Armenian Genocide/Orthodox Holocaust

Orthodox Insight – 27/4/15

With the focus on April 23 of the Armenian Genocide commemoration,  which included the canonization of the martyrs, public debate has centered on the use of the term genocide [the policy of deliberately killing a nationality orethnic group] and whether it applies to the 1915-1918 Ottoman Turks’ actions against the 2 million Armenians who lived in Turkey.

The short answer is ‘yes’.  When a government which executes most intellectuals/potential leaders of an ethnic group  (April 24, 1915) and then begins to march that  ethnic group en mass  from their homes with no food and supplies into a arid (Syrian) desert region with no protection and no waiting facilities for them at the end of the march, there is not other conclusion but that the purpose is extermination.  Ongoing slaughter by Turkish troops (and Kurdish bandits along the route) accomplished the goal more quickly.  As when the Turk kidnapped Christian Balkan children to brainwash them into becoming fanatical Muslim Janissaries, the modern Turks kidnapped some Armenian women and children and forced them to ‘convert’.

One excuse often put forward is that Turkey was in a state of war and was being invaded by Russian troops in the east and the British Empire at  Gallipoli  and the Armenians (Orthodox Christians who has staged limited rebellions in the previous 100 years) were a potential ‘fifth column’ in the middle of the Turkish nation.  Many nations throughout history have faced similar situations and have monitored and even interred potentially hostile ethnic groups in wartime.  Turkish policy was a precursor of communist and Nazi policies of extermination: “The Ottoman Empire should be cleaned up of the Armenians and the Lebanese. We have destroyed the former by the sword, we shall destroy the latter through starvation.” (Enver Pasha, Turkish War Minister who instituted the program).

A key issue which has not been mentioned prominently is that the Moslem Turks created a potential ‘enemy within’ by their own treatment of Christians and other religious minorities.  The first hand account of Ivan Sokolov (The Church of Constantinople in the 19th Century) details the centuries-long treatment of Christians in the empire.  Christians were taxed excessively  (poll tax, land tax, marriage tax, customs, employment and many others),  could not build new churches or worship openly in any way, had to allow Muslim in their churches and homes  unrestricted at any time, had to ‘make way’ for Muslims in the streets, could not hold any type of authority over a Muslim in business or government and had restrictions on where they could live and what they could wear.  They had no ‘rights’ in courts and the many accounts of ‘new martyrs’ illustrate that there was no defense against false accusations (except apostasy).  So, the Turks rightly had concerns about a serious problem of their own creation which the Western powers had been urging them to address for over 100 years.

The Ottoman Turks began an earlier persecution of the 2.5 million Greeks in the Empire even before World War I with population transfers and forced labor.  To keep Greece neutral during the first years of the War, Germany forced the Turks to reduce the ongoing persecution of Greeks though deportations to the interior continued.   In 1916 the Turks intensified forced labor battalions for Greek males and deportations to the interior  (often into the depopulated areas formerly occupied by the Armenians).  While the Turkish government did not officially authorize it, many Greeks were murdered and robbed by troops and others during the process.  The confusion in Turkey at the end of the War probably saved the Greeks from a second extermination policy by the Turkish government.  The ethnic-cleansing of Greeks in Turkey was completed in 1923 with the ‘Exchange of Populations’.

Post World War I Turkey through the Ataturk era and into the modern age never achieved the goal of a ‘secular state’ and Christians continued to be treated as second class citizens with the old restrictions (i.e. no new churches and the closing of active ones like the Orthodox Halki seminary) remaining in practice.  The heritage of the ‘Young Turks’ of Enver Pasha remains alive today with goal of an ethnically and religiously unified state causing the rebellion of the Muslim Kurds in the 20th Century who resisted efforts to erase their cultural heritage.  In 2005 it became illegal to ‘insult Turkishness’.  Perhaps the reasons the Turkish government denies the Armenian genocide is because the policies and programs that produced it are very much alive in modern Turkey.

The massacre of Armenians as an ethnic group  was genocide.  The massacre of Armenians as Orthodox Christians was the largest pogrom in the history of the world.    Only the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews and the hundreds of millions who died in Russia and China at the hands of communist governments eclipse the horror which took place 100 years ago in Ottoman Turkey.