On April 24, the world will recognize and commemorate the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when more than 1.5 million Armenian men women and children perished at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
The horror and brutality of the unspeakable crimes have been documented by legions of eyewitnesses and meticulously chronicled by a growing cadre of genocide scholars. Former President Theodore Roosevelt referred to the butchery as the greatest crimes of the war. The atrocities were decried from personages as varied as the United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau to Clara Barton to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who called it “an outrage on civilization without historical parallel in the world.”
Despite the unimaginable horror being witnessed by the world at that time and the outrage it generated, there was no meaningful intervention to stem the brutalities. Deportation, death marches, starvation and outright murder continued unabated. It was one of the darkest chapters mankind had yet seen.
Following the brutalities, however, an enormous outpouring of humanitarian relief ensued to bring relief to the survivors and care for the orphans. This was probably best exemplified by the creation of the Near East Relief Committee in the United States. Between 1915 and 1930, the Near East Relief organization raised some $117 million, or $1.6 billion in current currency. The outpouring of support, relief efforts and field workers was inspiring. Orphanages and other institutions provided critical care for homeless orphans including my mother. Other countries sprang into action: my father was cared for in a Danish created orphanage.
Despite these herculean efforts, the Armenian Genocide was not universally recognized, primarily because of the aggressive and threatening denials by the government of Turkey, successor to the Ottoman Empire. Those who survived the Genocide had to live not only with the horrors they had actually encountered further by the constant shrill cries of denialism. This was particularly hurtful here in the United States, where so many members of the Armenian Diaspora had come to settle and had contributed so fully. The United States government, cautiously fearful of recriminations by a NATO ally, used euphemisms and looked the other way to placate Turkey. While many countries took principled and high profile positions condemning the Genocide (as did the majority of American states), the official position of the US government waffled.
That changed in 2020 when both houses of Congress passed virtually identical resolutions recognizing and condemning the Genocide. The words of the Resolution were unequivocal and powerful. The United States of America would “commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance” and “reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide.”
Further in 2021, on the 106th anniversary of the Genocide, President Biden courageously recognized the Genocide and the victims stating that “We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. … The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide.”
Despite these recognitions, Turkey’s threats and histrionics continue to the dismay of the few remaining survivors and to their descendants. It continues to label the actions of the Genocide as “reasonable” and reaches what Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has called a “new high in denialism (perhaps “new low” would have been a more appropriate description.)
Historians today refocus on the Genocide of 1915, as Azerbaijan, with substantial assistance from Turkey, presently inflicts mortal blows on the historic Armenian region of Artsakh and seeks to eliminate any remembrance of Armenian presence, culture and Christianity in the region. Armenians are cruelly regarded as “remnants of the sword.” Killings and desecrations abound.
As Turkey’s inflammatory comments and actions sought to keep the denial of the Genocide alive, one shining elevating moment brought a sacred measure of relief to Armenians and their supporters all over the world. That event, which took place in 2015, upon the 100th commemoration of the Genocide, was the canonization of the Martyrs of the Genocide by the Armenian Church. The Synod of bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church, under the auspices His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch of all Armenians, as well as His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, formally recognized those who perished in the Genocide as martyrs and canonized them as saints of the Armenian Church.”
In a brilliant monograph entitled “From Victims to Martyrs,” Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America, before his ordination as Primate, wrote “Never in history of the Armenian Church had new saints been proclaimed with greater splendor, excitement or inclusiveness – every hierarchical jurisdiction of the Armenian Church was represented, as were a few sister churches throughout the world. … Unprecedented as well was the Armenian Church’s readiness, after 100 years, to discern God’s redeeming grace from within the darkness and evil of that great crime against humanity.”
The canonization service was an occurrence of monumental significance and in fact the first time in some 500 years that the Armenian Church canonized a new saint. It was reported to be the largest canonization service in history. The event was filled with sacred symbolism. The canonization itself concluded at precisely 19:15, a number looking back to the year 1915 when the Genocide began. Church bells rang 100 times representing the passage of that number of years since the Genocide.
The significance of Sainthood I has many ramifications. Significantly, the martyred saints can now provide intercession for all of us: Instead of praying for them, we now pray to them. It is something of incredible mystery and relevance.
It is further noteworthy that the new Martyrs are not enumerated by name, nor have a fixed number of martyrs been identified. They were “the holy Martyrs who gave their lives for faith and for the homeland during the Armenian Genocide.”
Concurrent with the Canonization of the Martyrs was the consecration and anointment of a new icon depicting the Holy Martyrs. Besides remembering the Martyrs, the icon reminds the faithful in the Church of who we are called to be.
Thus, while the secular, humanitarian and international recognition of the EXISTENCE of the Armenian Genocide brings great comfort to the remaining few survivors of those tragic times and to their descendants, even greater and inestimable solace comes from the unprecedented canonization and sainthood of those whose faith continued in the times of unbearable suffering.
The canonization of the Armenian martyrs serves as a shining beacon, especially this Easter season of resurrection, pointing to hope and victory even for those who have undergone the must unthinkable suffering.
Even for those who experienced the anguish of genocide.
Harry Mazadoorian, an attorney-at-law in Kensington, is a member of the Connecticut Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee