Two things compel me to share the following personal family story about what happens to Christians living under an Islamic caliphate.
First, I was watching my friend Sean Hannity’s recent Fox News special on the Islamic State, during which many in his “audience of experts” had good and insightful things to say. But toward the end, noted Islam scholar Andrew Bostom made the following statement. Taking his cue from another guest’s reference to the precedent for today’s “Islamic State” caliphate set by the original seventh-century caliphate of Muhammad and his successors, Bostom noted:
We have a much more recent precedent – and it’s an ugly precedent. In 1915 – it makes IS look like amateurs – at the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate, a very bona fide caliphate, slaughtered a million Armenians in a jihad, slaughtered another 250,000 Syriac Orthodox Christians and Assyrians, with the same level of brutality – beheadings, eviscerations, humiliations, creation of harams, sexual slavery. This is part of a relatively recent history. We’re only coming up on the 100th anniversary next year of the Armenian Genocide. That’s the precedent that we should be worried about, not the 7th century.
Andrew’s comments plunged me into memories of all the stories I heard growing up, told by family members who had survived the Armenian Genocide.
Second, though little discussed in the West, Middle East news agencies are now reporting that ISIS just destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor, Syria, which housed the remains of Armenian Genocide victims. Der Zor, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians miserably perished a century ago, is referred to by many as the Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide.
Now let me get to my story, which I think is extremely relevant at this particular time.
My dad, when he was only three years old, was basically sentenced to death. The Turkish government during the chaotic, waning days of the Ottoman caliphate was engaged in a deliberate campaign to force him, his baby sister and his mother, along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians, into the Syrian Der Zor desert, where they would die of starvation, disease or worse – torture and death at the hands of brutal soldiers or roving bandits.
Islamic Turkey’s gruesome, premeditated genocide of the Christian Armenian population in that country had been ongoing for decades, with up to 300,000 Armenians massacred during the mid-1890s under the caliph, Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
But now it was 1915, considered the peak of the Armenian Genocide, and my dad, then just a toddler, was caught in the middle of it, along with his mother and sister. Those not butchered outright – the men were often killed immediately – were driven into the Der Zor desert, east of Aleppo, to perish. My father’s father, a doctor, had been pressed into the Turkish army against his will to head a medical regiment, to tend to the Turkish soldiers’ injuries.
“One of my earliest recollections, I was not quite three years old at the time,” my dad told me shortly before he died in 1988, was that “the wagon we were in had tipped over, my hand was broken and bloody, and mother was looking for my infant sister, who had rolled away. The next thing I remember after that, mother was on a horse, holding my baby sister, and had me sitting behind her, saying, ‘Hold on tight, or the Turks will get you!'”
The three of them rode off on horseback, ending up in Aleppo, one of the gateways to the desert deportation and certain death. Once there, my grandmother, Mary, always a daring and resourceful woman, realized what she needed to do.
After asking around to find out who was in charge, she bluffed her way into getting an audience with Aleppo’s governor-general. Since her Armenian husband was in the service of the Turkish army – albeit by force – she played her one and only card, brazenly telling the governor general, “I demand my rights as the wife of a Turkish army officer!”
“What are those rights?”
“I want commissary privileges and two orderlies,” she answered.
In this way, by masquerading as a Turkish officer’s wife, Mary bluffed her way out of certain death, saving not only her own life and those of her son and daughter, but also the lives of her husband’s two brothers, whom she immediately deputized as orderlies. The group then succeeded in sneaking several other family members out of harm’s way, and my grandmother kept them all from starving by obtaining food from the commissary. Thus was my family spared, although little Adolphina, my father’s infant sister, was unable to survive the harshness of those times and died shortly thereafter.
As for my grandfather, Simeon Kupelian, after a bloody battle between the Turks and the British, he and the other doctors, all Armenians, tended to the Turkish wounded as best they could – that was their job. Immediately after this, a squadron of Turkish gunmen came and killed them all, including my grandfather. Such is the logic of demons.
On returning to their beautiful home in Marash in southern Turkey a couple of years later, Mary and son, Vahey, who was then about six years old, found it had been ransacked. Their fine tapestries had been pulled off the walls, ripped and urinated on. Everything that could be carried out had been stolen, and everything else had been deliberately broken. Everything. Every pane of glass in the French doors was broken, even handles on drawers were destroyed.
