April 24th marked the 100-year anniversary of the outset of the Armenian genocide. An estimated 1.5 million Armenian and Syriac Christians were killed in the years surrounding the World War I. As the atrocities committed by the Ottoman rulers were never acknowledged as “genocide” by the successive Turkish governments, the wounds of that period remain raw and exposed for the Armenians.
Many Armenian and Syriac Christians are now scattered across the Middle East. Facing the advance of extremist Islamic armed groups causes many of them to fear that history is repeating that terrible period. Open Doors spoke with two Armenian Christians about the impact the genocide still has on their life 100 years later.
Makruhi is an Armenian who works with the Christians who were driven out of Mosul last summer.
“The genocide taught me an attitude of asking questions and waiting. When I don’t find an answer quickly, I don’t turn against God; instead I wait. A hundred years ago, the Christians were killed or expelled from the Ottoman Empire, and now it’s happening again in Syria and Iraq. People in our current situation, even priests, also have questions about why all this is happening. I tell them to wait. I still don’t understand why God allowed the genocide and the rise of IS to take place, but 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 has always been honest with us. He never promised Christian life would be easy. Sometimes my students ask, “Why did God allow my grandfather to be killed because he was an Armenian?” 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. You can make your own choice. But God can put a limit to the evil and he gives us grace to bear the situation.
My hope lies in this, that God doesn’t become old. He always stays the same. He’s always taking care of us. Among millions, I’m still important to God. That gives me courage. We Armenians have been massacred many times, but we have kept our faith. God didn’t allow the Armenians to be exterminated.”
Kyla is an Armenian, the grandchild of genocide survivors, who works with traumatized persecuted Christians.
“What happened a hundred years ago was definitely a religious issue. They had declared a jihad, a holy war, on us. We were seen as the betrayers of Islam. They kicked us out of the region because we were Christians. My grandparents were survivors of the genocide. All four of them lost their parents because of the genocide. All four grew up in orphanages. I feel directly linked to the survivors. The genocide made Armenians believe that we would be killed if we shared Jesus. My grandmother used to whisper her prayers. She thought it better if others didn’t hear her praying. Because of this idea, Armenian churches don’t evangelize. That is persecution- to cut off a person’s voice.
My grandmother’s forgiveness has impacted my life. I need to forgive for the generations to come. Every time I go to Turkey, I make the choice to not go down that road of thinking ‘did their ancestors kill my great-grandparents? Did they turn their back on us as people?
The story of the Armenian genocide has not ended. Again we have been betrayed by our own neighbors. We lived together with Muslims as brothers and sisters in cities, such as Mosul.
The story of the Armenians is one of displacement; we’re still on the road. We’re constantly displaced all over the region. I see it happen in Deir Ezzour in Syria where there was a memorial for the bones of some 450,000 Armenians. The memorial has been demolished now, a great loss for our people. I also think of the city of Kessab, an Armenian village in northern Syria that was overrun by the radical rebels. Many Armenians feel there will be a repeat of history. This happened to our ancestors and now it is happening to us. This fear is very real.”
Father, You know the plight of the Armenian and Syriac Christians spread across the Middle East and beyond. Heal the wounds that remain from the genocide of a century ago. You know their fear and the sense of not belonging on this earth. Thank You that they have a heavenly home. Remind us through their struggle that we, too, are strangers and sojourners in this world, and we are on a journey to our true home in heaven. Give them courage to face the real fears they face every day, grant hearts of forgiveness toward their enemies, and give them a voice to share the gospel of Christ with those around them. In the name of Jesus, the Healer of our souls, Amen.