By Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
Armenian Orthodox believers stand with Armenian flags at a cathedral in Moscow in 2012 to mark the anniversary of the mass killing of the Armenian people by Ottoman Turks (PA) Armenia has arguably produced more martyrs than anywhere else, given that the victims of the genocide were killed in hatred of the Faith Early February is a good time, liturgically speaking. On Monday we celebrated the lovely feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, when candles were blessed, marking the fortieth day since Christmas, and on Tuesday we celebrated St Blaise, when throats were blessed.
St Blaise is one of those saints of which we know very little, even though his is a famous cult. As is the case with so many early martyrs, legends sprang up and accounts were written down many centuries later, which have no historical value. But we can be sure that Blaise was a bishop and a martyr and lived in what is now called Sivas in Turkey, but in which those days was called Sebastea in Armenia.
Once Armenia covered much more territory than that presently covered by the former Soviet Republic in the Caucasus. A look at a map places Sivas in the middle of modern Turkey, but up to a hundred years ago the town still had a flourishing Armenian and Greek Christian population. Then came the fateful day: April 24 1915. It was on this day that the Ottoman government began to arrest and deport Armenians who had been living in Anatolia from time immemorial. This organised campaign of arrest, deportation, massacre and extermination led to the deaths of between one million and one and a half million Armenians. It is for this reason that visitors to Turkey today will find plenty of Armenian history but no actual Armenian people, or at least very few.
The Armenian genocide is commemorated all over the world, but not in Turkey and not much in Britain, which studiously avoids mentioning the genocide in order not to jeopardise relations with Turkey. This is a pity, to put it mildly, as it is hard to see how any nations – ours or the Turks – can flourish when we deny truth.
St Blaise, ever popular throughout the Catholic Church, is the only Armenian saint in the Universal Calendar. He is the solitary representative of his culture, but what a culture! The nation of St Blaise is the oldest Christian nation, having been converted to Christ by St Gregory the Illuminator in 301, before the time of Constantine. Moreover, Armenia has arguably produced more martyrs than anywhere else, given that the victims of the genocide were killed in odium of the Christian faith. Right now we are rightly concerned by ISIS’s cruelty; let us not forget the Armenians of 100 years ago.
Adolf Hitler’s view of the Armenian genocide is worth recalling, and his reference to it, made in August 1939, worth quoting:
“Our strength is our quickness and our brutality. Genghis Khan had millions of women and children hunted down and killed, deliberately and with a gay heart. History sees in him only the great founder of States. What the weak Western European civilization alleges about me does not matter. I have given the order – and will have everyone shot who utters but one word of criticism – that the aim of this war does not consist in reaching certain designated [geographical] lines, but in the enemies’ physical elimination. Thus, for the time being only in the east, I put ready my Death’s Head units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only thus will we gain the living space that we need. Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?”
Who indeed? That is why we need to talk about Armenia and remember them this April. Put the date of that hundredth anniversary in your diary now.