During a special Mass held in 2015 to mark the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, the Holy Father referred to “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” of the past century. “The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the twentieth century, struck your own Armenian people,” he said, quoting a declaration signed in 2001 by Pope John Paul II and Kerekin II, leader of the Armenian church (Source and Video). What was he talking about?
Yet atrocities like this, along with the Holocaust and the Ukrainian Holodomor were instrumental in the coining of the word ‘genocide’ in the first place, by ‘combining the Greek word ‘geno,’ for race or tribe and the Latin word ‘cide,’ for killing.’
History repeats itself and we know that the Armenian Genocide was not the first such ethnic cleansing to happen, nor the last. Each genocide is an atrocity on a monumental scale, too big to comprehend. Yet some are more well known than others. Some are in danger of slipping away between the pages of the history books. With that in mind, here are ten facts that you may not know about the Armenian genocide.
1. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were systematically killed by the administration of Ottoman Empire, which originated from what is now present-day Turkey.
2. It began on 24th April 1915, when 250 Armenians were arrested and deported by the authorities. These people were academics and local leaders. Most of them did not survive.
3. The Armenians are a Christian people and Armenia was the first ever state to take Christianity as their state religion in 301 AD. The Genocide was a concentrated effort to rid the region of Christianity and anyone who practiced it.
4. Hitler, in 1939, as he prepared to invade Poland, said that he was ready to send to ‘death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language’ in order to gain ‘living space’. He followed up his comments with the chilling rhetorical question:“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”This is a tragic example of how indifference does not make a situation go away; it only breeds more tragedy.
5. Only 24 states around the world recognize the Armenian Genocide as a genocide. Other countries stay silent on it, or refer to it in other ways without using the word, so as not to harm relations with present day Turkey, who does not recognize it and denies the numbers killed. However, historians collectively agree that it was a genocide. To see how your country views the Armenian Genocide, you can check out this page here.
6. The Armenians were systematically killed in a variety of ways. Keep in mind here that this was a people who were originally happily integrated members of society; doctors, teachers, academics, artists, families, etc. Firstly, the men were called up, leaving women, children and old men behind defenseless. Concentration camps were set up. Women and girls were systematically raped so that, anecdotally it is said that virtually all Armenian women were sexually abused in this way, often damaged to the point of death. Men were killed in mass shootings or hangings, children were tragically and callously disposed of by drowning, injecting with T.B, or shot in lines. Women and children were sent on hunger marches across the desert to Syria, where they were sold, if they hadn’t died on the way.
7. Typically, a genocide will ‘progress’ in 8 stages, exactly as the Armenian Genocide did.
The 8 Stages of the Armenian Genocide
The distinguishing of populations; the classification of people by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality’. Ottoman Turks (Muslims) & Armenians (non-Muslim, Christians)
The names and symbols associated with classifications. Christian qualities of Armenians = second-class citizens (called gavours, infidels, or unbelievers)
The denial of the humanity of the victims from the perpetrators; this group is classified as subhuman and inferior. Mistreatment of Armenians becomes humane in Turkish eyes; civil-restricting laws were implemented on Armenians
The state organization responsible for massacres and other atrocities; special militias or army units are often utilised. Central Community of the Young Turk Party, mass militias deployed, & ‘Butcher Battalions’ of released convicts organized into killing units.
Extremist ideals widen the division of opposing groups; propaganda and social laws restrict the victims. Propaganda surfaces: ‘Armenians are siding with the Turkish enemy (Russia)’; intermarrying is forbidden and second-class citizen division increases in apparency
Victims are identified and segregated; property is confiscated, deportation begins, and massacring becomes evident. Armenian property is confiscated, looting and property burning begins, soldiers are disarmed, forced labor is applied, Armenian leaders are executed, and death marches are forced
The mass killing of the victims, considered to be subhuman and inferior to the perpetrators.
Deportation, shootings, exile to Syrian deserts, gas and suffocation massacres, and burnings commence to eliminate Armenians
Denying of genocidal accusations and blocking international investigations. The modern Turkish government continues not to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, and outlaws any accusation or mention of such event.
The majority of the information for this was taken from the website for the Armenian Genocide Centenary, and you can find out more here.
8. The genocide continued until October 30th, 1918, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The First World War had been a useful concealment for the genocide. Although Pope Benedict XV, along with officials from other countries, spoke out during the genocide, it was consistently denied by the Ottoman administration. However, the killing of Armenians continued until 1923. By then, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians had been killed, hundreds of thousands were refugees in other countries and the population had been effectively wiped off the map of their historic homeland.
***Some of the images that follow are very graphic; user discretion advised.***
The following is a 1919 American film based on the autobiographical book Ravished Armenia by Arshaluys (Aurora) Mardiganian, who also played the lead role in the film. The film depicts the 1915 Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire from the point of view of Armenian survivor Mardiganian. Footage has survived to today only in incomplete form, yet what remains should serve as a stark reminder, a caution and a wake-up call to present and future generations.
In her memoir, Ravished Armenia, Aurora Mardiganian described being raped and thrown into a harem (which agrees 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, 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, some of which is based on Mardiganian’s memoirs.
Please join us in remembering the lives that were lost in ethnic and religious mass murder. We pray together for an end to all genocide and injustice that occurs in our world today.
O Lord, we cry to you, with deep pain in our hearts and souls. Our hearts ache, because of genocide caused by the lust for power, cruel hatred for others, because of their race, religion or physical differences. God of all, the heavens weep, the winds whisper through this great world you have created. We hear and feel the weeping in our own souls. Open our eyes and cleanse our souls that we may always remember the awful injustices. How long, O God, will we look with empty souls and eyes, how long? The answer, “Until you feel my pain for all my children.” We cry in shame. Forgive us Lord. Amen.