Home/Rod Dreher/Defending Christian Armenia

Defending Christian Armenia

A survivor of Turkey's genocide against Armenians (Channel Four)

I received this e-mail just now:

I am writing you from Armenia and thank you for this article, even though I am not surprised but I am still greatly disappointed by the response of American Christian organizations (political/religious) to what is really an attempt at a second Genocide in the 21st century. I know they don’t like Orthodox Christians, but I have come to the conclusion that they actually hate us. Thank you again for for posting this article.

The article he’s talking about appears on TAC, and is written by Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist who — this is extraordinarily brave for a Turk — is defending Armenia against Turkish and Azeri aggression.

I would correct my Armenian reader: Christians here don’t hate Orthodox Christians in the ancient Christian lands. They don’t know that you exist, and don’t particularly care. Maybe indifference is a form of hatred. Whatever the truth, it is deeply wrong. 

Most Americans have no idea that Armenia was the first nation to receive the Gospel as a nation. This is how long those people have been Christian. I strongly urge you to read Mark Movsesian’s backgrounder on the new fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. 

And let me tell you something about Turkey, which is supporting the aggression against Armenia.

Most Americans have no idea that in the 20th century, the Turks waged a true genocide against the Armenian Christian people. The book to read is 2019’s The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924, by the Israeli historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi. I had to put it down — a lot — because its record of the atrocities the Turks wrought on innocent Armenians in the ethnic and religious cleansing of Turkey was too much to bear.

Here, for example, is an account of a massacre in Urfa in 1895, witnessed by Fitzmaurice, a British consular official:

Nazif [the local Turkish military commander] sent word to non-Armenian Christians “to assemble in their churches and not stir out” and to refrain from sheltering Armenians. In a further sign of official complicity, the captain of the gendarmes finally granted [missionary Corinna] Shattuck permission to leave on a long-planned trip to Antep, after weeks of rejections. (She didn’t go.) The troops were then drawn up at the entrances to the Armenian quarter. Behind them “an armed Mussulman mob [gathered], while the minarets were crowded with Moslems evidently in expectation of some stirring event. The Turkish women, too, crowded onto the roofs and the slopes of the fortress, which overlooked the Armenian Quarter.” The mob was “cheered on by their women, who kept up the well-known zilghit or peculiar throat noise, used on such occasions by Oriental women to encourage their braves.” At around noon a muezzin cried out the midday prayer as “a glittering glass ornament resembling a crescent was seen shining from the top of the fortress ” overlooking the town. “A mullah waved a green banner from a tall minaret overhanging the other end” of the town. Shots were fired and a “trumpet sounded the attack.” The soldiers opened their ranks so that the mob could pour into the quarter, assaulting “males over a certain age.”

According to Fitzmaurice’s investigation, Nazi was seen “motioning the crowd on,” the mob guided by troops who had familiarized themselves with the quarter during the siege. A “body of wood-cutters,” armed with axes, led the way, breaking down doors. Soldiers then rushed inside and shot the men. “A certain sheik,” Fitzmaurice wrote, “ordered his followers to bring as many stalwart young Armenians as they could find.To the number of about 100 they were thrown on their backs and held down by their hands and feet, while the sheik, with a combination of fanaticism and cruelty, proceeded, while reciting verses of the Koran, to cut their throats after the Mecca rite of sacrificing sheep. “Those hiding were dragged out and butchered — stones, shot, and set on fire with “matting saturated with petroleum.” Women were cut down shielding their husbands and fathers. More Armenians were shot as they scampered along rooftops trying to escape. When the killing subsided, the houses were looted and torched. As sunset approached, the trumpet sounded again, calling the troops and the mob to withdraw. …


The atrocities resumed the following day, December 29, with a trumpet sound at dawn. The largest number were killed at the Armenian cathedral, where thousands had gathered for sanctuary. The attackers first fired through windows into the church, then smashed in the doors and killed the men clustered on the ground floor. Fitzmaurice relates that, as the mob plundered the church, they “mockingly call[ed] on Christ … to prove himself a greater prophet than Mohammed.” The Turks then shot at the “shrieking and terrified mass of women, children and some men” in the second-floor gallery. But gunning the Armenians down one by one was “too tedious,” so the mob brought in more petroleum-soaked bedding and set fire to the woodwork and the staircases leading up to the galleries. For several hours “the sickening odour of roasting flesh pervaded the town.” Writing the following March, Fitzmaurice noted, “Even today, the smell of putrescent and charred remains in the church is unbearable.” Shattuck described the horror as “a grand holocaust” and four days afterward watched “men lugging sacks filled with bones, ashes” from the cathedral.

Prior to the massacres, Urfa was home to about 20,000 Armenians. Between 8,000 and 10,000 died over two days — between 2,500 and 3,000 of them inside the Armenian cathedral. The Ottoman government in Istanbul denied that any massacre had occurred at all.

And that was just one event! Morris and Ze’evi conclude that, “It is therefore probable that the number of Armenians killed over the thirty-year period, 1894-1924, exceeded one million, perhaps substantially.” Armenians weren’t the only Christians the Turks killed in that period. Assyrian Christians and Greek Christians also suffered massacres. The Israelis write:

The preceding assessments suggest that the Turks and their helpers murdered, straightforwardly or indirectly, through privation and disease, between 1.5 and 2.5 million Christians between 1894 and 1924.

