Sydney's Church Bells to Toll to Mark Centenary of Armenian Genocide

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
23 Apr 2015

Armenians were ordered by authorites to gather in town square for deportation and were later executed

On Friday 24 April at 1.00pm city workers and visitors to Sydney's CBD will hear the sound of bells - numerous bells as they ring out to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

The bells of St Mary's Cathedral will join those of St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, St Stephen's Uniting Church on Macquarie Street and Orthodox Coptic and Oriental Churches across Sydney to mark the anniversary.

Sydney's churches along with the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Holy Trinity at Wentworthville will toll 100 times to commemorate what Pope Francis describes as "the first genocide of the 20th century."

The Armenian Apostolic Church of Holy Ressurection in Sydney will toll its bells 100 times in commemoration of all those who died in the Armenian genoiocide of 1915

This special tribute to the estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians massacred by the Ottoman Empire during World War I will be followed by the tolling of church bells in cities worldwide, including Armenia where the 100 tolls of church bells will take place at exactly1900 hours 15 minutes to symbolise 1915 when the massacre began.

"With so many different time zones, different times have been chosen for the solemn tolling of the world's church bells," says Nishan Basmajian, explaining that the time of 1.00 pm for Sydney and Australia's east coast corresponds with the 100 years since the genocide began.

April 24 1915 is regarded as the starting date of the slaughter when Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested and subsequently executed 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. Throughout World War I and in the months that followed the massacre of Armenian Christians occurred in two phases, the first of which involved the forced labour and whole sale killing of Armenia's able bodied male population, followed by the second phase involving the deportation of women, children and the infirm on death marches into the Syrian desert - without food or water or shelter.

Armenian children were starved with many dying before being discovered after the end of World War I and given urgent medical attention

Modern day Turkey does not deny these massacres took place but denies it was genocide, claiming the mass killings were not deliberate or systematically orchestrated by the State. Instead the Turkish Government insists the deaths of Armenians were among the many casualties of the drawn out brutal 1914-18 Great War.

Despite the killings of so many fitting the United Nations definition of genocide, many of nations worldwide still refer to the deaths of 1.5 million as a "massacre" with nations such as the US, which is an ally of Turkey, refusing to use the word "genocide." This despite 43 of America's 50 states officially recognising the slaughter as genocide.

Australia's Federal Government has also not yet recognised the massacre as genocide, but in 2007 the NSW Government passed a motion condemning the genocide and called on the Commonwealth to do the same.

Two years later in 2009, South Australia followed suit and passed a motion condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.

The bells of St Mary's Cathedral will give 100 tolls tomorrow joining churches across the city to mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide which illed 1.5 million

On April 14, less than 10 days ago, Sydney's Ryde City Council also passed a motion to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also recognised the massacre as genocide but so far the British Parliament has avoided any official motion on the subject and like the UK and many other nations, including Australia is careful not to offend Turkey by  referring to the mass killings as genocide.

However the Holy Father Pope Francis was very clear when he spoke of the Armenian slaughter as the "first genocide of the 20th century" a recent  Sunday Mass attended by Armenian church leaders and President Serge Sarkisan.

Marking the 100 years since the genocide began,  Pope Francis then called on the world community, heads of state and international organisations to recognise the truth of genocide of Armenian Christians to prevent such "horrors" from repeating themselves.

Deported into the desert Armenians were given no food, water or shelter and left to fend for themselves or die

The response by Turkey was immediate. Recalling its ambassador to the Holy See, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called the Pope's statement was "controversial in every aspect, based on prejudice and a distortion of history," and accused the Holy Father of deviating from his message of peace and reconciliation during his visit to Turkey last year.

When a few days later Austria also recognised the 1915 killings of Armenians as genocide, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the declaration by Austria would have "permanent negative effects on Turkey-Austria relations" and permanently damage ties between the two nations.

The Vatican under Pope John Paul II in 2000 officially named the slaughter of Armenians as genocide but Pope Francis is the first Pontiff to speak out at a commemorative Mass for those who died, and to urge other nations, leaders and organisations to also make a stand.

Following of the tolling of bells in Sydney  memorial services will be held in May to not only remember the 1.5 million Armenian martyrs but those in recent decades who have  played a key role in helping save the Armenian people from extinction.