The ghosts of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – which Armenians refer to as Metz Yeghérn, the “Great Evil” – are coming back to haunt today’s war-torn Syria which has been invaded by thousands of Islamic radicals from more than 80 different countries.
One of the
characterising elements of the first genocide in a century of genocides
was the forced conversion of Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Syrians and
Chaldeans) to Islam by the governors of the Ottoman Empire.
this day, there are people in Turkey whose grandparents were forced to
convert to Islam in order to be spared their lives. Today these people
secretly return to the faith of their ancestors.
In recent days, a number of Arabic language
websites have reported that ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a
group which has links to Al-Qaeda) militia have committed a string of
atrocities against those they see as infidels, from beheadings to arson
attacks against churches and even the forced conversion of some families
of Apostolic Armenians to Islam.
Some of these news reports are accompanied by video footage
showing what appears to be an elderly Armenian man standing beside a
Muslim cleric who is announcing the man’s conversion to the faith of the
Prophet, while the Allahu Akbar (“Allah is greatest”) phrase is chanted
in the background.
The cleric comments enthusiastically on the event,
stating: “You see, there is no honour without Islam, without proclaiming
out loud that Allah is the one and only God and Mohammed his Prophet.”
The cleric adds that as the newly-converted man is the head of the
family, his wife and children automatically become Muslims. “Everyone
It is quite clear that should the members of this family
one day decide to renounce this newly-acquired identity, they would
become apostates and have to face the consequences; i.e. possible death.
Because of its ancient history, Syria truly is a
“religious mosaic”. Here, like in Lebanon, historical and geographical
circumstances have led to Christians of all denominations and Muslims
belonging to different branches of Islam living side by side for
centuries. Relations between them have not always been rosy but for the
most part these different faiths have managed to live together in
During the persecutions carried out by the Ottoman Empire, many
Muslims hid and protected Christians. This portrait of fraternity was
kept pretty much in tact by the French and then by the secular Baath
party. This is now being ruined, however, by the path of fundamentalism
taken by radical Wahhabi militias that are being backed by Saudi Arabia
and Qatar and tolerated by Erdoğan’s Islamist Turkey which has close
ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The cleric in the video claims the conversion
depicted was “voluntary”, but there is no reason not doubt what he says
is true given the circumstances. This only reinforces the concerns
raised by various Syrian bishops about the emergence of an Islamic
state, in the Geneva peace talks.