I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast – Revelation 20:4
The caliphate wages jihad against Christians. Victims are beheaded, crucified, and burned alive. Christian girls are sold into slavery. Centuries-old monuments are destroyed by jihadis.
These events are ripped from the headlines — of 1915.
Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide. On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Caliphate launched a “decapitation strike” against the Armenian people by arresting and killing hundreds of their intellectual, political, religious, and business leaders in Constantinople, so as to make organized resistance impossible. That done, the extermination campaign began in earnest in the following weeks.
More than 1 million Armenians were murdered, along with large numbers of Christian Assyrians and Greeks, with the goal of engineering a Christenrein Anatolia. The remainder would have been killed as well — and the very name “Armenia” relegated to historical atlases, like Babylonia or Gaul — had not makeshift Armenian forces defeated the Ottomans trying to finish the job in the formerly Russian-occupied sliver of Armenia in 1918, after the withdrawal of Russian forces following the Bolshevik coup d’état six months earlier.
Among the survivors was my maternal grandmother; most of her family was killed, but as a 15-year-old girl, she was sold into slavery, managing to escape later. My other three grandparents were already here, but their families were not heard from again.
The parallel with today’s depredations by ISIS’s so-called caliphate and other jihadists is not coincidental. Andrew Bostom points to what happened to the Armenians as an example of “jihad genocide,” traditional jihad “adapted to the conditions of modern warfare.” Bat Ye’or has written, “The genocide of the Armenians was a jihad,” adding that it was “the natural outcome of a policy inherent in the politico-religious structure of dhimmitude.”
Perhaps the most disturbing continuity between the two caliphates was seen last fall in the town of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, considered the Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide. Then part of the Ottoman Empire, it was a major destination for death marches and boxcars and served as a sort of open-air concentration camp, where as many as 400,000 Armenians were killed. Decades later, the Armenian Church built a major memorial complex there, including the remains of many victims.
ISIS took the town in September 2014. Its first order of business was to dynamite the church.
The anniversary prompts a number of observations. Perhaps the least interesting is whether what happened can fairly be labeled “genocide.” As with other fights over the meaning of words, the denial of the Armenian Genocide is a political tactic designed to muddy the waters and deflect blame. The Turkish claim that lots of people died on all sides during World War I is akin to — if you’ll pardon a Monty Python reference — the Scottish laird in Holy Grail pleading with his guests, “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who,” when there was really no doubt about the matter.
There’s no doubt what happened here, either. Our ambassador to the Ottoman Caliph at the time, Henry Morgenthau, wrote: “The government is using its present opportunity while all other countries are at war, to obliterate the Armenian race.” Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer, invented the term “genocide” specifically to describe what happened to the Armenians. And Hitler, in comments to his commanders before the invasion of Poland that were transcribed by Admiral Canaris, head of military intelligence, reassured them that they’d get away with it because “who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
The question of formal U.S. government recognition of the Armenian Genocide is another, and more complicated, question. Like the perennial promises to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the country’s actual capital of Jerusalem, politicians promise federal recognition of the genocide at election time, then back away when faced with geopolitical objections. Congressional resolutions are introduced all the time to recognize the genocide but are never passed; the closest that one came to success was in 2007, when it was reported out of committee but pulled at the last minute by then-speaker Pelosi at the request of the Bush White House. Our ambassador to Armenia during the George W. Bush administration was fired because he uttered the words “Armenian Genocide.” President Obama, despite supporting recognition as a senator, has never as president used the word “genocide” with regard to the Armenians and will not do so this week. Ted Cruz has been forthright, writing: “The massacre of the Armenian, Assyrian, and other Christian people should be called what it is: genocide,” but if he were to be elected president, he might change his tune as well.
