A century after the first genocide of the 20th century — the massacre of Armenians by the Turks — the Middle East is once more a place of extensive suffering in which many Christians (as well as Moslems) have suffered terribly.
Armenia was one of Asia’s largest empires during the days of Julius Caesar. However, for much of its history, its inhabitants were subjugated by invaders, including ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols, Arabs and — from the 16th–20th century — the Ottoman Turks.
Armenia was the first nation to officially accept Christianity as its national religion (AD 301), but later the Turks tried to convert the nation to Islam. There were Armenian demands for autonomy, prompted by continuing invasions from Russia and the breaking-up of the Ottoman Empire.
These demands enraged Sultan Abdul Hamid II, a despotic tyrant who hated Armenians and ordered widespread massacres of them during the 1890s.
Abdul Hamid II — ‘the great assassin’, as W. E. Gladstone called him — was deposed in 1908, and it was then the so-called ‘young Turks’ who were responsible for the genocide of the Armenians during 1915.
In a matter of months, over a million Armenians were deported, tortured, starved, brutalised and killed. Peter Balakian, in his definitive book, The burning Tigris, says that many documents make it clear that this was an organised, pre-planned extermination.
The intent of genocide was made plain in the so-called ‘ten commandments’, agreed at a meeting chaired in late 1914 by the interior minister, Talaat Pasha. The first commandment, for example, was to ‘send [Armenians] into the provinces such as Baghdad or Mosul to wipe them out, either there or on the road’.
One week before the German invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler, during his Obersalzberg speech to his Wehrmacht commanders, said, ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? ’