The first of the genocides of the bloodiest century on record was that of the Armenians, who were professing Christians, in Turkey. The world did nothing about it at the time despite being informed.
Henry Morgenthau, the American Ambassador to (what was then) Constantinople, sent a telegram back home, dated July 16, 1915, describing the ongoing attacks against “peaceful Armenians.”
He wrote: “…from harrowing reports of eye witnesses it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion.”
Years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing the late church statistician, Dr. David Barrett, who has been recognized as a pioneer researcher of Christian missions. He spoke with me at length about martyrdom, including the slaughter of the Armenians.
He told me that the genocide of the Christians in Turkey began earlier than 1915, “There was an official attempt to wipe out the Christian population of Turkey from about 1880 onwards, which finally succeeded by the year 1915….Most of the Christians were Armenians or Assyrians, and so those two races were decimated in clear cases of genocide.”
Later, hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians were massacred “in the final stages of getting these people out of the country,” he noted.
Barrett said that in addition to the ones directly killed, there were also hundreds of thousands of Armenians who were displaced: “Nobody knows what happened to them. They just disappeared into the deserts; they were literally taken to the end of the bus or train journeys, dumped and told to move in that direction. So this is one of the worst cases in the history of martyrdom.”
How did the Muslims directly kill the Christians?
Dr. Barrett said, “They would arrive in the village fully armed, of course. They lined up everybody and would go from one person to another saying, ‘Mohammed or Christ?’”
The Armenians have a liturgical phrase: “Christ, only Christ.” This is similar to phrases we are familiar with in English, such as, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy…”
Barrett continued, “Christian after Christian, even the small toddlers, would say ‘Christ, only Christ,’ and then they were bayonetted to death. Then on to the next person, and on to the next person, and on to the next person.”
He said that was not the only way they killed the Christians, but he noted “to this day the Turkish government will not admit that this was genocide.”
All told, somewhere between 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenian Christians were slaughtered.
Two decades later, Hitler justified some of his own actions and the way they’d be viewed by history, noting, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Martyrdom is as old as the Christian church. I’ve been watching a good Christian movie recently on the life of Polycarp, the 2nd century saint who died in Smyrna, which is today also in Turkey.
The lead character says of a young martyr for Christ: “Germanicus did not have his life taken from him. He gave it willingly….He did not fear death, only denying the Lord.”
Then he added, “One cannot truly live…until he knows what he’s willing to die for. Germanicus had the love in him that overcomes fear. Our sorrow is real….He is alive in the Lord. Great is his reward.”
As we think about what happened to the Armenian Christians a hundred years ago, it is hard not to think about what radical Muslims are doing to Christians in many parts of the world today, especially the Middle East.
In the book of Revelation, we read about martyrs for Christ: “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘How long, O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” The day is coming when God will set everything right. Meanwhile, as we have an opportunity, we should speak out on behalf of today’s victims of anti-Christian vitriol and violence.
Jerry Newcombe is cohost/senior TV producer of Kennedy Classics. He has written/co-written 25 books. You can find him at tiam.org, jerrynewcombe.com and @newcombejerry.