Armenian Genocide Still an Open Wound for Middle Eastern Christians
*Representative photo used to protect identity
This month a hundred years ago, one of the biggest dramas in modern history began. A drama that is still vivid in the collective Armenian and Syriac mind: the Armenian Genocide. An estimated 1.5 million Armenian and Syriac Christians were killed in the years surrounding the First World War. As the atrocities committed by the Ottoman rulers never were recognized by the successive Turkish governments as ‘genocide’, the wound of that period is still open and fresh for the Armenians. Many Armenian and Syriac Christians now live displaced and scattered across the Middle East. The advance of extremist Islamic armed groups causes many of them to there will be a repeat of history. We spoke with two Armenian Christians about the impact the genocide has on their life 100 years later.
Makruhi is now living in Iraq where she teaches Sunday school workers. Trauma counselor Kyla lives in Cyprus. She often trains groups on trauma awareness throughout the Middle East.
Makruhi speaks with passion and outrage about what happened to the Armenian people. As I meet with this teacher in her Iraqi office with the fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State just a half hour drive away by car, she shows on a map of the Middle East where her family was living and to which part they were driven a century ago.
Kyla speaks softly; she takes time to think before she answers a question. But she shows the same passion and connection with the subject. I speak with her just before she starts a week of trauma counseling for a group of Christian workers.
Can you tell us what happened to your family during the period of the genocide?
Kyla: My grandparents were survivors of the genocide. All four of them lost their parents in the genocide. What happened a century ago affects us as a minority group in whatever country we live as Armenians.
M: My family fled to Syria, along with the many who rebuilt their lives in Syria or Iraq. People were locked in churches that were set on fire.
How did the genocide affect the next generations up to now?
M: Many Armenians were afraid to speak Armenian on the street; they were afraid they would be killed. A hundred years ago, the Christians were killed or expelled from the Ottoman Empire, and now it’s happening again in Syria and Iraq. There is no future here. My citizenship is in heaven.
K: We became people without a land. The genocide and the exodus of Armenians caused many to lose their roots. Fear and mistrust are passed down to us. It is engraved in our minds not to trust. We are skeptical about people who do try to help. The genocide caused a victim mentality.
What was the impact on the church?
K: In general, the Armenian church chooses to attract no attention from others for security reasons. What happened a hundred years ago was definitely a religious issue.
My grandmother used to whisper her prayers. She thought it better if others couldn’t hear her praying. Because of this idea, Armenian churches don’t evangelize. That is persecution, to cut off a person’s voice.
Did this history impact your way of thinking as a Christian?
M: The longer I live, the more I understand. If God should stop the Islamic State, he should also stop me from sinning. And he doesn’t. He gives us free will. We can choose to do good or bad. God didn’t make robots.
God has always been honest with us. He never promised the Christian life would be easy. Sometimes my students ask: why did God allow my grandfather to be killed? Then I reply to them: this was between God and your grandfather. Your grandfather was ready to die for his faith. It was his choice in faith. But God gives us grace to bear the situation.
K: My grandmother taught me this: God always has a purpose. She was always grateful for what she had. For example, she always kissed her bread when she had it.
What do you think about the Turks now?
M: Political parties might take revenge, but the church doesn’t.
Do you have hope?
M: My hope lies in the fact that God is always the same. He’s always taking care of us. Among millions, I’m still important to God. That gives me courage.
K: This 100-year anniversary of the genocide is used by Armenians as a reminder of how God brought us out and how he is faithful to us.