Fr Grigoris Balakian’s memoir Armenian Golgotha, for decades an important text of Armenian literature, belongs to this group of significant books that deal with crimes against humanity in the modem age. Fr Balakian, a priest and later a bishop in the Armenian Apostolic Church, was an esteemed clergyman and intellectual. On the night of April 24, 1915, along with about 250 other Armenian cultural leaders (writers, clergy, teachers, journalists), he was arrested in Constantinople, the cultural center of Ottoman Armenians, and deported by bus and then train to a prison in Chankiri, about two hundred miles east, in north central Turkey.
Bewildered and terrified, he could not have imagined that he was at the beginning of an odyssey that would last nearly four years, the duration of World War I which saw the brutal massacre of over 1.2 million Armenians in an attempt by the Muslim Turkish government to annihilate all the Armenian living in Turkish Armenia. He was one of only a handful of the original group to survive the ordeal; against all odds, he would manage to escape Turkish officials, police soldiers, and killing squads.
Along his many roads of exile, Fr Balakian witnessed slaughter, fields of corpses, and starving women and children. He gathered invaluable firsthand testimony from numerous survivors as well as eyewitness accounts from German, Swiss, and Austrian engineers. Through an unusual encounter with mutasarrif Asaf in the summer of 1915, he read an official telegram from Talaat (The Turkish interior minister, one of the government officials responsible for the massacre) inquiring about the efficiency of massacres in the region. Among the orders given by the Turkish officials, a statement that will stand out in the Armenian history as a witness of the Armenian’s unshakable faith.
“Any conversion to Islam is disallowed because the events of 1895-96 showed that Armenians were not able to sincerely abandon their religion.”
For about two months Fr Balakian was one of a group of threadbare survivors forced to walk hundreds of miles south along a central deportation route. Through wild, harsh, and remote terrain, he helped keep them alive, caring for their physical and spiritual needs, for the next year and a half he was a fugitive.
It will be clear to any reader that Armenian Golgotha is more than a personal story, for Fr Balakian brings together a survivor account, eyewitness testimony, historical background and context, political analysis, and ideology of the Turkish extermination plan.
There are chilling portrayals of how the actual killing was done. The perpetrators often used the tools of the farmer, butcher, and tanner-axes, hoes, meat cleavers, pitchforks, knives, and gouges to kill and mutilate. The variety of tortures included eye-gouging, hair-plucking, beheading, genital mutilation, and disemboweling. There are scenes of mass terror as well as individual grief, and some of the gruesome details that Fr Balakian gives us were related to him by the perpetrators themselves, speaking with bravado. These tactics and organized efforts were not ineffective by the end of 1915 three-fourths of the Ottoman Armenians were extinct. In a conversation with a Turkish soldier Fr Balakian managed to get some horrifying details of the inhuman massacre of 6,400 women and children at Yozgat:
During the time we were searching the women, for gold, silver, and diamond jewelry the government officials sent police soldiers to all the surrounding Turkish villages and in the name of holy jihad invited the Muslim population to participate in this sacred religious obligation…
Thus, when we arrived at the designated site, this mass of people was waiting. The government order was clear: all were to be massacred, and nobody was to be spared. Whoever wished to select a virgin girl or young bride could do so immediately, on the condition of taking them as wives and not with the intention of rescuing them.
By the way, you know that they had swallowed many pieces of diamond jewelry during the course of our searches. But the Turkish villagers, particularly the women, roamed for days among these thousands of stinking corpses, slitting their intestines and finding a considerable amount of jewelry.
The unfolding depth of Fr Balakian’s narrative brings us closer to scenes of atrocity and massacre. The account of the massacres in Ankara province by a girl who had been left for dead in a pile of corpses; the mounds of hastily buried bodies of tens of thousands of Armenians at Islahiye, which bring the deportees to despair and suicidal feelings; the piles of bodies dismembered and disgorged
In some killing zone men, women and children were slaughtered and thrown into the valley and river below, while thousands more froze to death or died of dysentery, diarrhea, and famine, so that the fields were covered with mounds of unburied bodies; in other zones tens of thousands of half-naked, emaciated women and children were eating the rotting corpses of animals.
“Armenian boys between the ages of three and ten were gathered together by the hundreds and starved for days. Then, to amuse themselves, the killers made them eat human and animal excrement. Finally they murdered them with axes. They filled wells with dozens of Armenian women at a time, or buried them alive in sand, and then danced around them rejoicing.”
