Armenian Genocide Centenary Commemorated at St Mary's Cathedral

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
29 Apr 2015

Bishop Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of Australia and New Zealand

The Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP will deliver the homily at a Mass to be celebrated by His Grace, Bishop Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand at St Mary's Cathedral on Saturday, 2 May.

The Holy Mass of Remembrance will commemorate the Armenian Genocide of more than 1.5 million men, women and children by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 until 1923.

The Mass marks the first opportunity for the people of Sydney to come together at the city's iconic and much-loved  Cathedral to remember and pray for the victims of the Ottoman Empire's Armenian Christians massacred in what Pope Francis described earlier this month as the "first genocide of the 20th Century."

Last week on the Eve of ANZAC Day, bell ringers at St Mary's Cathedral joined with bell ringers at St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, St Stephen's Uniting Church on Macquarie Street and Orthodox and Oriental Churches across Sydney and solemnly tolled the bells 100 times to mark the centenary of the day the first victims of the Armenian Genocide were slaughtered.

For Armenians 24 April is Red Sunday, the start of the Armenian Genocide

In Armenia, the anniversary of the genocide was commemorated by the tolling of bells at exactly 19 hours 15 minutes to symbolise the start of the slaughter on 24 April, 1915.

This year at Armenia's Echmiadzin Cathedral exactly one century after the massacre began, Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, canonised the 1.5 million "martyrs" slaughtered by the Turks.

For Armenians, 24 April is known as "Red Sunday" and commemorates the day Ottoman forces rounded up, arrested and then executed 270 of Constantinople's most influential Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. The Genocide that followed involved two equally horrific phases. The first was the forced labour and wholesale killing of the able-bodied Christian Armenian population. Some of were executed, others starved to death and others made to give up their faith and culture and conscripted into the Ottoman army, where many subsequently lost their lives.

Starving Armenian orphan from the collection in the Armenian National Archive

The second phase involved the deportation of women and children, the elderly and the frail. These Armenian Christians were forced on death marches into the Syrian desert. With no food, water or shelter they died from starvation and exposure.

For seven years the Empire's Armenian population were subjected to atrocities and systematic and premeditated slaughter. Much of this was witnessed by the ANZACS who fought in World War I as well as the British and Allied Armies.

Despite this, modern day Turkey refuses to acknowledge the slaughter of 1.5 million men women and children was genocide. Conceding only that a massacre occurred, the Turkish Government led by President Tayyip Erdogan claim the mass killings were not deliberate or systematically organised by the State.

Istanbul continues to insist that the 1.5 million Armenian Christians lost their lives fighting the Russians during World War I and were casualties, like so many others of all nationalities, of the long and bloody 1915-18 war.

However in recent times more and more of the world's nations have officially declared the massacre a "genocide" including the NSW Government which passed a motion condemning the genocide in 2007 and the South Australian Government which passed a similar motion two years later. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have also condemned the massacre calling it genocide as have the majority of America's 50 states.

Ottoman Empire soldiers marched into towns and villages rounding up Armenian Christians who were later executed or starved to death

With Turkey an important ally amid the increasing chaos of the Middle East, the Australian Government along with UK Government and the Obama Administration in the US have not yet taken a stand, and despite evidence to the contrary, continue to refer to the slaughter as a "massacre."

In 2006 when he was Archbishop of Argentina, Pope Francis described the Armenian Genocide as the "gravest crime of the Ottoman Empire. Then 10 days ago, speaking at a commemorative Mass at St Peter's Basilica in Rome, Pope Francis called on Ankara to "recognise the Armenian Genocide and thus pave the way for a genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and the Armenian peoples."

The Holy Father urged Ankara to open the "archives and come to terms with its past" and called on other nations, leaders and organisations to take a stand saying there was a "moral obligation" to recognise and commemorate the genocide.

Atrocities against Armenian Christians included crucifixions by Ottoman Empire soldiers

Almost immediately after this, Austria passed a motion condemning the killings as genocide and two days ago, Russian President Putin also referred to the slaughter as a genocide.

Turkey's response was the instant recall of its ambassador to the Holy See and to Austria, and angrily demanded Russia "account for its actions in Ukraine and Crimea before calling the 1915 killings a genocide."

Throughout the next three weeks the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide will be commemorated in Sydney with the Holy Mass at St Mary's Cathedral on Saturday and at an Ecumenical Service and Prayers at St Stephen's Uniting Church, Macquarie St., on Saturday 23, May.

The bodies of hundreds of massacred Armenian children'

From 21 to 23 May there will also be a Documentary Exhibition organised by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and the NSW Ecumenical Council at St Stephen's Uniting Church which is being mounted "in recognition and gratitude to Australia's religious and charitable organisations which helped the Armenians following the genocide from 1915 to 1923."

The Mass to commemorate the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide will be held at St Mary's Cathedral at 11.00 on Saturday, 2 May. All are welcome.