There is a sense, say these Israelis, in which the Armenian genocide was worse that the holocaust of the Jews:

The anti-Jewish campaign was not based on personal sadism, of the sort exhibited by SS officer Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List (1993). (In this sense, the movie was misleading.) Cruelty was pervasive, of course, and massive suffering was inflicted. But suffering was not the perpetrators’ purpose. In most cases the process was impersonal and cold, and geared only to extermination. The Turks’ mass murder and deportation of the Christians during 1894-1924, on the other hand, was highly upfront and personal and involved countless acts of individual sadism. Where the Nazis used guns and gas, many of the murdered Christians were killed with knives, bayonets, axes, and stones; thousands were burned alive (the Nazis burned corpses); tens of thousands of women and girls were gang-raped and murdered; clerics were crucified; and thousands of Christian dignitaries were tortured — eyes gouged out, noses and ears cut off, feet turned to mush — before being executed. In terms of the behavior of the perpetrators, on the level of individual actions, the Turkish massacre of the Christians was far more sadistic than the Nazi murder of the Jews.

This is the judgment of two Israeli Jewish historians, who have shown more sympathy and solidarity with Armenians persecuted by the Turks and their agents than have American Christians, to our great shame.

Here is a link to a short British TV documentary clip about the Armenian genocide. It’s only 8:29 long, and well worth watching to educate yourself about what those people suffered at the hands of the Turks.

NPR reports on the current fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region:

According to de Waal, two new factors make the current situation more dangerous than before: Turkey’s open backing for one party and the United States’ “unusual disengagement.”

Trump likes Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, by the way, returned the ancient Christian cathedral of the Hagia Sophia to use as a mosque this year, a stinging humiliation to Orthodox Christians.

Why does my country’s government always seem to give the back of the hand to Christians of the Near East? No wonder the Armenians think we hate them.

UPDATE: Michael Ernst, a PhD student at Temple, gives the other side in this email:

My area of expertise is Azerbaijan and I’m really tired of people bringing up the Armenian Genocide with relation to the current Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.  It has nothing to do with what is going on.  I hope I can give you a little bit of perspective from the other side.
First off, let’s get some terminology straight.  The word “Azerbaijani” refers to a citizen of Azerbaijan.  The word “Azeri” refers to an ethnic Turkic person from the dominant ethnic group in Azerbaijan.  These words are not interchangeable since roughly 10% of Azerbaijan is made up of other ethnic groups including some Christians and Jews, who live there happily in what is the perhaps most liberal Muslim country in the world.  (I have personally attended church and participated in a public procession with the relics of Saint Bartholomew at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Baku.)
That being said the Azerbaijanis are fairly hostile to the Armenians because they currently occupy 1/5 of their country.  (I should think anybody would be hostile to an occupying force.)  The media often states that Nagorno-Karabakh is majority Armenian, but this is simply because all of the Azeris were displaced by the Armenians in the 1990s.  Before then it was roughly 55/45 with a slight Armenian majority.  On the whole, the Azerbaijanis see Armenians the same way that the Armenians historically see the Turks–as oppressors.  Armenians are blamed for massacring Azeris in Baku in 1918 in retaliation for the Armenian Genocide for the simple fact that the Azeris are Turkic and not because they had anything to do with it; for helping the Bolsheviks to conquer the Caucasus and the destroy the First Azerbaijan Republic; and more recently for the Khojaly Massacre, starting a war and then occupying Qarabağ (Nagorno-Karabakh) in the ’90s, the displacement of around one million Azeris from Qarabağ, and the border skirmishes this past summer in Tovuz Rayon that led to the current Azerbaijani response.
At the end of the day, the fact remains that the Armenians fought a war to occupy 1/5 of Azerbaijan and displaced almost 1,000,000 Azeris in the 1990s and have recently been starting border skirmishes (possibly trying to take more land).  What’s that saying about poking the bear long enough and he will wake up and respond?  Armenia has a population only a quarter of that of Azerbaijan and only a third of the Azerbaijani military capability.  The Armenian Republic is a poor country with a declining population and limited resources.  Rather than trying to diversify their economy they are attacking another country and then playing the victim card.  Just because somebody was the victim one hundred years ago doesn’t mean that they are still the victim today.  Their government is essentially using this conflict to distract from domestic policy failures.  Turkey is supporting Azerbaijan because it is an ally and they feel somewhat of an affinity toward the Azerbaijanis, who speak a more or less mutually intelligible language.  As a Turkish friend of mine says, “Azerbaijan is like our little brother.”  The Azerbaijanis are also Muslim (though Shi’a) and this fits in well with Erdoğan’s recent focus on making himself into a a “defender of the faith.”
Lastly, I’m not surprised that the U.S. is not getting involved.  Azerbaijan is a key ally in the region, especially since it is surrounded by three major powers (Iran, Russia, Turkey).  While Armenia is very pro-Russian, the Azerbaijanis are very pro-American and pro-British.  Americans always receive a warm welcome there and most young people under the age of twenty-five speak very good American English and are eager to practice with you.  Azerbaijan is also one of the few places left in the world with manners.  Men regularly give up their seats to women on the bus, seated women offer to hold heavy bags for standing men, and lost wallets usually turn up at your embassy with all the money still intact.  While war is awful, I don’t think any sort of lasting peace will come until Azerbaijan retakes its territory; this has been a festering wound in its side for three decades.
UPDATE.2: An Armenian-American reader responds:

