“DEATH to Armenian dogs”
“DEATH to Armenian dogs” –
Photo caption: Barbaros Leylani
(A sermon on the 101st commemoration)
Very Rev. Fr. Hrant Tahanian
These were the words of the deputy head of Sweden’s main Turkish association, Barbaros Leylani, on April 13th. He also said “Let us show Sweden, Scandinavia and Europe what Turkey stands for. We do not like blood, but we can let the blood flow when it is needed.”i In his speech, Leylani urged Turks to awaken and to kill what he branded “the Armenian dogs.”
Fortunately, the organization distanced itself from Leylani’s comments, and the head of Sweden’s Turkish Youth Association, Bahar Cetin, stated she was shocked at the comments made after seeing a recording on the internet. She also condemned Leylani’s statement as “racist.” It is nevertheless unfortunate that having eclipsed the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, some continue to remain in darkness instead of accepting the light that makes all things clear.
In the science of light and shade, the Umbra is the innermost and darkest part of a shadow (one created by the moon during a solar eclipse for example); and the Penumbra is the region that starts from the edge of the Umbra/darkness, on each side, and gradually brightens until the end of the Penumbra. Our Umbra -our darkest days- are over, as our great grandparents were the ones who perished through them, or survived but had to carry the darkening memories until their last. The Penumbra is also over, with the passing of 100 years and the canonization of the more than 1.5 million martyrs of the genocide. They have been under God’s glaring radiance for a long time, but their descendants, we the Armenians, have finally also seen that light. This is why we will no longer offer requiem services on April 24th, and will instead celebrate them as Holy Martyrs.
Regrettably, many are still lingering in the dark, as if they were running against the rotation of the earth, in order to remain in the Umbra. Furthermore, they celebrate the villains (Talaat, Djemal and Enver Pashas) as the heroes, and the innocent saints are labeled dogs. Painful as it is to have the memory of your loved ones desecrated, it becomes unbearable if they are people who encountered the worst kind of suffering and death. But we Armenians are not easily shaken. One of the incitements the orchestrators of the genocide used in their hate speeches and schemes was that we were of a different religion then they- we were Christians. Yes we were. And yes we are. Because of this fact, the label “dog” becomes an inadequate insult.
Let us consider for a moment the story of the Canaanite woman, found in Matthew chapter 15. Jesus and his apostles were going towards Tyre and Sidon to rest, when this woman appeared and started to shout asking Jesus to heal her daughter. As was customary to Jesus’ pedagogical style, he did not answer at the first plea. His followers were used to people crying after him, and sometimes being filled with a sense of over-importance, would try to quiet down the petitioner, as we see in Luke before Jesus heals the blind beggar: “Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet”(Luke 18:39). But what happens this time is not quite the same. We read in verse 23 that the apostles urged Jesus saying “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” Now before marveling at the inhumanity of the apostles, I should note that many commentators have pointed out that “send her away” does not necessarily mean ‘send her away empty handed,’ but could as much have meant ‘answer her request, so she goes away quickly.’ Of course, this does not lessen the negligence of the apostles, for their primary concern is not in having the daughter healed, so much as it is in finding a solution to have them gone as soon as possible.
Understandably so, we will question why Jesus’ followers would act in such a way? The reason is simple though: Canaanites and Israelites were historical enemies. Furthermore, the petitioner was a she. Mosaic laws forbade regular association with woman because of cleanliness rituals. Furthermore, if her daughter was sick, the apostles probably contemplated that it was because of their own sins, and their Master, Jesus, had better things to do then deal with sinners. Of course, you will remember the contrary to be true. Jesus clearly claimed “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32- it is found in all three Synoptic Gospels. And everyone knows this about Jesus, even his detractors (John 8:6).
So it will come as a considerable surprize to learn that when the woman reaches them and kneels down begging for help, Jesus answers: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
This verse has been one of the most puzzling of the New Testament and has challenged interpreters for centuries. We can grasp how the apostles can fall into sectarianism and discrimination; but Jesus, the son of man…how could he?
Many pages have been written to reconcile this apparent flaw, but the resolution is quite simple really. The first thing we need to realize is that when Jesus references human made values, he does not necessarily approve of them. For example, we read in Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” The first interpretation that comes to mind when we hear or read this verse is that it’s a motivational saying: ‘If God cares so mindfully about almost valueless sparrows, how much more does he care for us.’ But this approach misses a crucial point. Jesus is not affirming that the value given to sparrows by society in his day is proper. On the contrary, one can even find a critic in his statement: ‘Doesn’t your society take something as valuable to God as sparrows and sells them for only pennies? Nevertheless they remain cherished to your heavenly Father and always enjoy his care.’
Similarly, when referring to dogs, he is criticizing his followers’ mindset- one that holds some groups in prejudice over others; some as worthy to sit at the table, others as worthless sparrows, dogs, or a term used for our ancestors- gyavours. Come to think of it, being labelled a dog by Leylani is actually a promotion, as some Sultans of the Ottoman empire regarded the “millet”s (the minority confessional communities, like the Rums, Yezidis, Jews, and Armenians) as “Raya”s, essentially reducing them to sub-serf status; having “less rights then cattle” as one historian describes.
Regardless, and as I suggested early on, we are not easily shaken by these labels. And here is why. The Canaanite woman answered: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Oh denialists still threading in darkness. Your toil is in vain. Remember how you sent our mothers and their children in the deserts, without food, not even crumbs, but they survived. Even those who died- survived, for here we are, their descendants. You call us dogs- it is better to be dogs kneeled at the Lords table and enjoying his radiance, then wolves lurking in the darkness, with an unquenching appetite for blood. You say you “do not like blood, but you can let blood flow when it is needed.” Isn’t the blood of 1.5 million and 1 enough? Come to the light, don’t be afraid of the truth, and grasp that one who doesn’t like blood won’t seek more of it.
