Masses remember centennial of Armenian Genocide
By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service
John Ourfali, 77, remembers how as a child he saw an elderly family friend break down and cry whenever he met with Ourfali’s parents, unable to speak about what had happened to him and his family in the dark days of what today is known as the Armenian Genocide.
“He used to cry a lot and couldn’t talk about it so we never knew what happened to his family,” said Ourfali, an Armenian Catholic whose original family name is Khatcherian.
Ourfali’s father came to Jerusalem as an orphan just before 1915. He was among those who escaped the massacre at the hands of Turkish nationalists that left 1.5 million Armenians dead between 1915 and 1923. His mother’s family escaped the bloodshed only because her father had served in the Turkish army, making their way to Jordan and then to Jerusalem.
Millions of Christians were displaced and about 500,000 Assyrian, Syrian, Chaldean and Greek Christians perished as Turkish nationalists established new borders to the east while ridding the area of Christian non-Turks.
Armenia is considered the first country to have accepted Christianity as its state religion in 301 A.D. It has had four independent royal dynasties at different times since the 12th century B.C. In 1991, Armenia gained independence from Russia, which annexed the country into the Soviet Union in 1920.
On April 12, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass commemorating the 100-year anniversary. In February, he declared a 10th-century Armenian monk, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church.
Also, on April 12, Bishop Joe Vásquez celebrated Mass at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin in memory of the victims of the Armenian genocide.
An Austin Catholic whose great-grandparents survived the genocide said her great-grandparents and grandparents taught forgiveness.
“They taught us to forgive and to leave to God the judgment of those who perpetrated these acts. Also, my grandparents kept our traditions of faith alive in our family, to have the courage to choose to live with Christ and as a witness to Christ,” said the parishioner, who wished to remained unidentified.
Turkey denies charges of genocide –– defined as a deliberate intent to destroy a nation or people –– and maintains that those who died were victims of civil unrest and war in the Ottoman Empire at the time.
On the traditional date of commemoration, April 24, Armenian communities in Jerusalem and around the world held local memorial ceremonies and Masses.
Although it is called the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide has yet to receive universal recognition. Some governments, such as Belgium, France, Cyprus, Canada and Russia, have adopted resolutions affirming events. Armenians believe that political interests –– namely the need for a NATO military base in Turkey –– prevent others, including the U.S., from recognizing the genocide.
Because of the massacre, Armenians dispersed throughout the Middle East, the U.S., Canada, Australia and parts of Europe and many families lost touch, said Msgr. Georges Dankaye, patriarchal administrator of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate of Jerusalem and Amman.
Despite the challenges, he said, strong faith allowed Armenians to build anew where they resettled. He acknowledged that events of a century ago are not far from the thoughts of Armenians today.
“The victims of the genocide were able to live because of their faith in Jesus. They refused to live as non-Christians. On the contrary, the first things they built in their new homes were schools and (church parishes). My faith helps me overcome the genocide of the past,” said Msgr. Dankaye, whose own family emigrated from Armenia to Syria before the genocide.