In another scene
“we saw, in the fields on both sides of the road, the first decomposed human skeletons and even more skulls; long hair was still attached to them, leaving no doubt that they belonged to females. Among our companions were young Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople. They often bent down to pick up these skulls and kiss them tearfully. After all, these were the sacred remains of our mothers and sisters who had been martyred.”
These scenes and others comprise one of the most extraordinary accounts of mass killing in the modern era, and any student of genocide will find them invaluable as evidentiary witness.
Sexual violence was also an integral part of the mass killing program, and Fr Balakian relays firsthand accounts of the abductions and gang rapes of women, and abductions as a component of the deportation. The absorption of Armenians into Islamic Turkish life through forced conversion and abduction is a recurrent theme of the genocidal process. In a moving scene in the chapter “Gazbel to Hajin” Fr Balakian finds himself sitting at a dinner table with a family of Islamized Armenians who beg him to bless their table, give them Holy Communion, and hear their confessions. Full of anguish, they all break down weeping:
“Oh, Reverend Father, we’re finished. There’s no pain that we haven’t suffered; there’s no misfortune that hasn’t befallen us. They deceived us, saying that if we converted to Islam, we would be saved from all manner of adversity; we became Islamized with the hope of at least rescuing the remnants of our families. But our situation worsened; our young brides and girls were forcibly taken in marriage to the harems. There is no cruelty that they didn’t commit; there is no torture that they didn’t administer to us. We would have been better off if we had gone into exile and died; that way we would have been freed at last, and we wouldn’t have stained our consciences.”
Among these horrific scenes of sexual assaults, Fr Balakian relates a scene of a true Christian courage of a young Armenian School girl.
“In a caravan of Armenian women and girls being taken to slaughter, a young unmarried Armenian girl of school age caught the eyes of a young Turkish youth. Wanting to save her from certain death, he proposed that she accept Islam and be with him. The Armenian girl replied insolently, “Instead of me becoming a Muslim, you become an Armenian and I will marry you.”
The Turk tried again to convince the beautiful Armenian schoolgirl to leave the caravan, but finding it impossible, he walked away. The Turkish butchers made her lie down on the ground, and after crushing the girl’s virgin chest under their knees and inflicting various tortures and abuses, they cut off her head like a sheep’s. Then they ravaged the lifeless body, cutting it to pieces. They couldn’t satisfy their vengefulness, provoked as they were by her courage in answering with such bold disrespect for the Muslim religion.
I think of this as an immortal episode in the martyrology of Armenian virgins; it even surpasses the 3rd century martyrdom of the virgins Hripsime and Gayane, which are celebrated by the Armenian Church. The killing of this girl is worthy of eternal commemoration and blessing, consecrated with sainthood by all future Armenian generations.”
Another moving scene of a true Christian teaching “love never fails” in action, by an Armenian nurse working in a hospital tending the wounds of a Muslim Turkish soldier. the soldier being agonized by the Christian love of this nurse more than his amputated legs saying
My sister, I don’t deserve your help. Let me die like a dog. If you knew what acts of barbarity I have committed upon Armenian women, you would run away from me. Yes, everybody gets what they’ve given. Now that my two legs have been cut off, I understand the meaning of this proverb.
Tragically, the Turkish government today spends millions of dollars annually in an effort to falsify the facts and reality of the Armenian Genocide, and while it has lured a few scholars into colluding with. its denial campaign, the mainstream scholarly world and many nation-states and political institutions have responded with moral redress at this state sponsored propaganda! Many readers will find that Armenian Golgotha, because of its intimacy with Turkish culture and the Anatolian landscape, will be another important text that tells the story of the eradication of the Armenians from inside Turkey and reveals Turkish denial as a continued assault on truth.
Grigoris Balakian, Armenian Golgotha: a memoir of the Armenian genocide, 1915-1918, 2009 p510 (Hardcover). ISBN: 978-0-307-26288-2. US$ 35.00.
Fr Anthony St Shenouda
7 thoughts on “Armenian Golgotha!”
A moving tribute to how truly awful religion is and how it can make people do evil things.
Over a billion people are Muslim and over two billion are Christians and they claim the same God. There are only two possibilities here; only one of them is right or none of them are right…seeing as how Christians have also dabbled in the same genocidal behavior as the Muslims…I vote for none of them being right.