Ultimately, the hardships and ever-increasing dangers of their life led my dad and grandmom to do what millions of persecuted people have done over the last few hundred years. They made the long voyage to the one country that welcomed them and offered them freedom and an opportunity for a new life – the most blessed nation on earth, their promised land: America.
So that’s my father’s side of the family.
But on my mother’s side, the sword of Muhammad was just as merciless. During this same era, my great-grandfather, a Protestant minister named Steelianos Leondiades, was traveling to the major Turkish city of Adana to attend a pastors’ conference. Today, Incirlik Air Base, used by the U.S. Air Force, is just five miles east of Adana. But back then, under the caliph, Abdul-Hamid II, ethnic cleansing was the order of the day. Here’s how my grandmother, Anna Paulson, daughter of Steelianos, told the story:
“Some of the Turkish officers came to the conference room and told all these ministers – there were 70 of them, ministers and laymen and a few wives: ‘If you embrace the Islamic religion, you will all be saved. If you don’t, you will all be killed.'”
My great-grandfather, acting as a spokesman for the ministers’ group, asked the Turks for 15 minutes so they could make their decision, according to my grandmother’s account. During that time, the ministers and their companions talked, read the Bible to each other and prayed. In the end, none of them would renounce their Christian faith and convert to Islam.
“And then,” Anna recalled, “they were all killed.
“They were not even buried. They were all thrown down the ravine.”
The only reason we know any details of this particular massacre, she said, is that one victim survived the ordeal.
“One man woke up; he wasn’t dead,” my grandmother said. “He woke up and got up and said, ‘Brethren, brethren, is there anybody alive here? I’m alive, come on, let’s go out together.'”
As one published history of the “Adana Massacres” puts it:
The annual convention of the Armenian Evangelical Union of Cilicia was to take place during the week of April 11, 1909, in Adana. Pastors and delegates from various churches set out for Adana on April 12, not knowing that they and their many friends were to be martyred. On the dawn of April 13, 1909, the massacre of the Armenian Evangelical leadership took place.
My great-grandfather and his fellow massacred Christians – and there were many, many others also butchered in Adana – were martyrs, real ones. But today, we most often hear the word martyr used to describe jihadist zombies who commit unspeakable mass atrocities against innocents while dementedly chanting “Allahu Akhbar, Allahu Akhbar, Allahu Akhbar” (“Allah is greatest”) to drown out what little is left of their conscience.
That’s not martyrdom. It’s terrorism, genocide, metastasizing madness, hell on earth. Welcome to life in the glorious caliphate.
Although my father and grandmothers passed down these vivid recollections to us in the comfort of warm, safe suburban homes, worlds apart from the nightmares of their youth, their painful psychological scars remained ever fresh.
Allow me to quote the U.S. ambassador to Turkey at the time, Henry Morgenthau, whose published memoirs exposed the horrors he witnessed firsthand during the 20th century’s first genocide. Incredibly, he described how Turkish officials bragged to him about their nightly meetings where they would enthusiastically share the latest torture techniques to use on the Armenians:
Each new method of inflicting pain was hailed as a splendid discovery, and the regular attendants were constantly ransacking their brains in the effort to devise some new torment. He told me that they even delved into the records of the Spanish Inquisition and other historic institutions of torture and adopted all the suggestions found there.
I’ll spare you the details, except to say that Morgenthau, father of FDR’s treasury secretary of the same name, summed up the “sadistic orgies” of the Armenian genocide by declaring: “Whatever crimes the most perverted instincts of the human mind can devise, and whatever refinements of persecution and injustice the most debased imagination can conceive, became the daily misfortunes of this devoted people. I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.”
Let’s clear up one very important point. The barbaric ISIS – despite President Obama’s protestations to the contrary – is “Islamic,” just as the “‘sadistic orgies’ of the Armenian genocide” were “Islamic.” In our communications about the Ottoman caliphate and the Armenian Genocide, Andrew Bostom shared with me the eye-opening analysis of historian and author Bat Ye’or:
The genocide of the Armenians was the natural outcome of a policy inherent in the politico-religious structure of dhimmitude. This process of physically eliminating a rebel nation had already been used against the rebel Slav and Greek Christians, rescued from collective extermination by European intervention, although sometimes reluctantly.
