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The Armenian Genocide and my grandmother's secret

Children victims of the Armenian Genocide

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12

Decades ago when I was very young, my grandmother, Mary Kupelian, told me a haunting story I’ve wondered about ever since.

As I sat in the kitchen of her cozy little home in Bethesda, Maryland, eating her delicious homemade bread and talking about a frequent topic – the Armenian Genocide, which she and my dad (as a little boy) had barely survived – she shared with me the following enigma.

“The Turkish people are very hospitable people,” she said with surprising warmth, seeing as they had murdered her husband and dozens of other members of her extended family, just a few of the 1.5 million Christian Armenians killed by the Turks during the first genocide of the 20th century. Grandmom knew the Turkish people well, not just from having grown up in southern Turkey, but from having returned several times to the “old country” later in life, during more quiescent times.

However, continuing her story, she intimated to me that the Muslim Turks lived under the spell of strange forces.

“They were very hospitable and would invite you in,” she said. “But, if a distant signal was given – it sounded something like a trumpet – then they would instantly change, and would attempt to harm you. Yet if the signal sounded again, they would immediately switch back to normal.”

“Even,” she added by way of illustration, “if they had injured you after the first signal, as soon as the second signal sounded, they would bind up the very wounds they had inflicted on you.”

As I said – a very, very strange tale, with overtones of “The Manchurian Candidate” and its post-hypnotic suggestions (remember the Queen of Diamonds?) triggering murderous, pre-programmed behavior.

An Armenian woman forced to march in the desert carrying her child

That story, so pregnant with hidden significance, has remained gestating in my mind for all these decades since my grandmother matter-of-factly shared it with me over her kitchen table. It has piqued my interest especially in recent years, as I have endeavored in my writing to sort out and make some sense of a world so powerfully controlled by dark forces.

Since today, April 24, is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, let’s delve into my grandmother’s mystery story and see where it leads.

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First, it’s necessary that I briefly summarize my family’s personal experience during this terrible period.

‘If you embrace the Islamic religion, you will be saved’

It was 100 years ago, and my dad, just a toddler then, along with his mother and baby sister were among thousands of Armenian Christians being herded into the Syrian Der Zor desert east of Aleppo to die. That’s right, to die. Forced into such a miserable and dangerous trek, the plan was that exposure, hunger, thirst, bandits or marauding soldiers would get the job done, one way or the other. As for my father’s father, a physician, he had already been forced 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 always-resourceful grandmother Mary bluffed her way into getting an audience with Aleppo’s governor-general. Seeing as her Armenian doctor 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.


By thus boldly deceiving the not-too-bright Turkish politician, Mary avoided the unthinkable, 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 my father’s infant sister was unable to survive the harshness of those times and died shortly thereafter. And my grandfather, Simeon Kupelian, was executed along with other Armenian doctors by a squadron of Turkish gunmen.

On finally returning to their beautiful home in Marash in southern Turkey a couple of years later, Mary and son Vahey, who was then about six, 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 – even every last pane of glass in the French doors was broken, and the drawer handles all destroyed.

Eventually, they escaped – and made their way to America.

Ottoman Armenians are marched to a prison in Kharpert, Armenia, by armed Turkish soldiers in April 1915. Up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed in what is now recognized as the 20th century’s first genocide.

That was my father’s side of the family. But on my mother’s side, things were just as bad.

In 1909, 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 five miles east of Adana. But then, under the Ottoman caliph, Abdul-Hamid II, ethnic cleansing was the order of the day. Here’s how my maternal 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.’ ”

Ultimately, by the grace of God, both sides of my family made it to the Promised Land – America – and eventually my father met and married my mother, and that’s how my brother, sister and I were blessed to come on the scene.

Now, back to my grandmother Mary’s strange story …

A street in the Armenian quarter of Adana left pillaged and destroyed after massacres in 1909

Marauding hordes of ‘Manchurian candidates’

Any thoughtful person, even without any particular knowledge of mind control, hypnosis or brainwashing, could offer a reasonable hypothesis as to what is being described by my grandmother: The actors are clearly people who have somehow been deeply programmed, and the “trumpet-like” signal is a trigger, a post-hypnotic suggestion initiating the pre-programmed behavior.

Interestingly, I mentioned this story to a close colleague of mine who lived in a country once part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. His response to my grandmother’s scenario – where on signal, Turks turned on innocent people to kill them, but stopped midstream at the second signal and even resumed their hospitality to the point of patching up any injuries they had caused – was to recall his own time living among a Muslim population whose ancestors had lived for five centuries under Turkish rule.

