June 11, 1896
Origin and Religion of the People.
THE present disturbed state of Armenia, which has been attended with so much bloodshed, and characterized by atrocities worthy of the Dark Ages, lends a peculiar interest to the history of that unhappy country.
The origin of the Armenians is lost in the mists of antiquity. According to tradition they are descended from Togarmah, a grandson of Japheth, one of the three sons of Noah, who settled in Armenia, after the ark rested upon Mount Ararat.
Tradition also relates that the gospel was preached in Armenia early in the first century by the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholemew; and certain it is that in A.D. 276, both the king and the great mass of his people became at least nominally Christian.
“As a Christian nation whose lot has been cast beyond the frontiers, of Christendom,” says Alice Stone Blackwell, “the Armenians have had to suffer constant persecution,—in early times from the Persian fire worshipers, in later centuries from the Mohammedans.” 667
The Armenians received aid and sympathy from the Crusaders, and in return gave them active support. This is doubtless one reason for the hatred with which they are regarded by the Mohammedans everywhere. After the failure of the Crusades they were subjected to fierce persecutions and great barbarities at the hands of Tartars, Persians and Ottoman Turks. But through it all the Armenians have held tenaciously to their faith.
Demand of the Persian King.
It was about the middle of the 5th century that the Armenians first lost their independence. They remained a nation, however, until in 1604, Shah Abbas laid the whole country waste, and forcibly transplanted about 40,000 of the inhabitants into Persia. “Since then,” says the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” “the Armenians have had no political position as a nation, though they continue to form an important and valuable portion of the population in Russia, Turkey, and Persia.” 668
In A.D. 450, the Persians king sent a letter to the Armenian princes in which he highly extolled fire worship, contrasting it with Christianity, much to the disadvantage of the latter, as he painted it, and demanding that the Armenians should embrace the religion of Persia.
Upon receipt of the king’s letter a council was called, and after due deliberation, an answer was returned to the imperious letter of the Persian monarch.
The Reply of the Armenians
After replying at considerable length to the argument of the king against the Christian  faith, the Armenian princes and bishops concluded:—
From this faith no one can move us,—neither angels nor men; neither sword, nor fire, nor water, nor any deadly punishment. If you leave us our faith, we will accept no other lord in place of you; but we will accept no god in place of Jesus Christ; there is no other god beside him. If, after this great confession, you ask anything more of us, lo, we are before you, and our lives are in your power. From you, torments; from us, submission; your sword, our necks. We are not better than those who have gone before us, who gave up their goods and their lives for this testimony.
This noble reply filled the Persian king with rage. His rejoinder was an army of 200,000 men, which invaded Armenia, carrying death and destruction everywhere. A battle was fought at the foot of Mount Ararat, in which the Armenians were defeated; but the obstinate resistance to his will offered by rich and poor, men, women and children, soon convinced the king that he could never make fire worshipers of the descendants of Togarmah. An old historian thus quaintly expresses it: “The swords of the slayers grew dull, but the necks of the Armenians were not weary.”
The Armenians’ Love of Country.
After ages of injustice and oppression the spirit of the Armenians is unbroken and their love of liberty is perhaps unsurpassed by any people; while their affection for their country is something touching. One of their poets 669 has thus expressed this latter sentiment:—
Had a lifetime of ages been granted to me
I had given it gladly and freely to thee,
O my life, my Armenia!
Were I offered the love of a maid lily-fair,
I would choose thee alone for my joy and my care,
My one love, my Armenia!
Were I given a crown of rich pearls, I should prize,
Far more than their beauty, one tear from thine eyes,
O my weeping Armenia!
If freedom unbounded were proffered to me,
I would choose still to share thy sublime slavery,
O my mother, Armenia!
The Armenian’s Love of Liberty
As is to be inferred from the last stanza of the foregoing quotation, the Armenian’s love of freedom is only second to their love of country, and it may well be doubted if it is not equal to it. Centuries of wrong and oppression seem only to have intensified in the Armenian bosom the God-given passion for liberty, as is witnessed by the following from another of the poets 670 of that oppressed land:—
When first my faltering tongue was freed,
And when my parents’ hearts were stirred
With thrilling joy, to hear their son
Pronounce his first clear-spoken word,
“Papa, Mamma,” as children use,
Were not the names first said by me;
The first word on my childish lips
Was thy great name, O Liberty!
“Liberty!” answered from on high
The sovereign voice of Destiny:
“Wilt thou enroll thyself henceforth
A soldier true of Liberty?
The path is thorny all the way,
And many trials wait for thee;
Too strait and narrow is this world
For him who loveth Liberty.”
“Freedom!” I answered, “on my head
Let fire descend and thunder burst;
Let foes against my life conspire,
Let all who hate thee do their worst:
I will be true to thee till death;
Yea, even upon the gallows tree
The last breath of a death of shame
Shall shout thy name, O Liberty!”
Political Insurrection and Religious Hate.
