Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)
Last Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It has been called the greatest symbol of Christian martyrdom in the 20th century.
Back then the Islamic Ottoman Empire dictated that Armenians, as Christians, had the right to worship but not freedom of religion (an important difference as discussed here). As second-class citizens, testimony against Muslims by Christians and Jews was inadmissible in court. They were forbidden to carry weapons or ride atop horses, their houses could not overlook those of Muslims, and their religious practices had to defer to Muslims. Punishment ranged from fines to execution.
Despite these obstacles, the Armenian community, which was concentrated in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, was better educated and wealthier than their Turkish neighbors. The Christians were resented for their success, and the Ottoman government believed that Christian Armenians would be more loyal to Christian governments (eg, Russia).
Starting in the mid-1860s, Armenians asked for better treatment. Peasants complained about looting and murder by Muslims in Armenian towns, improper tax collection, and criminal government behavior. The Ottoman government promised to punish those responsible, but little changed. The Christian minority continued to complain of widespread forced land seizure, forced conversions, arson, extortion, rape, and murder.
Then, in April 1915, the newly established Turkish government started massacring and expelling Armenians. Genocide (the term comes from this event) was implemented in two phases: wholesale killing of able-bodied men through massacre and forced labor, followed by deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirmed by death marches to the Syrian desert — along the way being deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly treated.
By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations ended, about 1.5 million of Turkey’s Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country. Those who survived scattered to Syrian cities where they suffered new attacks. Others went to what became Soviet Armenia or to the West.
Turkey, as successor to the Ottoman Empire, denies that the word genocide accurately describes these mass killings. However, 23 countries and 43 states in the US officially recognize it as genocide, a view shared by most genocide scholars and historians.
Remember the victims of the Armenian genocide and the difficult time for Christians in this region. Many renounced their religion in order to save their lives. Others held firm to their Christian beliefs. Let’s show reverence for Christian martyrs a century ago, and let’s pray for Christian martyrs of today.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (1 Peter 4:14-16)