“The people were extremely hospitable,” he recalled, “but after living in the country for some time, I learned there was another dimension to how they generally perceived foreigners. I had the feeling that some of the most outwardly welcoming people could stab me in the back.”

Encouraged that I might be on to something, I reached out to noted Islam scholar Andrew Bostom for help.

After doing a little research, Andrew called me back and said, enthusiastically, “Your grandmother is right!” The mysterious “trumpet-like signal” was a bugle, he informed me, leading me to a series of books and other contemporaneous genocide reports with additional details. A quick sampling:

There was this New York Times story from Sept. 25, 1915, quoting Dr. M. Simbad Gabriel, head of a U.S.-based Armenian organization:

The doctor said that greed, religion, and politics all combined to induce the Turks to massacre the Armenians. The Government was always behind every massacre, and the people were acting under orders.
“When the bugle blows in the morning,” he said, “Turks rush fiercely to the work of killing the Christians and plundering them of their wealth. When it stops in the evening, or in two or three days, the shooting and stabbing stop just as suddenly then as it began. The people obey their orders like soldiers.”

And there was Simon Payaslian, chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University:

At Friday prayers in the mosque, Muslims were encouraged to attack Armenians. After prayers let out, a bugle would sound from the minarets for the attack to begin, and then a bugle would sound for the attack to end.

And then there was, contained in Bostom’s own book, “The Legacy of Jihad,” this chilling account by Scottish historian Lord Kinross:

Each operation, between the bugle calls, followed a similar pattern. First the Turkish troops came into a town for the purpose of massacre; then came the Kurdish irregulars and tribesmen for the purpose of plunder. Finally came the holocaust, by fire and destruction, which spread, with the pursuit of the fugitives and mopping-up operations, throughout the lands and villages of the surrounding province. …

Cruelest and most ruinous of all were the massacres of Urfa, where the Armenian Christians numbered a third of the total population … When the bugle blast ended the day’s operations, some three thousand refugees poured into the cathedral, hoping for sanctuary. But the next morning – a Sunday – a fanatic mob swarmed into the church in an orgy of slaughter, rifling its shrines with cries of “Call upon Christ to prove Himself a greater prophet than Mohammed.” Then they amassed a large pile of straw matting, which they spread over the litter of corpses and set alight with thirty cans of petroleum. The woodwork of the gallery where a crowd of women and children crouched, wailing with terror, caught fire, and all perished in the flames.

Punctiliously at three-thirty in the afternoon the bugle blew once more, and the Moslem officials proceeded around the Armenian quarter to proclaim that the massacres were over … the total casualties in the town, including those slaughtered in the cathedral, amounted to eight thousand dead.

Superficially, one might conclude such narratives are depicting normal, albeit horribly brutal, military operations where soldiers are coordinated in their advances and retreats by bugle calls. But there’s much more going on here.

“I’ve read accounts,” Andrew Bostom assured me, “of a call to arms where Muslims would show up at residences – people who lived with neighbors for a decade or more – and engaged in indiscriminate slaughter.”

Really? Living and sharing with your neighbors for years, borrowing humus and olive oil when you ran short – and then suddenly turning on them in a frenzy of “indiscriminate slaughter”? Doesn’t sound exactly normal to me.

A Turkish official torments starving Armenian children by showing them a piece of bread during the Armenian Genocide

Let’s freeze-frame this whole bugle-massacre business for a minute, and shift our focus to another bizarre but disturbingly common phenomenon in today’s Arab-Muslim world: so-called “honor killings.”

A teenage girl – whose father, mother and brothers one would assume share a natural love, affection and protectiveness toward her – is observed walking down the street with a male non-relative, perhaps even holding hands with him.

In response, the girl is stabbed to death by her brother(s), or her mother or father, or all of them together – stabbed not just once, but often dozens of times in an orgy of slaughter, like the most deranged psychopath might commit. This fate is meted out to girls and young women for anything vaguely considered to have brought “shame” or “dishonor” upon a family. The poor girl’s offense could be that she refused to enter into an arranged marriage, or was in a relationship that wasn’t approved of by the family, or had dressed in a way deemed inappropriate. Even flirting, even failing to serve a meal on time, even being a rape victim, all have been the occasions of “honor killings.”

“Amnesty International has reported on one case in which a husband murdered his wife based on a dream that she had betrayed him,” reports National Geographic. “In Turkey, a young woman’s throat was slit in the town square because a love ballad had been dedicated to her over the radio.”

Such monstrous, bizarre and outrageously unjustified and unprovoked murders of innocent girls by their own family members occur at least 5,000 times annually according to the U.N., but that number is considered low due to underreporting. BBC reports that some victim-advocate organizations “suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year” via “honor killings.”