This intestine strife in Armenia in which 50,000 men, women and children lost their lives, was not primarily religious but political. Political insurrection gave opportunity, however, for religious hate to manifest itself, and thousands of non-combatants fell victims to the fanatical hate of Moslem soldiers. The Independent, of March 19, published a list of twenty-one preachers and pastors who laid down their lives directly for their faith, during November and December, 1895. “Each one of them,” says the Independent, “was offered his life if he would renounce Christ and accept Islam; but they counted not their lives dear unto them.”
Of these twenty-one martyrs, the Independent says: “They were the best men, the most highly educated men among their people, their natural leaders. Every one was put to death for refusing to become a Mohammedan. In every case the offer of life on these terms was made; in several cases time was allowed to consideration of the proposal; and in each case faith in Jesus Christ was the sole crime charged against the victim.”
Not only are the names of these men given, but the names of the places where they suffered death and the dates are also given.
“Christians” Persecuting Christians.
But the saddest feature of religious persecution in Armenia and among Armenians in other part of Turkey, is that “Christians” have in many instances persecuted Christians. The bulk of the Armenian people belong to the Armenian Church, which is almost identical in faith with the Greek or Russian Church. The head of the church is called “Patriarch” or “Catholicos,” and the Armenian Church never accepted the decision of the Council of Chalcedon.
Of course the breach between the Armenian Church and the Roman Church is much wider than between the Greek and the Armenian Churches, and much of the persecution of the Armenians has been at the instigation of Roman Catholics. Our illustration, which we are permitted to use by the courtesy of the Missionary Herald, shows the scene of the severe persecution of this character which took place in 1892. Rev. Lyman Bartlett, of Smyrna, in an article in the Missionary Herald, for May, says of Afion Kara Hissar:—
During the summer of 1892 I visited this place with my daughter at a time when the persecution was at its height, and during our stay of three weeks the house we occupied, which was the home of the preacher, was stoned every night but one. The front windows, being protected by wire netting, were uninjured; but the back rooms, whose windows were exposed, could not be used for a time, and the windows were taken out to save them from destruction. The brethren were almost daily stoned by the boys in the streets, and one Sunday during our stay a crowd gathered about the door, railing at those who dared to enter, and stoning the door after we had assembled for worship, till finally we were obliged to call on the Turkish police to protect us from the violence of the mob. For a long time most active measures were employed to prevent people coming to the worship, both slander and threats being freely used, and the preacher was most shamefully maligned.
At one time a document was presented to the governor accusing him of having, in a public place, shamefully slandered the Virgin Mary, and this document was emphasized by 200 signatures, mostly Armenians. The governor informed me of this soul accusation, but declared that he should not submit it to the court, as it could be nothing but slander. Yet, after we had gone, it was served in due form, and the good man was summoned before the Turkish court for trial. He had no one to plead his cause, and his accusers were many, but being allowed to speak in his own defense, he easily convinced the court and all who heard him, of his entire innocence and of the perfidy of his accusers. The case was dropped without further trial. In this affair he rejoiced in the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise: “It shall be given you in that hour, what ye ought to speak.”
Persecution by Mohammedans.
The Missionary Herald, for June, has also the following paragraph, which is of interest in this connection:—
In the town of severek, in Central Turkey, there were recently three of the original members of the Protestant community formed forty years ago. Two of these became martyrs, one while praying on his housetop. The third denied his faith in order to save his life. It is said that every minister and priest in the place sealed his faith with his blood, excepting one Catholic priest, who saved his life by flight.
Miss Grace E. Kimball, M.D., writing to the Missionary Herald, under date of March 1, says:—
The villagers from the districts of Khizan, Nordus, and Moks show the most distress. In Khizan, a district partly in the Bitlis, partly in the Van vilayet, there is a large Koordish population—fanatical Moslems, headed by a sheikh, the son of the famous Sheikh Jeladin. Last fall the sheikh instituted a regular campaign against the Christian population, with a view to rooting out that religion from his borders. This outburst of fanaticism was avowedly brought to a climax by the visit of a British vice-consul to the region. All the Armenians who entertained him, or in any way had to do with him were either killed or barely escaped by flight and hiding. As a result of this crusade of last fall, practically the whole Christian population has nominally accepted Islam, the churches are turned into mosques, and even the gravestones bearing the sign of the cross, have been pulled down and defiled by serving as lavatories for the Koords. Very many—it is impossible to know how many—were killed out of special spite, and as an argument to facilitate the “conversion” of the rest. The priests in particular were victims either of slaughter or of forcible conversion.
Many other details might be given, but enough has been said. The fact is established that to the horrors of war have been added in the last decade of the nineteenth century the additional horrors of religious persecution; and that thousands have been slaughtered, not alone because they were “rebels,” but because they bore the hated name of “Christian.” How many of them were such indeed, only the Judge of all the earth knows, and he alone will make it manifest in his own good time.