Dear friends, there is no point in attempting to understand denialism. Walking down that road leads to ever more obscurity. While researching about Turkey and Sweden, I noticed that the latter had officially recognized the genocide in 2010. As it has become customary, Turkey promptly recalled its ambassador.
Zergun Koruturk, the ambassador, shared the following innuendo “there would be drastic effects of a long-term nature on relations between the two countries… I am very disappointed. Unfortunately, parliamentarians were thinking that they were rather historians than parliamentarians, and it’s very, very unfortunate.”ii
Recalling ambassadors and threatening economic ties are well knows tools in the arsenal of Turkey’s denialist machine. Suggesting that this matter should be solved by historians is nothing new as well. For the first 50 years the machine denied. The next 40 years it attempted to spread the lie that the victims were the aggressors. And the last ten years it’s been repeating this line “let historians handle it, this is not the duty of politicians.”
At first hearing the proposition might sound reasonable, however it is not only impractical, but furthermore dangerous. Separating the sciences and every branch of each science into its own field of studies is a product of the modern scholastic system. For the most part it has been beneficial to humankind, with the development of specialists in every field of knowledge. But it can also be harmful, particularly when the different specialists are isolated. Modern theological studies, concentrated into four major areas: scripture, theology, church history and practical ministry, has also come to realize the detrimental effect of extreme separation.
I repeat the ambassadors words: “once again parliamentarians were thinking that they were rather historians than parliamentarians, and it’s very, very unfortunate”
What’s unfortunate is the exact opposite. If there are two departments that should never, ever be separated, not even for an instance, they are history and policy. This is a no-brainer!
“Who today remembers the massacre of the Armenians?” Hitler famously argued to convince his generals in implementing his plan to get rid of all Jews.
Is Turkey’s leadership suggesting we do the same? Forget the past?
If that’s the case, it becomes ironical, as they are not forgetting it. Just last month during their crackdown on Kurds President Erdogan threatened they would follow the ‘Armenian fate.’iii
For the sake of peaceful reconciliation, and even though they do not adhere to their own suggestion, let us examine it, grant it an opportunity.
“Historians should deal with history.” Someone won’t easily argue this statement, as historians have the most knowledge and the best tools to do so, and we surely don’t want to learn about the Trial of Socrates from a microbiologist. A Historian will do us well!
But what does it even mean to be a historian. Someone who holds a post-graduate degree from a respectable university? Sure. But does one need to hold a diploma to read, learn, comment on and value the past?
So what it is that Erdogan is asking. That every single historian in the world agree? That would be another way to indefinitely postpone the issue.
But what if the majority of historians agree, wouldn’t that be adequate enough? Assuredly! And the fact is that not only most historians do agree, but the I.A.G.S., the International Association of Genocide Scholars, affirms what the Ottoman Empire perpetrated to be the first Genocide of the 20th century.
The denialist machine at this point, out of desperation, will probably counter by suggesting that such persons are bought, but it is clear knowledge that Turkey’s bidding capacity can’t be matched by Armenia’s.
And all this starts to get very confusing, as one administration after the other finds new, and often contradictory ways, to sabotage the truth.
It is thus not necessary to waste time on figuring the denialists next product, as the outcome is clear- it will be the same. On April 14th, the European Parliament called on Turkey to recognize the events of 1915 as Genocide. 6 days later, the Turkish presidential administration, in reply, said that Turkey will never recognize the genocide.
In summary, what the Turkish rulers are saying is “let historians do what historians do, and we will do what we want to do, regardless of what historians come up with.”
This fact should not be taken lightly. I do fear that leaders of modern turkey are capable of committing similar acts. They have already threatened to submit the Kurds to the same treatment. Even more worrisome was their haste in encouraging wariv during the 5 day heavy border fighting between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh between April 1st and 5th. The OSCE Minsk Group and its chairs- France, Russia and the U.S. all called for peace. Turkey however not only encouraged Azerbaijan in their flagrant violation of the ceasefire, but even sent soldiers to take part in the act.
Armenians have and will always remain a peace loving nation. We will not make contradictory threats of ‘not liking blood, but wanting blood to flow.’ Any blood spilt is a cause for sorrow. We do not rejoice that Azeris were killed because of their and Turkish officials’ reckless behaviour.
We have and will always remain hopeful. It is very worrisome to hear Barbaros Leylani call for the death of Armenian dogs. But it is also encouraging that Sweden’s Turkish Youth Association condemned the statement. We pray that all Turks of the new generation, not only condemn such violent approaches, but also find the courage to recognize past injustices…
On April 21st, Turkish-Armenian parliament member Garo Paylan, the first PM of Armenian descent in over 50 years, resurrected the memories of the 13 Armenian members of the Ottoman General Assembly who were massacred on April 24th 1915, as he commemorated the 101st anniversary of the Genocide in the Parliament.v We are all greatly heartened by his courage. Ayo Garo, Asdvadz hokinin lousavoréts, yév ménk anonts loysov aysor aravél yéves géntani énk!
Although the Canaanite woman was surrounded by people that did not view her favourably, she had the courage to speak what was necessary, even it meant being denigrated.
Dear friends, they can call us dogs, gyavours, and connive any other slander. We will always speak what is necessary.
The truth shines brighter than any form of denial.
LONG LIVE our more than 1.5 million saints, long live all the children of truth.