Written by Giragos H. Chopourian
It is to the credit of the United Church of Christ that it has designated April 24 in the Desk Calendar and Plan Book as Armenian Martyrs' Day.
It is most appropriate to do so, because Congregational and Presbyterian missionaries were witnesses to Turkish atrocities committed against Armenians who had been residents of the region for almost one thousand years.
Just what is Armenian Martyrs' Day? It is a solemn commemoration of a premeditated, inhumane act known as the Genocide of the Armenian people.
On April 24, in more than 60 countries, Armenians remember the nearly two million souls who perished between 1915 and 1922. It also is an occasion to make a political statement to remind Turkey of its failure to accept responsibility for the cruel treatment of its Turko-Armenian subjects, in contrast to the Germans, who acknowledged the Holocaust and made amends.
Turkey, allied with the Axis Powers of the First World War, used the war as a pretext to get rid of Armenians in all of Turkey.
The massacres began on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of 600 leading professional and educated males in Istanbul and another 5,000 from the city's Armenian quarters. They never were heard from again.
This was followed by deportation from thousands of cities and villages, literally wiping Anatolia clean of Armenians. Depriving them of their homes, farms and businesses, the Turks drove the Armenians, with no provision for food or transport, into the Syrian desert. On their way, the deportees were raped, drowned, shot dead or died of starvation.
When the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, a small, surviving remnant returned. But when the victorious Allied forces abandoned their mandates about 1921, the remnant, with General Kemal Ataturk's words, "Turkey for the Turks," ringing in their ears, feared a second massacre.
Gathering whatever they could carry, they took ship for Lebanon, Greece, Cyprus, France, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, the United States and other countries that provided haven.
All the Allied and Axis Powers—as well as records of the missionaries—have convincing documentation proving the genocide. Even today, nations do not recognize and condemn the act, not being willing to disrupt their filial relationships with a powerful Turkey.
But the greatest damage to Armenians is the loss of innocence. Many an Armenian has lost faith in God, crying out, "Oh! God, if you love your children, why did you allow the murder of my people?"
When recognition comes, closure may follow and peace may find a spot in their hearts.
The Rev. Giragos H. Chopourian is Pastor Emeritus of Armenian Martyrs' Congregational UCC in Haverton, Pa., and Executive Director Emeritus of the Armenian Missionary Association of America.