did Britain have economic interests in keeping the Ottoman Empire united and strong for the purpose of free trade (which Britain believed was the key to world peace), it had geo-strategic interests in keeping Russia hemmed in. So Britain and France entered the Crimean War on the side of the Ottoman Turks.
In exchange for British support the Sultan agreed to enact reforms aimed at improving the situation of his Christian subjects. The reforms, guaranteeing religious freedom and equality before the law, were aimed at bringing an end to the Christians’ status as dhimmis (second class citizens, without rights). However, Muslims rejected the reforms as anti-Islamic. Viewing the removal of jizya (protection money) as a green light for jihad, pogroms and massacres became the order of the day. In 1860 alone some 20 000 Christians were slaughtered in Syria and Lebanon. In 1876 up to 25 000 Eastern Christians were massacred in the ‘Bulgarian horrors’. In 1895-96 as many as 200 000 Armenians were murdered in Turkish Armenia.
Keen to maintain its pro-Muslim policies, Britain adopted a ‘conspiracy of silence’ regarding the killings, along with running a campaign of propaganda vilifying Eastern Christianity. So the killings continued. Then, as World War I raged and the Ottoman Empire unravelled, Turkish authorities exploited the chaos to launch an orchestrated campaign of ethnic-religious genocide, knowing full well that it was not in the interests of any Western power to stop them.
After the war the remnant Christians were denied their right of self-determination by pro-Muslim European powers who were convinced that the best way to modernise and soften Islam was to ‘dilute’ it with Christians. So it is a story not only of genocide, but of abandonment and betrayal, and the stoking of God’s wrath.
Fast forward to the 21st Century
Today, a century of balance of power in, and Western hegemony over, the Middle East is officially over. The Muslim centre (Mesopotamia) has collapsed and the fight is on to see which regional power will fill the void: the Turks, the Arabs or the Persians; and which sect will dominate: the Sunnis or the Shi’ites. As in 1915 the minorities — particularly the mostly Armenian and Assyrian Christians — are facing genocide as Muslim elements exploit the chaos to launch an orchestrated campaign to attend to unfinished business: eradicating Christianity.
The word genocide is already being used to describe the ethnic-religious cleansing of Iraq’s remnant Assyrian Christians, which has seen their numbers drop from around 1.4 million to just 200 000, most of whom are displaced.
In Syria, where the West is backing and arming genocidal Islamic forces, the future of remnant Armenian and Assyrian Christians hangs in the balance. In Turkey, where the dark clouds of neo-Ottomanism and Islam have rolled in and the government is vilifying Armenians and ‘missionaries’ as the ultimate threat to Turkish national security, Christians are vulnerable. [http://armenianweekly.com/2014/12/04/textbooks/ ]
Just as in 1915 the West is enacting pro-Muslim policies to advance its own ‘interests’: allied to the Turks and Arabs against Iran and against Syria’s President Assad; allied to Iran against Islamic State; and backing Shi’ites in Iraq and Sunnis in Syria. All the while the West is totally unwilling to aid the minorities and help them establish safe havens for the prevention of genocide.
Yet again, Christians are being eliminated and all the West has to offer is a shroud of deathly silence and a campaign of propaganda against anyone who would assist them. In the absence of repentance, how else could God respond but with judgment? As the West has delivered Christ’s precious children into the hands of his and their enemy, so he will deliver the West into the hands of the same enemy! Indeed, Europe has already drunk from ‘the Cup of the Lord’s Wrath’, the effects of which will soon be manifest.
These are days for reflection, confession and repentance. These are days for lamentation as a shameful history repeats itself and Christians suffer unimaginable horrors. Most of all, these are days for serious intercessory prayer that the God of the Cross will be at work in the darkness and that he, in grace, will turn back the battle.
LET US PRAY: * that God will pour out a spirit of reflection and repentance over all those nations who have been complicit in genocide against the Lord’s people, either through sins of commission [actual killing] or sins of omission [failing to intervene]. * for all those Christians across the Middle East today who are displaced and imminently imperilled – especially Armenian and Assyrian Christians in conflict-wracked Syria and Iraq; may our loving heavenly Father, the Almighty King of kings and Lord of lords, provide all their needs – material (such as shelter, security, food, water and heating) and spiritual guidance, comfort, peace, and grace. * that the Church will rise to be the Church she is supposed to be: One Body IN Christ and a light to the world! May there be a willingness to show solidarity with those who suffer; to give generously to those in need; and to end the silence, especially our shameful silence before the Throne of Grace! ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. … whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:40,45 NIV)