The Islamic Genocide of Christians: Past and Present

obama_armenian_genocide_4-22-15-1 Obama speaks in the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday. Administration officials said that Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to use the politically fraught term. Top administration officials discussed the decision with Armenian-American leaders. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Today, April 24, we remember how exactly 100 years ago the last historic Muslim caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, tried to cleanse its empire of Christian minorities -- Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks -- even as we stand by watching as the new caliphate, the Islamic State, resumes the genocide.

And in both cases, the atrocities were and are being committed in the name of Islam.

In November, 1914, during WWI, the Ottoman caliphate issued a fatwa, or Islamic decree, proclaiming it a “sacred duty” for all Muslims to “massacre” infidels -- specifically naming the “Christian men” of the Triple Entente, “the enemies of Islam” -- with promises of great rewards in the afterlife.

The same Koran verses that the Islamic State and other jihadi outfits regularly quote permeated the Ottoman fatwa, including:  “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them -- seize them, besiege them, and be ready to ambush them” (9:5) and “O you who have believed! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are but friends of each other; and whoever among you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them” (5:51) -- and several other verses that form the Islamic doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity.

Many Muslims still invoke this doctrine; it commands Muslims to befriend and aid fellow Muslims, while having enmity for all non-Muslims (one Islamic cleric even teaches that Muslim husbands must hate their non-Muslim wives, while enjoying them sexually).

As happens to this very day, the Muslims of the Ottoman caliphate, not able to reach or defeat the stronger infidel -- the “Christian men” of Britain, France, and Russia -- satiated their bloodlust on their Christian subjects.  And they justified the genocide by projecting the Islamic doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity onto Christians -- saying that, because Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks were Christian, they were naturally aiding the other “Christian men” of the West.

As happens to this day under the new caliphate -- the Islamic State -- the Ottoman caliphate crucified, beheaded, tortured, mutilated, raped, enslaved, and otherwise massacred countless “infidel” Christians.  The official number of Armenians killed in the genocide is 1.5 million; hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Assyrians each were also systematically slaughtered (see this document for statistics).

(Although today marks the “Armenian Genocide,” often forgotten is that Assyrians and Greeks were also targeted for cleansing by the Ottoman caliphate.   The only thing that distinguished Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek subjects of the caliphate from Turkish subjects was that the three former were Christian.  As one Armenian studies professor asks, “If it [the Armenian Genocide] was a feud between Turks and Armenians, what explains the genocide carried out by Turkey against the Christian Assyrians at the same time?”)

Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and personal witness of the atrocities, attested that “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.”   He added that what the Turks were doing was “a carefully planned scheme to thoroughly extinguish the Armenian race.”  In 1918, Morgenthau wrote in Red Cross Magazine:

Will the outrageous terrorizing, the cruel torturing, the driving of women into the harems, the debauchery of innocent girls, the sale of many of them at eighty cents each [today the Islamic State sells enslaved Christians and  Yazidis for as little as $43], the murdering of hundreds of thousands and the deportation to, and starvation in, the deserts of other hundreds of thousands, the destruction of hundreds of villages and cities, will the willful execution of this whole devilish scheme to annihilate the Armenian, Greek and Syrian [or Assyrian] Christians of Turkey  --  will all this go unpunished?

Because this genocide of Christians is usually articulated through a singularly secular paradigm -- one that recognizes only those factors deemed intelligible from a modern, secular, Western point of view, one that never uses the words “Christian” and “Muslim” but rather “Armenian” and “Turk” -- few are able to connect these events from a century ago to today.