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Armenian Genocide Reminds Us: Christian Persecution Thriving

Lela Gilbert

On Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, the annual remembrance of the horrific killings that claimed the lives of over 1 million Armenian Christians, 23-year-old Arsineh Sarkisian and thousands like her marched through the streets of Los Angeles.

“Payqar, payqar! Minchev verj!” Arsineh cried, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The translation, “Persist, persist. Until the end!”

Refusing to let the past die is the goal of Armenians everywhere, as they continue to protest the refusal of the U.S. and other countries to officially acknowledge their unthinkable losses as genocide.

In the early 20th century, officials from the Ottoman Empire — today’s Turkey — went door-to-door, seizing and then massacring some 1.5 million Armenian Christians who lived within that majority Muslim state.

Thus the Armenian community — along with Pontic Greeks, Assyrian Christians, and other Ottoman subjects — suffered the first genocide of the 20th century.

The offspring of the survivors still grieve those horrific events, which, although well documented, have never been formally acknowledged by several countries, most notably the United States. The reason: politics.

Far worse, today’s Turkey fervently denies that the massacres ever took place, and rejects the fact that the Armenians were systematically religiously cleansed.

History says otherwise.

The devastating assault began on April 24, 1915, when Turkish authorities arrested hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

These esteemed members of the community were jailed, tortured, and hastily massacred.

That was only the beginning. As I have written elsewhere, when reports of the leadership’s slaughter spread across Turkey, terror gripped Armenian cities, towns and villages, which in 1915 were home to approximately 2,100,000 souls. According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, by 1922, only 387,800 Armenians remained alive.

“After killing the most highly educated and influential men in the community, the Turks began house-to-house searches.  . . .“ 

“The family members who survived — mostly women, children, the ill and the elderly —  were forced to embark upon what has been described as a ‘concentration camp on foot.’ They were told they would be relocated; in reality, they were sent on a death march to nowhere. They were herded like animals, – with whips and cudgels and at gunpoint. . . “

German historian Michael Hesemann has documented that the Armenians were killed for explicitly religious reasons:

“In the end, Armenians weren’t killed because they were Armenian, but because they were Christians. Armenian women were even offered to be spared if they convert to Islam. They were then married into Turkish households or sold on slave markets or taken as sex slaves into brothels for Turkish soldiers, but at least they survived. A whole group of Islamized Crypto-Armenians was created by this offer to embrace Islam. But at least it shows that the Armenians were not killed because they were Armenians, but because they were Christians.”

This year in Lebanon, on April 23, Armenians from across the country and took to the streets. “We are the fourth generation after the genocide. We demand justice, to have our rights restored and insist that our struggle is recognized,” Armenian Archbishop Shahi Panousian declared.

In Jerusalem, every April a candlelight march takes place, beginning with a mass at St. James Armenian Cathedral in the Old City. Although many Israeli leaders have publically acknowledged the massacre, the state of Israel — like the U.S. — has not formally recognized it as genocide.

It is noteworthy that Adolf Hitler found inspiration in the Armenian massacre for his Holocaust of European Jews.

But, as Israel’s i24News explained, “Neither Israel nor the United States have formally recognized the genocide likely due to diplomatic ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan, which engages in military trade with the Jewish state and supplies 40% of its oil. Azerbaijan has also been contemplated as a strategic location if Israel were to attack Iran.”

Today in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, an eternal flame burns in remembrance of that nation’s lost generation.

During a visit to Yerevan a few years ago, I became acutely aware of present-day jihadi atrocities. I learned that mujahidin veterans of the Afghanistan war against Russia had fought little-known but brutal battles against Armenian Christians in the early 1990s.

As I felt the heat of that flame on my face, I made a commitment to report, as best I could, the aggressions of radical Islamists against Christians, Jews and other minorities.

By then most everyone knew that al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram were global forces to be reckoned with.

Then ISIS launched its murderous rampage across Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State left behind vast bloodstained killing fields where Christians, Yazidis and others had been massacred. Eventually, those killings were officially declared genocide by international officials.

But, alas, history does repeat itself.

Under the leadership of Islamist dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is again demonstrating a surging hostility to Christians. Many have fled; others struggle to survive.

At the same time, one of Christianity’s oldest and most beloved churches, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, is being converted into a mosque.

In fact, we need look no further than the prison cell where innocent American Christian pastor Andrew Brunson is held. This pastor “ . . . has worked in Turkey as a missionary for 23 years, has been detained for 18 months. He was arrested in the aftermath of the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016, and American officials have been unsuccessful in their efforts to secure his release.”

We pray for his freedom.

Today, Christians are increasingly at risk in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria and a number of other radicalized Islamist states.

Meanwhile, along with its burgeoning abuses of Christian converts, Iran continues to threaten the annihilation of Israel, at the same time pursuing ballistic missiles, quietly embracing nuclear ambitions, and supporting deadly terrorist attacks on Jews.

In light of such hatred, evil intention and ongoing bloodshed, what can we do but stand together in defiant resistance? Let’s resolve to speak the truth boldly. Let us pray without ceasing.

Let’s also heed the young Armenian woman’s cry,” Persist, persist! Until the end!”

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