Armenia: A Personal History

I’m not from Armenia (the majority of my great-great grandparents are from Scandinavia), but since college, I’ve had a fascination for the country and it tragic history.  I first “discovered” Armenia during a graduate history class at Brigham Young University.  I wrote a short paper on its medieval history.  Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state-sponsored religion, predating even the Roman Empire’s conversion.

Armenians were, and still are, amazing craftsmen.  Their early churches, many of which predate the Romanesque and Gothic churches in western Europe are masterpieces of architecture, and many are decorated with elaborate stone carvings.  During the Middle Ages, many Armenian craftsmen migrated west to find work, and had a major influence on western European churches.

Little Remains of the Ancient Armenian City of Ani

Little Remains of the Ancient Armenian City of Ani

Twenty-five years ago, as a high school graduation gift for my twin sons, I took them to Turkey for a month.  Some of the places that I wanted to visit were the remains of Armenian churches located in eastern Turkey.

Our airplane landed in Istanbul, and from there we took a ferry up the Bosphorus and east along the southern coast of the Black Sea.  We debarked at Trabzon.  From there we traveled overland to Kars, in extreme eastern Turkey.  From Kars, my sons and I took a taxi to the ancient and deserted ruins of the ancient city of Ani.

This incredible and holy archaeological site sits right on Turkey’s border with Armenia.  (But when we were there, it bordered on Armenia SSR, USSR.)  Mt. Ararat is nearby, the mythical landing spot for Noah’s Ark.  I will describe our visit to Ani in another blog post, so I won’t repeat it here.

Mt. Ararat in What Is Today Eastern Turkey

Mt. Ararat in What Is Today Eastern Turkey

This post, however, is about the loss of 1.5 million Armenians at the end of WWI.  According to a blog post by Haroon Moghul on

In 1913, the Committee of Union and Progress, a xenophobic, nationalistic and militaristic junta seized [control of what remained of] the Ottoman Empire and attempted to rebuild it in the image of secular European nationalism.  In 1915, a few months after joining the fighting in WWI, CUP organized for the elimination by transfer, and other far more brutal and direct means, the Armenian Christian population of eastern Anatolia.

Today, Turkey is far more homogenous than it used to be.  That’s the price of modernity.  Ethnic cleansing, population transfer, slaughter.  It’s ugly, but we should not look away.  The [Turkish] Armenian population was systematically eliminated.  That’s genocide.  There’s no way around it.

This is the one-hundred year anniversary of that genocide.  Commemorations are going on at various locals throughout the world.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex in Erevan, Armenia

The Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex in Erevan, Armenia

Pope Francis recently sparked the ire of the Turkish government when he said that humanity had lived through “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” in the last century, the first being the genocide of the Armenian people.  Pope Francis said it was his duty to honor the memories of the 1.5 million Armenian who were killed:

Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding with bandaging it.

Turkey, unconvincingly, has always disputed the 1.5 million figure and said the deaths were part of a civil conflict triggered by WWI.

Many of the victims of the genocide were civilians deported en masse to barren desert regions where they died of starvation and thirst.  Thousands also died in massacres.

This entry was posted in catholicism, Personal Essays, pope francis, Religion, Social Justice, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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