Religion is deadly to the human race.
Very good blog post. Although dismayed by the story…I enjoyed the read.
I disagree with you thewordofme.
What genocidal behavior are you talking about?
BTW Bishoy, Nice blog.
Hi Kiro, thanks for your comment.
Historical religious conflict
Crusades http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades Millions
French wars of religion http://www.lepg.org/wars.htm Over a million
thirty years war http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years%27_War 7 to 8 million
Taiping Rebellion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion 20 to 60 million
Conquest of the Americas 20 to 40 million indigenous people.
The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Christian faith through indigenous conversions. It lasted for over four hundred years, from 1492 to 1898
Turkey early 1900’s Muslims against Christian Armenian’s 1 to 2 million
Modern day conflicts
Palestine–Jews vs. Muslims
Balkans-Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians & Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims Genocide
Northern Ireland-Protestants vs. Catholic
Kashmir-Muslims vs. Hindus
Sudan-Muslims vs. Christians and Animists Genocide
Nigeria-Muslims vs. Christians
Ethiopia and Eritrea-Muslims vs. Christians
Sri-Lanka-Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus
Indonesia-Muslims vs. Timorese Christians
Caucuses-Russian Orthodox vs. Chechen Muslims and Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians
India vs. Pakistan-Muslim vs. Hindu-they have already fought 3 wars against each other and now both of these countries have nuclear weapons.
Maybe 10 million or more in the modern day category.
There’s more, but these are the major ones. Not all are genocides, but a lot are close.
The world would have been much better off without religion. However some have said that the world would REALLY be overcrowded without those religiously inspired murders.
Hope all is doing well
Id have to agree with you that many people have used religion to advance their cause and conquer countries. This is not a reflection of the beliefs of a religion rather it is a reflection that people are religious only be name not by action.
As i have said previously you will find it hardpressed to find anything that implicates the Coptic Church in these actions of genocide or murder.
Furthermore i would like to say that Christians do not believe in the same God of the Muslims. The Muslims believe that Jesus is a prophet of Allah.
I will post tomorrow a piece i wrote a while back proving that Jesus is Allah from their own Quran.
While it is true that many so called “Christians” have abused the word of the Bible to their personal advantage, it would not be fare to brand these behaviour as Christian. The same way you go to bad doctor means that all doctors are bad. We can see how Christianity has positively contributed to the world development in many aspects. Hospitals and health care that we take for granted today, started by Christians in an organised way by St Basil and many other monasteries that opened their monasteries during the time of barbarian attacks or plagues. We see in history in plagued towns that when everyone leaves for their lives, Christian groups (e.g. St John Bosco in Italy) stay back and help those who are infected. That is not to mention the hundereds of charitable organisations that exist today only to fulfil the gospel message
I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Mat 25:36 – 40)
We cannot also forget Desmond Tutu (an Anglican Archbishop) and his NON violent peace effort against the Apartheid.
In the science field also Christianity contributed significantly (Despite the attempts today to suggest otherwise). For example Johnn Mendel (a Catholic Monk) who discovered the since of Genetics. The list can go on…
Not to mention how Christian Missionaries were key players in the development of many civilisation. Missionaries on countless number of times in their attempt to bring the gospel in the native tongue of the people had to invent letters to the sounds that the local people use and translated the bible to their own language. The Coptic, Armenian, and Slavic languages are perfect examples to this.
On the other hand how may did Hitler, Stalin, Lenin (just to name a few) kill. I think we are all familiar with this part of history and how it brought much violence and bloodshed. So Atheism does not really solve the problem of evil after all.
So we do admit that Christianity did at times make a bad job in applying the Bible truth, yet it cannot be said that it is the believe in Christianity that developed it. If the whole world wakes up tomorrow (God Forbid) not believing in God, people will still be killing each other.
Hello Fr. Anthony, thank you for your reply.
“While it is true that many so called “Christians” have abused the word of the Bible to their personal advantage, it would not be fare to brand these behaviour as Christian. The same way you go to bad doctor means that all doctors are bad. We can see how Christianity has positively contributed to the world development in many aspects.”
I do not doubt for a minute that religion has done some good in this world. Their charities and outpouring of care and generosity is commendable. However one must weigh the good against the bad. How much is a human life worth? How can the loss of a million human lives in a religious struggle (the Crusades…for instance) be compared to religious charity?