The letter you posted by Michael Ernst is riddled with factual errors and is a perfect example of “giving the back of the hand to Christians in the Near East.” I implore you and your readers to consider my response. As you read, keep in mind that I am using exclusively non-Armenian sources: every link goes to a third-party analysis.

1) Mr. Ernst implies that, beyond misdirected rage about the Genocide, Armenians have no legitimate reason to seek control of Karabakh.
He says Karabakh is only majority-Armenian because Azerbaijanis were displaced.

This is demonstrably false. Karabakh has had a majority-Armenian population since reliable records were first kept. According to the 1924 Soviet census, 94.4 percent of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population was Armenian. However, the totalitarian USSR gerrymandered borders to sever Karabakh from Armenia, placing it under indirect Azerbaijani control. Azerbaijan’s communist chiefs pursued a policy of reducing the Armenian proportion in Karabakh, but never got it below 76%. (Verify these demographic statements here, in a report prepared for the U.S. Army by the Federal Research Division).

Why should the Karabakh Armenians insist on self-determination rather than bowing to Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity”? Between 1988 and 1990, the Azerbaijani public committed gruesome pogroms against their Armenian neighbors. As the LA Times reported after one such outbreak, “Russians living in the Azerbaijani capital spoke with horror of seeing Armenian neighbors shot at point-blank range, hurled from balconies, burned alive and even dismembered by the rampaging mobs of Azerbaijanis.” In the words of a veteran Soviet journalist, “Men, women and children, the young and the old alike, were attacked and often killed because they were Armenians. That alone—to be Armenian in Azerbaijan—was a virtual sentence of death.” The war over Karabakh only began in earnest after these pogroms, when Armenians understood they could not safely live under Azerbaijani rule.

Armenians today still expect that Azerbaijani rule would be tantamount to death–and they are justified in this fear. Consider the following: In 2005, the mayor of Baku told a delegation of visiting Germans, “Our goal is the complete elimination of Armenians. You, Nazis, already eliminated the Jews in the 1930s and 40s, right? You should be able to understand us.’” Also in 2005, Azerbaijani Army Lieutenant Ramil Safarov used an axe to murder his sleeping Armenian classmate at a training academy in Hungary. Safarov returned to Azerbaijan in 2012, where he was welcomed with a military promotion, adoring crowds, a free apartment, and a special pension. In 2016, Azerbaijan briefly captured an Armenian-populated village in Karabakh, torturing and executing the elderly residents who remained.

What would you do if you were a Karabakh Armenian? Throw down your weapons and welcome Azerbaijani rule?

2) Mr.Ernst implies that Armenians are responsible for recent skirmishes, “poking the bear” out of some vague desire to capture more land. This, too, is demonstrably false: third-party analysts agree that the impoverished Armenians have no incentive to start any form of conflict. And unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia has consistently supported third-party monitors to ensure neither side begins shooting.

3) Mr. Ernst says Azerbaijan is a key US ally, while Armenia is aligned with Russia. That’s the face Azerbaijan tries to put on toward the West. But at home, Azerbaijan’s brutally corrupt and authoritarian leaders routinely accuse the United States of supporting terrorism and imperialism. Azerbaijan also enjoys extensive military cooperation with both Russia and Iran. Meanwhile, Armenia is the fifth-largest NATO contributor per capita, with its troops still supporting the United States in Afghanistan.

4) Mr. Ernst says there’s no religious dimension to the conflict. That’s not true; Azerbaijani authorities have deliberately destroyed at least eighty-nine ancient Armenian churches in territory they control. There is little reason to expect that the hundreds of historic Armenian churches in Karabakh, some of which date to the first millennium, would fare better.

Also, international observers confirm that at least 1,000 Turkish-deployed Syrian fighters are assisting Azerbaijan. Some of these fighters are apparently coerced and exploited, but others are linked to ISIS and other jihadist groups.

5) Mr. Ernst says that Azerbaijan is arguably the most liberal Muslim country in the world. It’s true that most Azerbaijanis aren’t all that committed to Islam or all that religious–but just as in the West, pseudo-religion has filled the void. In Azerbaijan, this takes the form of near-worship of a deceased KGB-chief . The home page of Azerbaijan’s Statistics Ministry is emblematic: it boasts four images of the late Heydar Aliyev, father of current dictator Ilham Aliyev, whom it lists as the “national leader” of Azerbaijan and the “eternal architect” of the state. If this is what the Statistics Ministry does, you can imagine what the tone is like in the country as a whole.

Rod, your initial article on Armenia was accurate. I urge you not to give equal space to Azerbaijani misinformation.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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