Benefiting from Genocide
Reflections on the 106th Armenian Martyrs’ Day by Nishan and Maria Bakalian.
There is a particular bitterness in this year’s commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
Following last fall’s devastating attacks on Armenia and the Armenian region of Artsakh, death, loss, humiliation and shame have covered the Armenian people the world over, as they reel from their defeat and are unsure of the direction their leaders are taking them, whether in Armenia or throughout the Armenian Diaspora. On the other hand, the victors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, continue to revel in the devastation and harm they have caused, using Armenian corpses and captives as bargaining chips, putting on display in Baku captured war materiel, helmets of dead Armenians, and mannequins of Armenian soldiers that visiting children can take turns strangling.
During that war people of faith and religious leaders – with notable exceptions – raised their voices in outrage and protest over this unprovoked attack on civilians, designed to drive them from their ancestral homes, churches and historical regions. It was a conflict fully predictable by analysts, and fully expected by Armenians, though made all the more devastating by the lack of adequate preparation in the prior three decades of cease-fire in the Caucasus. Simply put, it was a continuation of the race extermination policy conceived in Ottoman Turkey in the 1800s, conducted by them with great success in the 1900s, and now being pursued to its logical conclusion in the 2000s.
A massive disinformation campaign by both sides accompanied the armed conflict. Armenians were duped by their own leaders into thinking that they were ably defending their historic lands, homes, churches and schools, with a minimum of human loss. Taking a more calculating approach, Azerbaijan and Turkey had over the years spent large amounts of money funding international organizations and ensuring arms, energy and trade agreements, essentially buying others’ tacit cooperation in this military action as they denied the clear evidence of the war crimes they were committing.
Over the past century the struggle for recognition of the Armenian Genocide seemed to gain “good will” for Armenians, as nations came to make official pronouncements recognizing the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1922, and even in some cases acknowledging the genocides that they themselves had conducted on their own populations. This cause was deemed a righteous one, and countries supporting this recognition appeared to occupy the “moral high ground”.
The war exposed the market value of that “good will”. Armenians, whose idealism often impairs their ability to govern themselves, were left dazed at the lack of actual intervention by any government to back up the sympathetic statements to “stop the bloodshed”. Armenians, as well as all people of faith, began to realize that the world does not act according to moral principles, but according to interests and threats. As in 1915, so also in 2020 the principle of self-determination of any indigenous people will always be met with non-interference, and the principle of gains and losses will remain primary.
War and genocide have always been highly profitable in “the kingdom of this earth”. They are not unique to the Armenian situation. Jesus illustrated this principle in his parable, where God’s enemies stated, “Let us kill the heir and take his inheritance” (Mt. 21.38). It is a refrain ever sung by the beneficiaries of “ethnic cleansing” of indigenous peoples from their homes and heritage. It describes the genesis – and sometimes current status – of many countries in today’s world.
But this refrain is something that must stir the prophetic hearts of people of faith to challenge those policies that crush entire races and groups. It is evident in the courageous testimonies of the Old Testament prophets, as well as the truth Christ Jesus and the early church spoke to the religious and secular powers, repeatedly seen in the New Testament. When Jesus honored the poor widow who dropped her last few coins in the temple treasury (Luke 21.1-4), he was at the same time condemning the rapacious authorities who made their gains from the pure, simple devotion of the insignificant and forgotten people who love God and whom God loves dearly (Luke 20.45-47).
On April 24 each year the hopes and fears of Armenians come to a critical mass; and only the strength that comes from faith in Christ will sustain them and many other oppressed peoples in this protracted struggle for justice, mercy and peace to cover the earth. The benefits and blessings of God’s rule are eternal, and God calls all of us to partake in this, every day and in all places.
Nishan and Maria Bakalian serve with the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Lebanon. Their appointments are made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.