What is the comparison between the Catholic Church causing the death of possibly two or more million “Witches” (from the Bible…”suffer not a witch to live”) in the Dark Ages and the Catholics supporting a hospital? We now know that there is no such thing as witches, but you would think that an “all knowing God” would not allow such passages in His book.
Compare priestly pedophiles and deadly Middle Age inquisitions to religious soup kitchens in modern day poor areas…who comes out the winner/loser in human compassion and charity?
“In the science field also Christianity contributed significantly (Despite the attempts today to suggest otherwise). For example Johnn Mendel (a Catholic Monk) who discovered the since of Genetics. The list can go on…”
Down through history religious people have contributed mightily to man’s knowledge of this world. I don’t wish to deny that, as their contributions mean a lot to me. It was a religious person who first noticed in the 1600’s that the Biblical flood of Noah was a myth and since his time religious persons after religious persons have verified this observation. Religious people have been instrumental in solving many of the earth’s mysteries and there remain many God worshippers in science today.
Have you ever noticed that when science and religion gets into an argument over what is true and what is myth…science wins? We know there are no witches, no demons, no Noachian flood, no Tower of Babel, no Adam and Eve, no exodus, the earth is not the center of the universe, prayer does not work, no magic or supernatural…all these things can be proven circumstantially. How does this affect Christianity when many of the foundational stories are actually proven to be mythical…lies, as it were?
“Not to mention how Christian Missionaries were key players in the development of many civilisation. Missionaries on countless number of times in their attempt to bring the gospel in the native tongue of the people had to invent letters to the sounds that the local people use and translated the bible to their own language. The Coptic, Armenian, and Slavic languages are perfect examples to this.”
Christian missionaries are very responsible for much of human misery in olden times. Often they (or their group) would carry devastating illnesses to the countries and areas that they went too. It was not uncommon for syphilis and other STD’s, and smallpox to be introduced to the native people they were proselytizing. “Christian” Spaniards were responsible for millions and millions of deaths and enslavement’s (the Bible condones slavery) in the native populations of Mexico, Central America, and South America. If they didn’t convert they were killed.
History talks of indigenous babies in the Americas being baptized by priests and then having their heads bashed in on a rock. Population control at its most elemental. History also talks of the Spaniards and Portuguese ravaging most, or all, of the Islands in the Caribbean. Enslaving tens of thousands and killing many more.
It was not until the late 1700’s and early 1800’s that secular leadership started to slap the churches down and make them realize that they were severely trampling human rights, and take their powers away from them. In modern times it is countries where religion is curtailed that has the most human friendly governments. Religious government leads to atrocities and human misery…it always has. Can you imagine living somewhere where atheism is outlawed, where you have no intellectual freedom?
“On the other hand how may did Hitler, Stalin, Lenin (just to name a few) kill. I think we are all familiar with this part of history and how it brought much violence and bloodshed. So Atheism does not really solve the problem of evil after all.”
It has been verified many times over that Hitler was a Catholic and he espoused Catholic values. The Church and Hitler’s government had a “Concordance” that kept the church out of his way so that the Church could keep their properties in Germany, and other countries that Hitler conquered. His regime burned existing atheistic and evolutionary books and banned them altogether. This has been proven by recovered documents.
As for Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot and others that have killed millions; were they atheistic or merely crazy, insane sociopaths?
“If the whole world wakes up tomorrow (God Forbid) not believing in God, people will still be killing each other.”
Well if that were to happen the wars that I listed above would most likely cease, the Muslim certified war on America wouldn’t have happened. Sounds fine to me, I would love to visit some countries that are now controlled by Muslims.
Peace to you my friend.
It seems you are very passionate about the topic and that is very important. I would rather speak with someone who believes in something with all his heart rather than a relativist who would say “we all worship the same God”. Saying that I am very happy to reply to your answers but in emails. I myself find forums intimidating so I would be glad to take this conversation to email (email@example.com) or if you live in Sydney, Australia you are welcome to visit our monastery.
I can see that you have already went into a lengthy discussion with Bishoy about this topic in other posts. So if you are pursuing this in order to know more about what Christians think or if you are open to even a small possibility that Christians might have a point then I welcome you to a discussion. Otherwise if you think that is it and there is nothing anyone can do about it, then there will be no point in the discussion. Saying that I am happy to recommend some books that might help you in understanding the Christian perspective.
Have we met before here in the monastery???