In a no hold bar pronouncement, Pope Francis referred to the 1915 mass killings of the Christian minority Armenians by the Turks as the “first genocide of the 20th century.”
The Pope made the statement during a mass at the Vatican to mark 100 years since the mass killing of Armenians.
Today, the death of the Armenians is referred to as The Armenian Holocaust, The Armenian Massacres, and to Armenians it’s traditionally known as Medz Yeghern (Armenian: ՄեծԵղեռն, “Great Crime”).
The Armenians historically have been linked to the Christian faith and were able to build a prosperous and a booming economy.
However, in the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire subsumed the country and its people.
The non-Muslim Armenians were classified as “infidels” and had to pay higher taxes and were not given the same rights as Muslims.
In a push for equal rights and justice in the 1890s, the Armenians were met with a stern and violent response from the Sultan who launched an attack on them through the use of his private army.
In the ensuing period between1894-96, reports suggest that as many as 200,000 Armenians were killed by Sultan Abdul Hamid’s troops in what became known as the Hamidian Massacre.
However, the killing of the 200,000 Armenian Christians paled in comparison to what followed next in 1915.
In a quest to foment Turkish nationalism, the Ottoman authorities first rounded up and arrested a group of 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople.
The genocide which took place later is a sordid past of man’s inhumanity towards each other.
An estimated total of 1 to 1.5 million people was reportedly killed.
The mass killing was said to be carried out in two phases during and after World War 1.
First, there was the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labor.
Second, a relocation order of the Armenian population was engineered by the authorities forcing women, children, the elderly, and infirm on a sixty days death marches to the Syrian Desert.
Driven by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre.
The nexus between what obtained then and the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries now must have forced the Pope to pronounce the act by the past Turkish authorities as genocide.
Pope Francis said “it is necessary, and indeed a duty to recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forbears had to endure…Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.”
Furthermore, the Pope calls the killing of Armenians one of “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” in the 20th century.
“The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism,” he said.
Yvad Billings, Readers Bureau, Fellow
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