Turkish Genocides: The fate of Armenia
After Muhammad from 622 AD onwards had conquered and extinguished one tribe after another, his successors, the caliphs, went after the neighbouring countries. As early as the 7th century the Arabs sacked Armenia for the first time. For long periods battles raged between the East Roman Empire and Islam for the control of this part of the world. The Muslim armies advanced bit by bit, and eventually the Armenians had no chances. After the conquest of Amorium in 781 AD, the caliph al-Mitasim ordered the prisoners to be auctioned away in bundles of 10, because there was so many of them.
By the sacking of Thessaloniki in 903 22,000 Christians were given to the Arabic officers or sold as slaves. In 1064 sultan Alp Arslan laid Georgia and Armenia bare, and thousands were summarily executed. Written sources from Palestine, Egypt, Armenia and Anatolia, where Christian areas had been conquered and colonized, tells us that Christians unable to pay the djizya tax to the Muslims instead were obligated to deliver their children. They could then deduct a certain amount from the poll tax. The idea was systematically developed during the time of sultan Orkan in 1326, so that the Christians in Armenia and on the Balkans routinely would deliver their children to the Muslims as a tax. In the 9th century the Armenian people desperately attempted to throw the Arab Islamic yoke. But the army of the caliph moved into the country, and a mass slaughter followed, which coloured the entire country red from blood. One Islamic rule followed the other, until the Islamic Turkish caliphate took over in the 16th century.
The legal status of Christians and Jews in the Islamic caliphate was disastrous. Aage Meyer Benedictson describes it in detail:
The lot given Christian people under the rule of Islam was founded on the principle that the ‘herd’, as the Christians were called (they were thought of as animals), lived only at the mercy of the Muslims, the ‘herd’ had no inherent rights… The Christian subjects were slaves, who Allah in his grace had given to his victorious children. They owed the believers everything: property, for the sultan was master of all property, and their work. Furthermore they had to pay severe taxes, for the sultan was also the owner of their bodies.
Thousands of Christian boys at age 4 to 8 were taken from the Christian homes, circumcised, shaved and through a raising in Islamic tradition were turned into a solid army, which for long periods was the most fearful weapon of Turkey. The Christians suffered the humiliation to be subdued by their own stolen children. No Christian had a right to carry weapons, they were to obey or die, and because their faith was false, so were their hearts. They were outside the law, their testimony to a judge was valid only if verified by a Muslim.
The most scary, though, was the ideology that Islam tried to impart on the Muslims, that disbelievers would never do a good deed. If they did so anyway, it was merely an expression of Allah working through an impure tool. A Christian was a disregarded serf. In his clothing he was to be different so that all could see that here comes an infidel. The Christians were to stop and wipe the shoes for every passing Muslim, if he so desired. A cloth for this purpose should always be carried by a Christian or a Jew … Christians were not permitted to ring bells. Their lives were a teaching in humiliation and submission. They worked, but had their enemies steal the fruits of their labour. (Meyer Benedictson s. 131-132)
In 1453 the Turkish caliphate had conquered the capital of the East Roman Empire, the Christian city of Constantinople, and thus removed the last bulwark against Islam. From that age the entire Balkans were in the hands of Islam from Armenia through Ukraine, Crimea, Hungary, Bosnia, Albania and Serbia. Violent campaigns into Poland, Austria and Germany all the way to Nuremberg shook the European continent who had been indifferent to the plight of the Armenians and of Constantinople, Until then it was thought in the European capitals that “The holy grave is well guarded.” Now they were themselves in the line of fire. Any option for rebellion or liberation for Armenia and the Balkans were more remote than ever. Bloodbath followed bloodbath. The Armenians and other Christians, like Jews who refused to become Muslims, tarry their lives in submission and poverty, a destiny they could only escape by themselves becoming Muslims.
The most violent killings of the Armenians took place in the years 1876 through 1918 in several great waves. The number killed and exterminated is still in disputed. Turkey claims today that those who died did so only because of rebellion against the state, and that the number was quite limited. In reality between 300,000 and 1 million were killed in the years between 1876 and 1903. In the years 1915 to 1918 systematic killings of another 1 million to 1½ million Armenians took place. The combined number exceeds 2 million.
