Turkish and Armenian Christians Reconcile, Forgive on Genocide Anniversary

RICARDO PESSOA / WORLD WATCH MONITOR
RICARDO PESSOA / WORLD WATCH MONITOR

“We came to share your pain,” Turkish Christians declared in early April, standing before TV cameras at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan.

“We have come here to apologize for what our ancestors did, to ask for your forgiveness,” two spokesmen for the Turks went on to say.

Shocked viewers across Armenia watching the Azdarar TV news channel on April 11 could hardly believe their eyes and ears.

Turks, claiming to be Christian? And laying wreaths at the nation’s genocide memorial? How could Turks, of all people, come to Armenia to honor the memory of more than a million Armenian Christians who had been slaughtered 100 years ago by their own forefathers, the Ottoman Turks?

Gathered around the monument’s eternal flame, the more than twenty Turkish citizens spoke out simply, and repeatedly: “We plead with you, if you can, to forgive us and the crimes of our forefathers.”

Significantly, the Turks were joined by a number of local Armenian Christians who formed a huge circle, holding hands together around the memorial as they prayed aloud in Turkish and Armenian for their nations and peoples.

“You wrote history here in Yerevan today,” one Armenian pastor declared. It was the first time, he thought, that prayers in Turkish and Armenian had ever been voiced together before the somber memorial.

The Turkish Christians’ April visit to Armenia was the latest step in an unprecedented reconciliation initiative between Turkish Protestants and Armenian evangelicals during the past year.

Organized informally by several Turkish pastors from Muslim backgrounds, the gatherings first began with diaspora Armenians in California and New Jersey, followed by an Istanbul weekend between some 90 Turkish and Armenian participants.

For the past 100 years, Turks and Armenians have remained outspoken enemies. Their historic enmity rooted in the Armenian genocide of 1915 is both political and ethnic, but also religious. Early in the fourth century, the Kingdom of Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion. But the rulers of the crumbling Ottoman Empire which carried out the genocide were Muslim Turks.

In today’s Turkey and Armenia, strong nationalist elements in the current political climate are so prevalent that the Turkish and Armenian Christians who spoke to World Watch Monitor (WWM) about their reconciliation gatherings requested strict anonymity for their own protection.

An estimated 2 million Armenians had been living in central Anatolia and the eastern regions of what is now modern-day Turkey for two millennia. But after the Ottoman regime-ordered massacres and forced deportations began in April 2015, within two years up to 1.5 million had died. The survivors had either been forcibly converted to Islam or managed to escape into the Syrian desert.

“This page in history is really painful for every Armenian,” a church leader from Yerevan who met with the Turkish Christians told WWM. “You can hardly find an Armenian whose relatives were not victims of the genocide. For this very reason, Armenians live with hatred and bitterness in their hearts.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Barbara G. Baker – World Watch Monitor

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