Recognizing Evil

This coming Sunday, April 12, on the feast of the Divine Mercy, Pope Francis, is scheduled to preside at an Armenian Catholic rite Divine Liturgy at St. Peter’s. The main reason why he is choosing to celebrate this Armenian liturgy on this day is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the massacre of Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, a Sunni Islamic state, in 1915.

Pope Francis has called the Armenian massacre “the first genocide of the modern era” during an audience with the Patriarch of Cilicia, Nerses Bedros XIX. Long before he became the pope, in 2006, the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio called for the modern-day successors to the Ottoman Empire to end their silence on this historical fact and that such an acknowledgment would “bring peace to the Armenian people.” In 2001, Pope St. John Paul II used the term “Metz Yeghèrn” (Great Evil), an Armenian term for this genocide and in 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI used the exact same phrase.

What was the Armenian genocide? Beginning on April 24, 1915, in Constantinople, (both before and after the First World War), the Ottoman government (the present-day Turkish Republic) began to systematically exterminate 1.5 million Armenians, who were in the minority in their country.

In addition to the Armenians, Assyrians and Ottoman Greeks were also targeted by the Ottoman Turks for extermination. Armenian men were murdered outright or placed into forced labor, while Armenian elderly women and children were led on death marches to the Syrian desert and left there to die without food and water, all the while suffering murder, rape and abuses of all kinds. Mass burnings, drownings, subjecting children to drug experiments, toxic gas and typhoid inoculation were all approved methods of murdering Armenians.

The motives for this genocide were purely racial and political. Among those who spoke up at the time against this atrocity were Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill who recognized also the religious aspects of the Armenian genocide.

Statistics show that of the 98,800 Catholic Armenians in Turkey at the start of the genocide, only 33,900 survived; of 156 churches and chapels, only 20 stood at the end; and of 110 missions, only 10 were functioning in 1923.

To date, the modern-day Turkish Republic denies there was ever genocide and only 22 countries formally declare these murders genocide. These countries include Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and the Vatican, as well as the United Nations and the World Council of Churches. In the U.S., 44 states (including New York – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged this tragedy by an official proclamation on May 1, 2011, as did Governors George Pataki and Mario Cuomo, who actually, in 1987, proclaimed the victims as “Armenian Martyrs”) have recognized this atrocity as genocide. We, as a nation, have not yet officially declared these murders as genocide.

Take the time on Divine Mercy Sunday to recognize the suffering that goes on in the world. People are being martyred in the Middle East. When we refuse to acknowledge this fact as individuals, as a nation, as a Church, we are not living up to the truth that is Christ. Faith is the reason for ISIS’ war on Christians. There are no other reasons and we can’t pretend that there are. What happened 100 years ago is happening again. Let’s not put our heads in the sand and ignore the truth.