Ingeborg Maria Sick writes in her excellent book about Karen Jeppe, who spent her entire life helping Armenian children, about the terrible deportations that took place in 1916, where the Islamic caliph ordered events so horrific that it exceeds ones imagination, even when you take into account the Nazi killings of the Jews 25 years later. “Who can bear to hear of children cut into pieces with the scissors of their mothers, or of men held captive witnessing the rape of their small daughters, and then cut apart before their eyes. No, we do not wish to think of this. But they suffered this.”
But that actually corresponds to episodes in the life of Muhammad himself. His adopted son was to punish a woman for theft. He then decapitates her grandchildren before her eyes, and has her torn apart by camels while her daughters witness it. Muhammad praises his adopted son and as appreciation of his efforts gives her the daughters as slaves, and a cane with a silvery head.
Ingeborg Maria Sick writes: “In Urfa, the Edessa of king Abgar, the killings raged for three terrible days – and the last night the Turks put the city’s Armenian population to the torch in the refuge they had sought in the cathedral of the city. A grand fire, raising to the skies as a recall of emperor Nero’s living torches in Rome.” (p. 15). In Germany the priest Johannes Lepsius and rev. Lohman started a large movement among Christians in support of the Armenian people. In France, the Catholics organised large relief efforts. There was also published the magazine “Pro Armenia” with notables as Jaurés and Clemenceau. Switzerland established an aid committee like Denmark and Norway.
The Danish efforts are mainly known through the tireless efforts of Karen Jeppe to help her beloved Armenia. The first great Armenian aid collection in Denmark was inspired by king George of Greece. It was directed by the Danish queen Louise and her lieutenant Hennings. In the wake of this in particular the Christian association “Kvindelige Missionsarbejdere” (“Women missionary workers”) made a great share of the work.
The deportations in Armenia were remarkable, as the entire Armenian population was to be eliminated, not only in Armenia itself, but in all towns from Mesopotamia through Mosul. The goal was clear: complete elimination. The coded telegrams from the Turkish minister of foreign affairs to the prefect of Aleppo, later smuggled to the west, were clear. We shall quote just two:
“On request of the Djmi (the Young Turks Committee for Progress) the government has decided to exterminate all Armenians in Turkey. Without concern for women, children, the ill, feelings or conscience, their existence shall now be put to an end.”
Later this cipher telegram:
“We have heard that some of the persons mentioned have been sent to Syria or Palestine. This is an unforgivable error. Their goal for them is only one: Nothingness”
What did the west do? Governments did almost nothing. It was left to minor church organisations and individuals to take action. The European states had too much at stake, and how could you take part for one religion against another?
To the Police office of Aleppo! It has earlier been announced, that the Government on behalf of the Committee has decided to completely exterminate all Armenians present in Turkey. Those opposing this command can no longer be considered friends of the government (meaning ‘traitors’). Without regard to women, children or the ill, however depressive the tools of destruction may seem, without consideration of feeling or conscience, their existence must be terminated.
Minister of internal affairs, Tala’at.
This amoral attitude lead to the governments remaining passive. Ingeborg Maria Sick asks in her book “Pigen fra Danmark” about Karen Jeppe:
“They let them die. Could we have done otherwise? Yes, shouldn’t we? Is Christianity a great moral power – or not? Did it stand up as one man, when the greatest political prosecution erupted, waking, praying, fight, fast with them over there? Christians suffered with them; first and last the faithful delegates, God be praised also from Denmark, and others who expended their power to ease the suffering of the martyr people.” (p. 18)
Some of those who were running children homes or in other ways attempted to provide help, paid with their lives. The punishment for hiding an Armenian was capital. On this account both Americans and Europeans were executed, but where was the outrage from the secular, supposedly humanitarian European governments? They were silent.
Already during the first major pogroms dating back to 1876 Europe was silent, and the only friend of the Christians in Caucasus was Russia. Many of the countries had been suffering 400-500 years of Muslim occupation, murders and exploitation, but the European powers were busy tending their own matters or even go into alliance with the suppressors.
Kaiser Wilhelm II proclaimed towards the Muslim world that he secretly had converted to Islam, in the hope that Muslim troops would rebel against England. That was partly successful, in that Muslims contingents in India and areas of what was to become Pakistan declared jihad, in that a Muslim cannot be fighting under the sovereignty of an infidel Christian queen.