Etchmiadzin (AsiaNews) - Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Karekin II issued a solemn encyclical letter to launch a year of official events to remember the Armenian Genocide
The massacre of 1.5 million Armenians took place in the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire, first under Sultan Abdul Hamid II, then under the 'Young Turks' government, and finally under Kemal Ataturk, the father of the modern Turkish Republic.
Armenians were targeted because they were Christian, educated and middle-class. In 1915, their schools, churches, and organisations were especially singled out and forced to shut down. That year, they were hunted down, killed, raped, forced to endure all kinds of acts of violence and humiliation. This was followed by deportations into the desert, mass burials, and the torching of trains carrying fleeing refugees. Some survivors managed to reach today's Armenia (at the time under Russian imperial, then Soviet rule), Syria and Lebanon.
The Paris Conference of 1920 recognised the Armenian Genocide. Since then, at least 20 countries have recognised it, except Turkey, which continues to claim that the massacres were the consequence of the fight against pro-independence groups.
In Turkey itself, writers and historians who have published books on the genocide have been prosecuted. Only last year, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolences for the massacre to the descendants of Armenians.
In his letter, Patriarch Karekin II announces that he will lead a liturgy on 23 April 23 2015 to proclaim saints all the victims of the genocide, killed "for faith and for Homeland" and that he will make 24 April a Day of Remembrance for all the "holy martyrs of genocide".
According to unconfirmed reports, Pope Francis Pope will also celebrate a Mass in St Peter's Square on 12 April 2015 in memory of the Armenian genocide.
The full text of patriarch's encyclical letter follows below.
"The path of the righteous is as the dawning light that shines brighter
and brighter unto the perfect day."
The centennial of the Armenian Genocide is before us and our souls resound with a powerful call for justice and truth that will not be silenced.
Each day of 2015 is a day of remembrance and devotion for our people, a spiritual journey to the memorials of our martyrs in the Homeland and the Diaspora, before which we humbly kneel in prayer with offerings of incense for the souls of our innocent victims, who abide in unmarked graves, having accepted death rather than rejecting their faith and nation. Indeed, "the path of the righteous is as the dawning light that shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."
In 1915, and for years following, Ottoman Turkey committed genocide against our people. In Western Armenia - on our native soil - in the Armenian homeland and in Armenian communities throughout Turkey, one and one half million sons and daughters of our nation were subjected to slaughter, famine and disease, as they were deported and forced to march to their deaths. Centuries of honest accomplishments and creativity were swiftly plundered. Thousands of monasteries and churches were desecrated and destroyed. National institutions and schools were razed and ruined. Our spiritual and cultural treasures were uprooted and obliterated. Western Armenia, where for millennia - from the time of Noah - our people lived, created and built their history and culture, had been wrested from its native population.
A century ago - when the fragments of the Armenian nation, having lost their patrimony, were scattered all over the world, and while Eastern Armenia was waging a life-and-death struggle for survival against Turkish invaders - it was hard to believe in the future of the Armenian people. Nevertheless a new dawn came. By the grace of the Lord, our people rose up from death. On a small, salvaged part of the homeland, our people re-established statehood, recreated a country out of the ruins and vestiges, and built a "homeland of light and hope," of science, education and culture. The Armenians exiled throughout the world built homes and hearths, and flourished in countries near and far, carrying on their traditions and spiritual life. Wherever the children of our nation lived, they achieved success, earned respect and trust, and gained recognition for their conscientious work and their contributions to science, the arts and the common welfare. This is the history of our people for the last century - a history of adversity and resurrection. Today, hardships notwithstanding, our nation strengthens its independent statehood, creates its new life of freedom, and looks hopefully to the future, embracing national reawakening, optimism and faith.
Glory to you, O Lord, boundless glory, "Like a shield you protect us with your good favour." (Psalms 5:12). By placing our hope in You, O Lord, our people were enlightened and strengthened. Your light kindled the ingenuity of our spirit. Your might propelled us to our victories. We created though others destroyed our creations. We continued to live though others wanted us dead. You, O Lord, willed that our people - condemned to death by a genocidal plan - should live and rise again, so that we might raise this just cause before the conscience of humanity and the law of nations, to free the world of the callous indifference of Pilate and the criminal denial of Turkey.
For the sake of justice - until the triumph of our cause, we will continue our struggle without retreat - Church, Nation and State together. The blood of our innocent martyrs and the suffering of our people cry out for justice. Our destroyed shrines, the violation of our national rights, the falsification and distortion of our history all cry out for justice. Having survived genocide, our people believed and continue to believe that the multitude of righteous countries, national and civic organizations, and individuals who have recognized and condemned the Armenian Genocide will be joined by others who believe that the affirmation of truth and justice are the prerequisite and guarantor of a peaceful world free of enmity and violence.
In memory of our one and a half million martyrs of the Genocide, we express our gratitude to the nations, organizations and individuals who have had the courage and conviction to recognize and condemn the Armenian Genocide. We express gratitude to those countries and kind peoples who accepted the children of our nation as brothers and sisters. These examples of justice and humanitarianism are luminous pages in the history of mankind. They shall always be remembered and appreciated for generations, and benefit the peaceful, secure and congenial life of the world.
As Pontiff of the Armenians, it is spiritually consoling to announce to our people that on April 23, 2015, during the Divine Liturgy, our Holy Church will offer a special service canonizing its sons and daughters who accepted martyrdom as saints "for faith and for Homeland", and will proclaim April 24 as the day of remembrance for the Holy Martyrs of the Genocide.
O, Armenian people, graced from on high - a nation martyred; a nation resurrected - live boldly, advance surely, with your gaze toward Ark-bearing Ararat, and with an unwavering heart, keep your hope great. The Lord's encouragement and message are addressed to you: "Though you are not mighty, you were faithful to my word and you did not betray my name... Hold fast what you have so that no one will take away your crown of victory." (Revelations 3:8-11). Thus, let us stay on course before God, righteous and true, on the steadfast paths of faith, which like the morning light dispels the darkness and makes the horizons of hope visible. Our way is with God; and the life of faith is our victory. Let us make fruitful the centennial anniversary by valuing our peoples' 100-year-long path of travails and rebirth, so that our children, recognizing the heroic will of their grandparents and parents to live and create, and their commissions undertaken for the sake of nation and homeland, create the bright day of our native land and our people dispersed throughout the world. Let us transform the remembrance of our martyrs into energy and strength in our spiritual and national life, and before God and all people, illuminate the path by our righteous course to guide our way toward the realization of justice and our sacred aspirations.
From our nation's Christ-built and cherished spiritual centre, before the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin's Holy Altar of Descent of the Only Begotten, let us pray to God for peace, safety and the welfare of our Homeland, our beloved people throughout the world, and especially, for everlasting light and peace for the innocent souls of the holy martyrs of genocide. May love and brotherhood, justice and truth reign over humankind, and may the ways of the righteous radiate, guide and spread the light until the dawn of a new day brings peace and happiness to all the world.
May the grace, love and peace of our Lord Jesus the Christ be with you and with us all. Amen.
*Armenian Orthodox patriarch