Today, April 24, is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. The Genocide Education Project offers a summary of that tragic event which transpired during World War I (1914-1918):
"More than one million Armenians perished as the result of execution, starvation, disease, the harsh environment, and physical abuse. A people who lived in eastern Turkey for nearly 3,000 years [and two thousand years before the invading Turks arrived] lost its homeland and was profoundly decimated in the first large-scale genocide of the twentieth century. At the beginning of 1915 there were some two million Armenians within Turkey; today there are fewer than 60,000.
"Despite the vast amount of evidence that points to the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide, eyewitness accounts, official archives, photographic evidence, the reports of diplomats, and the testimony of survivors, denial of the Armenian Genocide by successive regimes in Turkey has gone on from 1915 to the present."
The evidence is overwhelming. As far back as 1920, a report to the U.S. Senate by the of the American Military Mission to Armenia stated that "[m]utilation, violation, torture, and death have left their haunting memories in a hundred beautiful Armenian valleys, and the traveler in that region is seldom free from the evidence of this most colossal crime of all the ages."
In her memoir, Ravished Armenia, Aurora Mardiganian described how she was raped and thrown into a harem (consistent with Islam's rules of war). Unlike thousands of other Armenian girls who were discarded after being defiled, she managed to escape. In the city of Malatia, she saw 16 Christian girls crucified: "Each girl had been nailed alive upon her cross," Mardiganian wrote, "spikes through her feet and hands, only their hair blown by the wind, covered their bodies." (Such scenes were portrayed in the 1919 documentary film Auction of Souls.)
Often overlooked, however, is that this was less a genocide of Armenians and more a genocide of Christians. Thus the opening sentence of U.S. House Resolution 296, which passed on the hundredth anniversary of the genocide (2019), correctly mentions "the campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians."
That last word — Christians — is key to understanding this tragic chapter of history: Christianity is what all of those otherwise diverse peoples had in common, and therefore it — not nationality, ethnicity, territory, or grievances — was the ultimate determining factor concerning who the Turks would and would not "purge."
As one Armenian studies professor asked:
"If it [the Armenian Genocide] was a feud between Turks and Armenians, what explains the genocide carried out by Turkey against the Christian Assyrians at the same time?"
According to another professor, Joseph Yacoub, author of Year of the Sword: The Assyrian Christian Genocide,:
"This suicidal policy of ethnic cleansing was stirred up by pan-Islamism and religious fanaticism. Christians were considered infidels (kafir). The call to Jihad... was part of the plan."
According to Yacoub (p.19), several key documents including a Syriac one from 1920, confirm that "there was an Ottoman plan to exterminate Turkey's Christians."
Yacoub recounts many "atrocities carried out by Turks and Kurds from town to town and from village to village without exception." In one instance, Turks, Kurds, and other "Sunnis," selected "eighteen of the most beautiful young girls" and hauled them into a local church, "where they were stripped naked and violated in turn on top of the Holy Gospel." An eyewitness recalled that the "outrages" committed against "even children" were "so horrible that one recoils; it makes the flesh creep."
The genocide is often conflated with the Armenians because many more of them than other Christians were killed—causing them to be the face of the genocide. According to reports, the Turks massacred 1.5 million Armenians, 750,000 Greeks, and 300,000 Assyrians. Relative their numbers, more Assyrians — half of their total population of 600,000 — were massacred.
Because all of these genocidal atrocities occurred during WWI, some, especially Turkey, argue that they were, ultimately, a reflection of just that — war, in all its death-dealing destruction. In reality, war was a factor, but only because it offered the Turks the necessary cover to do what they had apparently long wanted to do.
After describing the massacres as an "administrative holocaust," Winston Churchill observed that "The opportunity [World War I] presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race." Or, in the unequivocal words of Talaat Pasha, the de facto leader of the Ottoman Empire during the genocide:
"Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate its internal foes, i.e., the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention.... The question is settled. There are no more Armenians."
Not only has it gone unpunished; NATO ally Turkey has resumed the genocide against the very descendants of those whom the Turks nearly exterminated over a century ago — namely Armenians and Assyrians.
In late 2020, Muslim Azerbaijan initiated hostilities against Christian Armenian in a continuation of the 35-year-old landlocked, mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh land dispute. Turkey quickly joined its Azerbaijani co-religionists and arguably even spearheaded the war against Armenia, although the dispute clearly did not concern it. As Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rhetorically asked, "Why has Turkey returned to the South Caucasus 100 years [after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire]?" His answer: "To continue the Armenian Genocide."
Turkey, in 2020, sent sharia-enforcing "jihadist groups," from Syria and Libya, including the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Hamza Division—which kept naked women chained and imprisoned — to terrorize and slaughter the Armenians. These Muslim groups committed numerous atrocities (here, and here). These included raping an Armenian female soldier and mother of three, before hacking off all four of her limbs, gouging her eyes, and sticking one of her severed fingers inside her private parts.
More recently, in late 2022, Turkey launched thousands of attacks—air, mortar, drone, artillery, etc.—several miles deep into Syria's northern border. This is, of course, where most of the religious minorities live —Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds, who a few years earlier experienced a genocide at the hands of the Islamic State ("ISIS"). Dozens more were killed, and buildings and infrastructure destroyed. In response, Genocide Watch issued a Genocide Emergency Alert on December 7, 2022:
"These military attacks by Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime are part of a wider Turkish policy of annihilation of the Kurdish and Assyrian [Christian] people in northern Syria and Iraq. Turkey has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including bombing, shelling, abduction, torture, and extrajudicial killings. The attacks are part of Turkey's genocidal policies towards Kurds, Christians, and Ezidis."
A later webinar (summarized here) featured several experts who determined that Turkey's conduct had been genocidal. Charmaine Hedding, president of the Shai Fund, a humanitarian organization, said that Turkey's ground forces consisted of former ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Tahrir al-Shams jihadists who "are committing massive human rights abuses and have an agenda to create a caliphate, and they will eradicate the religious minorities in this area." Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, concluded by saying:
"Turkey is a genocidal society... Turkey has conducted so many genocides in history... Going back many centuries, it [Turkey] has been anti-Christian, and has tried to slaughter as many Christians as possible."
In the end, what Turkey has done and is doing to Christians must be seen in the broader context of what Muslims have done and continue to do to Christians. An estimated 360 million Christians are currently being persecuted, mostly in the Muslim world.
Four centuries before the Turks invaded and conquered formerly-Christian Asia Minor, Arabs conquered and Islamized all of North Africa and the Middle East. Centuries of persecution and outright jihads (holy wars) saw Christians go from an overwhelming majority to a tiny minority. In some areas there is the extinction (for instance, in Algeria, home of Saint Augustine), or near-extinction, of Christians, especially in the oldest Christian regions, such as Iraq and Syria, where Christians still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
In Nigeria, which seemingly, apart from Islam, has little in common with Turkey, at least one Christian is massacred for his/her faith every two hours, even as the world adamantly ignores that genocide.
Today, therefore, on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, it is crucial to remember the true background and significance of that tragic event — Muslim hate for Christians — and to know that it is still ongoing. As Charmaine Hedding said during the webinar on Turkey's genocidal assault on Christians in Syria:
"This genocide is a pattern we see, and it's certainly nothing new.... For those who say 'Not on our watch!' or 'Never again!' — here it is, happening again!"
Raymond Ibrahim is the Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.