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My grandmother often talked about her father’s crucifixion to my mother and my aunt. Today my aunt still vividly remembers her lamenting the atrocities of the Armenian massacres that spread throughout the Ottoman Empire one hundred years ago.

The family called my great grandfather Haji Dede. He was a beloved low level cleric of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the village of Tomarza in the Kayseri region of central Turkey. In 1915, the killers came to Tomarza. They put Haji Dede up on some crossbeams, and turned him upside down like Saint Peter. I have no further narrative or details of what else they did to him before he died. Other sources have noted that a pre-killing ritual of men, especially clergy, often involved pulling out their beards. Victims could undergo other barbaric humiliations and tortures, beheading, or be burned alive. The Armenians who neither survived nor were butchered outright, died on death marches.

I was perhaps twelve years old when my mother first told me about my great grandfather’s grisly slaying. We had talked before about the massacres. But that particular news hit home and unsettled my American-girl mind.

Today is the official observance of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. On this day in 1915, hundreds of prominent Armenians were rounded up in Constantinople to be killed or deported. It was the starting point for the first genocide of the twentieth century, in which an estimated 1.5 million unarmed civilians—children, women, and men—perished through massacres and death marches.

So I feel some bad déjà vu when I hear fresh stories of horrors visited upon Christians of the Middle East today. Unfortunately, it seems the world is even less outraged today over such mass murder than it was in 1915. Despite the distance of a hundred years and the clarity of historical evidence, there seems to be even greater resistance to acknowledging these crimes against humanity as genocide.

Pope Francis recently triggered outrage from the Turkish government by specifically referring to the Armenian massacres by using the word “genocide.” Turkey reacted by recalling its ambassador to the Vatican. In fact, few countries officially recognize it as such today.

Even memorials to the victims have come under attack with little media notice. In 1990, a memorial complex and church was finally dedicated to the Armenian martyrs of Der Zor, that place in the Syrian desert known as ground zero for the killings. But in September 2014, that church and its memorial were destroyed by ISIS terrorists.

In 1939 Adolph Hitler noted how easy it is to get away with mass murder when he said: “Who, after all, today speaks about the extermination of the Armenians?” In a similar vein, another famous quote—attributed to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin—claims that one death is a tragedy, while a million deaths is a statistic.

Statistics tend to de-humanize, but actual stories can re-humanize, especially the rare ones about genuine Turkish friendship offered to Armenians despite the risks. The best antidote to hate is a mutual, face-to-face reaffirmation of human dignity.

After my grandmother was deported from Tomarza, other caravans of deportees passed through the desolated town. One of the deportees was the Armenian bishop Grigoris Balakian.

In his memoirs, Armenian Golgotha, Balakian wrote about something extraordinary that happened when he arrived in a village on the outskirts of Tomarza:

The local Turkish alderman and imam, along with a few elderly Turkish villagers, hearing that there was a prelate in the arriving caravan, hastened to pay us a visit. This was the first time throughout our lengthy journey that we had merited such an honor, to the great surprise of us all.

Those Turks had not become corrupted by the Ottoman propaganda to feel animus against the Armenians. Instead, they expressed an emptiness and sorrow. They deeply missed their Armenian neighbors:

When will our Armenian neighbors return from exile? Why are our neighbors so late in coming back? Why haven’t the Young Turks ended this persecution that they started against the Armenians? The country has become desolate. What are they waiting for?’ . . . We worked on their lands as partners and we lived well and were prosperous. Talaat and Enver [architects of the extermination] deserve to die for deporting the Armenians.  . . . Effendi, tell us, is there no hope at all then that our Armenian neighbors will return to their homes?

Because their concern was so genuine—and since the police soldiers had gone off to rest their horses —Balakian candidly explained that the Armenians were all being deported to certain death, to Der Zor.

To which the imam replied:

’Cursed be they—if only the Young Turks didn’t exist. . . . {T}hey have neither faith nor religion . . . and do not think that we Turks have been or will be happy . . . the weeper’s goods and property do not bring happiness to the buyer or taker. . . . The Armenians were the salt of our land. They left . . . that which gave us taste and aroma is gone . . . may God look after us all.

The other villagers chimed in “Amen, amen.” And then, since Balakian was a clergyman, they asked to “confess” to him, even using the Armenian word for confession. Balakian continued:

They added that if the government officials were to hear that they had spoken to me this way, they too would be deported and subjected to tarmar, that is, they would be destroyed. . . . The unreserved utterances of these sincere villagers brought solace to our grieving hearts.

Through this heartfelt confession, these kind Turkish villagers took a great risk and openly recognized the loss as their own. That’s the stuff that real peace is made of.

Stella Morabito is a senior contributor at The Federalist. Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Examiner, Public Discourse, American Thinker, The Human Life Review, and The New Oxford Review.  

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