The genocide of the Armenians was a jihad. No rayas [non-Muslim dhimmis] took part in it. Despite the disapproval of many Muslim Turks and Arabs, and their refusal to collaborate in the crime, these massacres were perpetrated solely by Muslims and they alone profited from the booty: the victims’ property, houses, and lands granted to the muhajirun [“holy warrior” jihadists], and the allocation to them of women and child slaves. The elimination of male children over the age of twelve was in accordance with the commandments of the jihad and conformed to the age fixed for the payment of the jizya. The four stages of the liquidation – deportation, enslavement, forced conversion, and massacre – reproduced the historic conditions of the jihad carried out in the dar-al-harb from the seventh century on. Chronicles from a variety of sources, by Muslim authors in particular, give detailed descriptions of the organized massacres or deportation of captives, whose sufferings in forced marches behind the armies paralleled the Armenian experience in the twentieth century.
Likewise, Andrew told me how, way back in 1880, the U.S. consular clerk at Cairo, Egypt, Edward A. Van Dyck, prepared a detailed report for State Department diplomats, explaining how jihad and Shariah law ruled the Islamic caliphate of that time:
In all the many works on Mohammedan law, no teaching is met with that even hints at those principles of political intercourse between nations, that have been so long known to the peoples of Europe, and which are so universally recognized by them. “Fiqh,” as the science of Moslem jurisprudence is called, knows only one category of relation between those who recognize the apostleship of Mohammed and all others who do not, namely Djehad [jihad]; that is to say, strife, or holy war.
Inasmuch as the propagation of Islam was to be the aim of all Moslems, perpetual warfare against the unbelievers, in order to convert them, or subject them to the payment of tribute, came to be held by Moslem doctors [legists] as the most sacred duty of the believer. This right to wage war is the only principle of international law which is taught by Mohammedan jurists; … with the Arabs, the term harby [harbi] (warrior) expresses not only an unbeliever, but also an enemy; and jehady [jihadi] (striver, warrior) means the believer-militant. From the Moslem point of view, the whole world is divided into two parts – “the House of Islam” and “the House of War” …
Role models for ISIS
Now, bringing this all full circle, from the last caliphate to the fledgling new one, we have the Islamic State’s destruction of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor.
“In summer 1916 alone,” says one news report of genocide in Der Zor, “more than 200,000 Armenians, mostly women and children, were brutally massacred by Ottoman Turkish gendarmes and bands from the region.” As I have explained, my grandmother and then-toddler dad barely escaped this horrible fate at that exact time and place.
So, why did ISIS destroy the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church? As Bostom wrote the day after his Hannity appearance:
Notwithstanding the recent horrific spate of atrocities committed against the Christian communities of northern Iraq by the Islamic State jihadists, the Ottoman jihad ravages were equally barbaric, depraved, and far more extensive. Occurring primarily between 1915 and 1916 (although continuing through at least 1918), some one million Armenian and 250,000 Assyro-Chaldean and Syrian Orthodox Christians were brutally slaughtered, or starved to death during forced deportations through desert wastelands. The identical gruesome means used by IS/IL to humiliate and massacre its hapless Christian victims were employed on a scale that was an order of magnitude greater by the Ottoman Muslim Turks …
Unlike post-Holocaust Germany, Turkey has never ever admitted to its great genocidal crime against the Armenians. It exists, for a century, in perpetual denial. In fact, in a spectacle of supreme surrealism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in New York this week addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, announced, “The Ottoman State had a very successful administration system, and for centuries, these areas of crisis today had maintained their existence without problems.”
At least, now we know whom the ISIS monsters regard as their heroes and role models – the monsters of the previous caliphate, which fiendishly murdered more than a million Christians, including dozens of members of my own family. So please, no more talk about Islam being a “religion of peace.” Islam has not been a religion of peace for the past 14 centuries, and it shows absolutely no signs of starting now. Quite the contrary.
Media wishing to interview David Kupelian, please contact [email protected].