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ARMENIAN MEDITATIONS By the Revd Frank Julian Gelli “Avenge O Lord Thy Slaughtered Saints” John Milton One

of the most intensely moving spiritual experiences of my life was a visit to the Armenian Holy Cross Church of Ahtamar. After a brief boat ride on the calm waters of Lake Van (hoping to spot one of the famous, allegedly lake-swimming Angora cats: no luck), my friend and fellow priest Nicolas Von Malaise and I disembarked on the shore of the Ahtamar island. After a short climb, a divine dream opened up before us. On the mellow, honey-coloured church walls a heavenly host stood, as if to welcome us, like long-awaited pilgrims. Angels, Adam and Eve, Abraham, David and Goliath, Samson, Jonah, Daniel, the Virgin Mary and Christ…they stood, hovered or danced in exquisite stone relief. Sheer magic. Sadly, the dark interior then in 1992 was still ruined and ill-kept, the colours of beautiful surviving frescoes faded. Unexpectedly, my eyes filled with tears. Never before did I experience such a powerful emotion. Nicolas and I both fell to our knees and prayed, silently. I thought of the ancient cloud of witnesses, of the generations of faithful Armenian worshippers, of the innumerable prayers prayed there over centuries – and, above all, of the innocent victims of the ghastly genocide by the Young Turks. John Milton’s stirring verses about the massacred Waldensian people arose before my mind: “Avenge O Lord thy slaughtered saints…” Days later, in the modern city of Van, another, quite different experience stirred us, this time to disbelief and anger. The guidebook had alerted us to the existence of a certain local, surreal ‘genocide museum’. Because it purported to document ‘Turkish victims of genocide by Armenians’. A cross between the macabre and the sadistic. Just imagine that in Berlin today Germans were to show you a WWII ‘holocaust museum’, and that it turned out to be an exhibition about ‘millions of Germans exterminated by Jews’! Anyway, out of a sense of duty, we felt we still had to go and view it. Poorly displayed and messily arranged, the whole wretched affair reeked of bad taste and crude propaganda. I can’t honestly remember what prayer I prayed there. However, I am sure it was not one of vengeance, like Milton’s, but one of forgiveness, “as they do not know what they do”. Why should I deny it? I was angry. Angry at of the impudence, the effrontery of the local authorities in putting up such a grim travesty of historical truth. I was angry then and I am still angry today. Angry because that State still deny modern Turkish people, especially the young, access to unbiased and fair evidence of an appalling crime against humanity perpetrated by the Young Turks. Angry because of the last humiliation the Turkish authorities have inflicted on Mesrob II, the Armenian Patriarch in Turkey. We know how they forced him to attend the clumsily-staged opening of the restored Holy Cross Church…as a museum! Preventing him even from saying a prayer! Even forbidding the setting up of cross and bell over the church. (Actions that speaks volumes about the purported freedom of religion in Turkey.) I am angry because major Western powers, such as Britain, the US and Germany, still, in the name of the lowest, most wretched Realpolitik, refuse to confront the Turkish Government with the moral demand to face up to its historical burden of guilt, own up and make adequate reparations.

” And this is a man who promises a new chapter in foreign policy and speaks of the need to reconcile! Do you not know. even if the story is fictional. I liked and still do like the Turkish people. in their efforts to exterminate the Armenians. I have served as an Anglican priest in Turkey. bringing Turkey into the European Union. One of the most uplifting passages of literature about the genocide known to me is contained in Franz Werfel’s splendid and harrowing The 40 Days of Musa Dag. He seeks to spread a fog. What manner of man are you. The Armenian Holocaust was not a Muslim crime. I have no idea what historical sources. sincere. Not even a crime done in the name of Islam. did exploit and use religious prejudice. right a great wrong. be so insensitive to another people’s similar fate? In his reference to Muslims. I made many good Turkish friends. one most influential in Ottoman times. Vibrant. that no genuine and lasting reconciliation can ever take place without justice being implemented? In South Africa no reconciliation was even conceivable until the Apartheid regime had relinquished supremacy and black Africans achieved power. Mr Milliband. what kind of human being lurks beneath your squeakyclean façade. as an active and committed friend of Muslim causes.And now I am especially angry at David Milliband. A fine ethical slogan. the Foreign Secretary is devious. based this account on. Mr Milliband. The despicable gang of Enver. a Jew. whose people have suffered a colossal wrong because of dreadful prejudice. Here I must point out. that he and his fellow Muslims refuse to be a party to the crimes the Young Turks are planning. I feel it conveys well the attitude of a righteous Islamic leader to the hideous wrongs his vile government was carrying out. secularists. The young people there especially are great. About the meeting during WWI between a key Armenian figure and the sheikh of the Ottoman Mevlevi order. the current young and zestful Foreign Secretary of Great Britain. nationalists – all positions that are clearly antithetical to Islam. but. a man of another race and another faith. then as well as now. a noble Jew. Many of them are re-discovering their fathers’ faith. that I completely agree with the recent statement by Zulfi Bukhari to the British-Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group. by putting the record straight? I do hope and pray they will. in the spirit of the old Mevlevi sheikh. Werfel. idealistic. on behalf of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC). but they certainly could not pretend to represent the Islamic faith. I loved them. ‘Not in my name’.not to forget? An imperative not to mock and besmirch the memory of the innocent victims by allowing the memory of a foul crime to be erased? How can you. if any. inverted ethical standards can you possibly uphold. Will they eventually show the way ahead and. a prestigious spiritual Islamic fraternity. I still remember how thrilled I was in coming across a particular passage. so that people may not see. The sheikh makes it clear to the Armenian. Revd Frank Julian Gelli . if you cannot not see the moral imperative confronting your country today . Addressing the recent Labour Party Conference he ‘preached’ that: “Britain must continue to reach out to moderate Muslims. The Young Turks were out-and-out atheists. Talat & Co. if you can so glibly speak of admitting a nation into the EU without any acknowledgment of a monstrous genocide? What kind of weird.