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September, 2017
Volume 43, Number 3
  
24 April 2015
Greg Kandra




People lay flowers at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, commemorating 100 years since the massacre took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians. (photo: Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images)

Armenians around the world are remembering today the genocide 100 years ago of Armenians by Ottoman Turks:

The annual 24 April commemorations mark the day when the mass killings started. An estimated 1.5 million died in massacres, deportations and forced marches that began in 1915 as Ottoman officials worried that the Christian Armenians would side with Russia, its enemy in World War I.

Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest. …

In Beirut, tens of thousands of Lebanese of Armenian descent marched the stretch of several miles from an Armenian church in northern Beirut to a soccer field where the commemoration service took place. Many waved Armenian and Lebanese flags and scores wore caps with “I remember and I demand” printed on them in Arabic. Lebanon has one of the largest Armenian communities in the world outside Armenia itself — mostly descendants of people who fled their homes in 1915. Experts estimate the community to number about 150,000 people today.

Among those attending the Beirut service was Agop Djizmedjian, a 52-year-old supermarket employee who brought his 5-year-old son George. “I brought George today to tell him that our ancestors were killed in this genocide,” Djizmedjian said. “When I die, my son will teach his children until we get our rights.”

In Beirut’s predominantly Armenian district of Burj Hammoud, most of the shops were closed and balconies were decorated with the red, blue and orange Armenian flags.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, Armenian priests held a Mass at St. James Cathedral, their chants rising to the sky in the cavernous century-old church adorned with hundreds of metal lamps as light filtered from the dome windows.

Pope Francis spoke of the slaughter of the Armenian people on 12 April, and draw parallels to the plight of Christians today:

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Pope Francis said atrocities from the past have to be recognized — not hidden or denied — for true reconciliation and healing to come to the world.

However, Turkey’s top government officials criticized the pope’s use of the term “genocide” — citing a 2001 joint statement by St. John Paul II and the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church — in reference to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during their forced evacuation by Ottoman Turks in 1915-18.

Turkey rejects the accusation of genocide, and the government called its ambassador to the Holy See back to Turkey “for consultations” on 12 April, the same day Pope Francis made his statement. The government also summoned Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, nuncio to Turkey, to lodge a complaint.

Before concelebrating the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis greeted the many Armenian faithful who were present, including Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

The pope lamented the continued forced expulsions and atrocious killings of Christians in the world saying, “Today, too, we are experiencing a kind of genocide created by general and collective indifference” and “complicit silence.”

Humanity has lived through “three massive and unprecedented tragedies the past century: the first, which is generally considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ ” struck the Armenian people, he said, quoting a joint declaration signed in 2001 by St. John Paul and Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The other two 20th-century tragedies were those “perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism,” while more recently “other mass exterminations” have been seen in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia, Pope Francis said.

“It seems that the human family refuses to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that there are still today those who try to eliminate their own kind with the help of some and with the complicit silence of others who act as bystanders,” he said.

Addressing Armenian Christians, the pope said that recalling “that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter, which your forebears cruelly endured,” was necessary and “indeed a duty” to honor their memory “because wherever memory does not exist, it means that evil still keeps the wound open.”

“Concealing or denying evil is like letting a wound keep bleeding without treating it,” he said.

To learn more about Armenia, read our profiles of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church in the pages of ONE. Also, check out our blog series on the Journey Through the South Caucasus, for an intimate look at life in Armenia today.



Tags: Pope Francis Turkey Armenia