Yesterday, people all over the world marked the 90th anniversary of the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, a commemoration that has taken on added political frieght with Turkey’s candidacy for accession to the European Union. Given the refusal of Turkey to even acknowledge the genocide — which also targeted hundreds of thousands of Pontic Greeks and Syrians — the EU question should be put permanently on hold until the Turks face their past with honesty. But the prospects of that happening are, for now, almost nil as the genocide charges provoke a domestic backlash in Turkey and fuel a virulent anti-Americanism. The recent election of Pope Benedict XVI, who has expressed his doubts about the wisdom of Turkey joining the EU, predictably provoked an outrage in the Turkish press.
Turkey’s refusal to own up to the Armenian genocide — often referred to as the first of the 20th century — is no mere correction of a now-distant historical record. It speaks directly to what is happening in that nation today. The latest State Department report on religious freedom notes that the hard-pressed Greek and Armenian Christian communities have had numerous church properties confiscated by Turkish authorities. Here’s the trick: Properties are threatened with expropriation when the population of a religious community drops below a certain level. The government then determines a property has fallen into disuse, and assumes its management.
For Orthodox Christians, the Armenian genocide stirs up terrible memories — millions of believers perished in the 20th century at the hands of the Turks, the Communists, the Nazis. These tragic events are, for many, a living memory. For the departed, we ask, in the words of an Orthodox prayer, that the Lord “keep them in everlasting remembrance.”