Now, what do the bugle-signaled mass slaughters of the Armenian Genocide and today’s Islamic “honor killings” – and, for that matter, the crucifixions and beheadings and burying-alive of Christian believers by ISIS zombies – have in common?

All demonstrate an extreme level of pre-programmed, murderous conditioning, to be called forth by a post-hypnotic suggestion – a bugle sound, a sister crossing some pre-set behavioral line, an encounter with a Christian holding fast to his or her faith.

How could such “Manchurian Candidate”-like conditioning possibly be accomplished, you might ask? Did somebody send teams of Russian scientists schooled in Pavlovian conditioning over to the Middle East to hypnotize millions of people in giant laboratories?

Of course not. But Pavlov did not invent “Pavlovian conditioning.” He just recognized the pre-existing principle and codified it into a psychological-physiological theory. Cruel, predatory, psychopathic (conscienceless) people have always seemed to understand how to program and control others in this way.

For example, African warlords have been notorious for recruiting and creating (i.e., programming) child soldiers, often turning kidnapped children into the most brutal and unhesitating killers of all. One common conversion technique: Force a child to kill a family member or friend. (“Shoot your friend in the head, or I’ll cut off your hand right now.”) If the child shoots his friend, he’s converted – usually for life, since the searing guilt of what he has done prevents him from ever going back to any other life.

We have all observed ISIS and other jihadist groups using virtually the same techniques to recruit and condition young children to become cold-blooded killers.

A similar technique is common in gang initiations all over America. To join, you must commit a crime (slash a stranger in the face with a knife, even commit murder) before you can become a member – which assures, both legally and psychologically, that there’s almost no way out for you.

It’s doubtful many gang leaders, African warlords or jihad recruiters have taken any courses on hypnosis, brainwashing or “Pavlovian conditioning,” yet the dark knowledge of controlling and programming others is something human predators always figure out and exploit.

What about the ISIS conversions from the West we’ve seen over the last few years – all those young men and women from the U.S. and Europe, persuaded by cool jihad recruitment websites to leave the freest nations on earth and head to the Middle East to become cannon fodder or sex slaves? Such recruiting is not difficult to accomplish.

Enraged young people who have been abandoned, betrayed or exploited (or who believe they have been), full of fury and desire for vengeance, who have lost everything and feel they have nothing more to lose – such as these are easy prey for recruitment pitches promising fulfillment, identity, “family,” adventure, glory and revenge.

In the case of jihad groups, in addition to all the standard benefits of gang membership, recruits are also assured they are the chosen of God, superior to all other people in the world (except fellow Muslim brothers and sisters) and are going to help establish a glorious Islamic paradise here on earth – plus they get to slaughter all the vile infidels who get in their way. (And the males are promised lots of hot women, both now and in the next life.)

You see, whether it’s ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, the Al Nusra Front or other modern-day jihadists, or their Turkish predecessors in the Ottoman Caliphate a century ago; whether, for that matter, it’s the Christian-hating automatons of North Korea or in other communist nations throughout the world – when it comes to those who persecute Christians, we are looking at people firmly in the grip of exceedingly dark forces. And since darkness cannot stand the light – it burns – they feel compelled to attempt to put it out. Yet they cannot. For although the persecutors enslave, they are the true slaves; though they imprison, they are the real prisoners; though they kill, they are the ones spiritually dying.

An Armenian woman kneels beside a dead child in a field outside Aleppo


So today the whole world commemorates the Turkish genocide of the Armenians.

Well, except for Turkey. After a century of denial, Turkey has never even acknowledged that this monstrous genocide of a million-and-a-half Christians ever occurred.

Unfortunately, there’s a grave danger in failing to come clean – and that is, the great crime is likely to be repeated.

Adolf HItler

Consider what Adolf Hitler wrote in this Aug. 22, 1939, document, which was entered into evidence in the Nuremberg Trials. After you read his absolutely horrendous plans, pay special attention to the last sentence, in which Hitler reveals why he’s so sure he can get away with committing genocide while pulling off what he calls the “redistribution of the world”:

My decision to attack Poland was arrived at last spring. Originally, I feared that the political constellation would compel me to strike simultaneously at England, Russia, France, and Poland. Even this risk would have had to be taken.

Ever since the autumn of 1938, and because I realized that Japan would not join us unconditionally and that Mussolini is threatened by that nit-wit of a king and the treasonable scoundrel of a crown prince, I decided to go with Stalin.

In the last analysis, there are only three great statesmen in the world, Stalin, I, and Mussolini. Mussolini is the weakest, for he has been unable to break the power of either the crown or the church. Stalin and I are the only ones who envisage the future and nothing but the future. Accordingly, I shall in a few weeks stretch out my hand to Stalin at the common German-Russian frontier and undertake the redistribution of the world with him.

Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me.

I have issued the command – and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?

That was 1939. Just a few years earlier, in the early ’30s, much of the world regarded Hitler and his gathering movement as a joke. Some journalists “burst out laughing at his shrill voice and jerky hand movements and refused to take him seriously,” writes Andrew Nagorski in his 2012 book, “Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power.”

In our time, we have had ISIS, which Barack Obama infamously sized up as the “jayvee team” a few months before it blitzkrieged its way across large parts of the Middle East. ISIS has been, in fact, frequently compared to the Hitler machine of the early 1930s, maniacal and growing, but not yet a massive world power with fearsome weapons.

And just to bring things full circle, consider the primary role model for caliphate-wannabes like ISIS. No, it’s not Hitler, even though ISIS and Hitler share an infinite hatred for Jews. Rather, it’s the world’s previous Sunni Islamic caliphate – namely, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, whose martyrdom of 1.5 million Armenian Christians is being remembered today.

Armenian looking at the human remains at Der el-Zor, 1916. Photo: Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute

‘We had forgotten theology and the Bible’

Just as there are little-understood mysteries of evil, such as that crystallized in my grandmother’s story, so are there other mysteries – from God – secretly at work in people who are in His grip.

Richard Wurmbrand, the heroic Romanian evangelical pastor, spent 14-and-a-half years in a Romanian prison suffering starvation and torture for the crime of boldly preaching the Gospel of Christ in what was then a brutally repressive communist nation. When, two years after his final release from captivity, Wurmbrand testified in May 1966 before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, he stripped to the waist to reveal 18 deep wounds covering his torso, the result of years of unspeakable abuse.

And yet, as Wurmbrand proclaims in his classic book, “Tortured for Christ,” he and his fellow Christian prisoners well understood that the communists, especially those who imprisoned and tortured them, “knew not what they did.” He recognized deeply that his persecutors were all programmed “Manchurian candidates” – brainwashed slaves of “principalities and powers,” of “rulers of the darkness of this world” and “spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Until he died at age 91 in 2001, Wurmbrand’s message, one faithfully carried forward by the international ministry he founded, Voice of the Martyrs, has always been: “Hate the evil systems, but love your persecutors. Love their souls, and try to win them for Christ.”

With striking compassion for his jailers, in “Tortured for Christ” Wurmbrand writes:

The enormous amount of drunkenness in Communist countries exposes the longing for a more meaningful life, which communism cannot give. The average Russian is a deep, big-hearted, generous person. Communism is shallow and superficial. He seeks the deep life and, finding it nowhere else, he seeks it in alcohol. He expresses in alcoholism his horror about the brutal and deceitful life he must live. For a few moments alcohol sets him free, as truth would set him free forever if he could know it.

So genuine was Wurmbrand’s concern for the souls of his tormentors that, over the years, quite a few of them were converted to the Christian faith, ending up in prison with him – and glad for it!

Contemplate, if you can, Wurmbrand’s last act before leaving Romania after years of living 30 feet underground in a communist prison – no sunshine, no fresh air, always hungry, treated brutally and sadistically day after day, year after year.

“In December 1965,” writes Wurmbrand, “my family and I were allowed to leave Romania”:

My last deed before leaving was to go to the grave of the colonel who had given the order for my arrest and who had ordered my years of torture. I placed a flower on his grave. By doing this I dedicated myself to bringing the joys of Christ that I have to the communists who are so empty spiritually.

I hate the communist system but I love the men. I hate the sin but I love the sinner. I love the communists with all of my heart. Communists can kill Christians but they cannot kill their love toward even those who killed them. I have not the slightest bitterness or resentment against the communists or my torturers.

How is such an attitude possible? Says Wurmbrand:

I have seen Christians in communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold – and praying with fervor for the communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.

Finally, in words reminiscent of some of the early Christian martyrs of the First Century, Richard Wurmbrand shares with the reader the presence of God he experienced in his filthy prison cell:

God is “the Truth.” The Bible is the “truth about the Truth.” Theology is the “truth about the truth about the Truth.” Christian people live in these many truths about the Truth, and, because of them, have not “the Truth.” Hungry, beaten, and drugged, we had forgotten theology and the Bible. We had forgotten the “truths about the Truth,” therefore we lived in “the Truth.” It is written, “The Son of man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:44). We could not think anymore. In our darkest hours of torture, the Son of Man came to us, making the prison walls shine like diamonds and filling the cells with light. Somewhere, far away, were the torturers below us in the sphere of the body. But the spirit rejoiced in the Lord. We would not have given up this joy for that of kingly palaces.


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