This is because Turkey is obsessed — “deranged” would not be too strong a word — with denying that the Ottoman Caliphate undertook to eradicate the Armenians as a people. This goes beyond the small lies we are sometimes party to for the sake of diplomacy — that there’s only “One China,” for instance, or that Jerusalem isn’t really the capital of Israel, or that there’s no such country as “Macedonia.” When the 2007 resolution came up, Turkey threatened to cut off supply routes to our soldiers in Iraq, leading even those, such as Charles Krauthammer, who unequivocally acknowledge the genocide, to argue against congressional action. When Pope Francis recently reaffirmed his predecessors’ recognition of the genocide, Turkey withdrew its ambassador, charged that the use of the word “genocide” was racist and threatened to turn Hagia Sophia, Christendom’s greatest church and now a museum, into a mosque. As desperately as the Turks want to join the European Union, they’ll forgo it if it would require them to acknowledge the genocide.
Unlike the polite diplomatic falsehoods mentioned above, denial of the Armenian Genocide has become a kind of sickness for Turkey, a disease that distorts its polity and taints its relations with other countries. Responding to growing international condemnation, Erdogan has actually tried to get past this, expressing condolences to Armenia last year for the first time ever — but he insists that it’s “out of the question for there to be a stain, a shadow called ‘genocide,’ on Turkey.” (This from the man who said a few years back, in reference to Sudan’s jihad slaughter of Christians, “A Muslim can never commit genocide. It’s not possible.”) In effect, Turkey’s idea of reconciliation is to say to the Armenian nation, “You better put some ice on that.”
There’s no reason this should be so. The Armenian Genocide was not, after all, carried out by the Turkish Republic, but by the long-defunct Ottoman Caliphate, albeit under the direction of Turkish nationalist elements. Turkey’s own military tribunals condemned the chief perpetrators to death after World War I, and two of those death sentences — against members of the triumvirate that effectively ruled the empire during the war and orchestrated the genocide — were carried out by Armenian survivors. For its own sake, Turkey needs to acknowledge what happened and move on.
But so do Armenians. The focus on achieving recognition of the genocide has become all-consuming for some, suggesting that one’s fulfillment is dependent on, for instance, the Vermont legislature’s decision to recognize the genocide. (Forty-three states have legislation or proclamations recognizing the Armenian Genocide.) Turkey’s increasingly preposterous denials fool no one and at this point do more harm to Turkey than to the memory of those killed by the Ottomans.
The Church is helping Armenians move on. On Thursday, in anticipation of the 100th anniversary observations, the murdered were canonized and formally made saints. This means that there can no longer be memorial services for them; rather, as saints, prayers will now be directed at them, for intercession on our behalf. They will change — and Armenians and others should change their views of them — from victims of jihad to victors in Christ.
Our country also needs to move on. We need to stop asking “how high?” when Turkey tells us to jump. The geopolitical reasons for deferring to Turkey have disappeared — the Cold War is over, the Iraq War is over (and we’re not going to be occupying any more countries in that part of the world any time soon), Turkey is effectively an enemy of Israel, and the government in Ankara is increasingly Islamist and anti-Western. (The Turks are one of the most anti-American peoples on the globe, outstripping even the Palestinians and Pakistanis in that regard.)
A presidential proclamation on April 24 should become a routine matter, so as to depoliticize this question, at least in American politics. Like President Reagan’s reference to “the genocide of the Armenians,” the annual proclamation should be apolitical and make no reference to policy, simply recognizing the pain of our fellow Americans who lost family in the first genocide of the 20th century, carried out by the defunct Ottoman Empire, and resolve that, as Reagan wrote, “Forever must we remember just how precious is civilization, how important is liberty, and how heroic is the human spirit.”
Such recognition should not affect our approach to Turkey. Many Armenians and others won’t like that, but foreign affairs are a matter of realpolitik, and you work with whomever you need to. If we can deal with a benighted and twisted country such as Saudi Arabia, we can continue to have a businesslike relationship with a Turkey that clings to absurd and wicked fables about its past.
But we will not be dictated to by foreigners and made to utter their lies.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.