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The Armenian Golgotha - new on line from The Barnabas Fund

It is 1915 in the village of Kayseri (now in central Turkey). An elderly man makes his way from one deserted house to another, searching. The inhabitants have left in a hurry and could not carry much with them. Many could not even take their Bibles. So the old village priest is collecting up the Bibles which have been left behind. He brings them to his church and stores them there.

Some 80 years later a visitor comes to Kayseri from Lebanon. He is a descendant of one of the survivors of the Armenian genocide of 1915 and has come to see the village where his family had lived. At the church he is shown the shelves of Armenian Bibles, carefully preserved over the decades. He reaches forward and pulls out a book at random. On the flyleaf there is handwriting, and in astonishment he reads a familiar surname “Adourian”. He has close relatives, the Chorbadjian family, who are descendants of the Adourians. After much pleading with the church caretaker, he is allowed to take the Bible home with him. All the relatives are excited, and finally the book is passed to three Chorbadjian brothers living in Cyprus, great-grandsons of the first owner of the Bible. Two of the brothers are elders in a Brethren assembly, while the third is a member of a Baptist church. The Bible is doubly precious to them. Not only is it a tangible link with their ancestors who died in the Armenian genocide, but also their great-grandfather – a strong believer with a great zeal to share his faith - had filled the front pages of the bible with his personal testimony and experience of walking with the Lord Jesus Christ in the 1870s and 1880s.
[A story told to Barnabas Fund by the Chorbadjian family.]

[Image to right: A traditional Armenian khatchkhar (cross-stone). The year 301 AD is when King Trdat IV of Armenia decided that his country would be a Christian country]

The year 1915 was the pivotal year in almost three decades of violence inflicted on the Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire. Because of the vast scale and centrally planned strategy of the killings, most historians agree that this was genocide. Armenians themselves have called it their “Golgotha”.

Seeking equality and protection

The Armenian people have a strongly Christian identity. Many converted from Zoroastrianism to Christianity in the early centuries of the Christian era. Then in 301 AD the king of Armenia decided that his country was to be a Christian country, making it the first ever Christian nation-state.

As Christians, Armenians were a despised and downtrodden minority under the Muslim Ottomans, who treated non-Muslims according to the classical teachings of the shari’a (Islamic law). In 1839 and 1856 the Ottomans, under pressure from the European powers, introduced the Tanzimat reforms which were supposed to improve the situation of non-Muslims in their empire. This encouraged the Armenians to request protection from the government against the thefts, abductions, murders, fraud, punitive taxation etc. which they were suffering. Rather than providing any protection, the Ottomans tended to look on the pleas for help as acts of rebellion. The last straw was when the Armenians in desperation appealed to foreign powers for help, particularly to Britain. This was the pretext for the anti-Armenian violence which began in 1894 and in which it is believed over 1.5 million Armenians died. The following are approximate figures for the death toll.

Slaughtered like animals

The 1894-6 massacres were fomented by Sultan Abdul Hamid’s agents who would incite the Turkish Muslims of a town to rise up against their Armenian Christian neighbours. The Sultan promoted a belief that Muslims could help themselves to the property of non-Muslims and kill them if they resisted. In addition his agents would tell the Turks that the Armenians were plotting to attack them. This procedure was repeated in 13 large towns. When 8,000 Armenians were killed in Urfa in December 1895, the young men were killed by the traditional ritual Islamic method for slaughtering animals. They were thrown on their backs, held by their hands and feet, and then their throats slit while a prayer was recited...