Two Views of the End of Jesus’ Life

The week preceding Easter is the most important period in the calendar for all Christians, including those in the Armenian Church. Christians around the world decorate their homes and places of worship with lilies, intricately colored eggs, and wooden crosses draped with a single white or purple cloth. Christians present special concerts and pageants and participate in solemn services on Thursday in remembrance of Jesus’ last supper with His twelve closest followers, and on Friday in remembrance of His death on a Roman cross. Over two thousand years ago on a hill named Golgotha outside the city of Jerusalem, Jesus died.

The mood of the celebrants is decidedly different on Easter Sunday. The worshippers put off their solemn rituals and faces. Wearing new, or at least their best clothes, people greet each other with “He is risen” and “He is risen indeed.” Church bells peal joyous sounds. In remembrance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the celebrants and their spiritual leaders, priests, vicars, and pastors are joyful. In their teachings that day, they proclaim that since Jesus died for the people’s sins and rose again to give believers new and eternal life, the believers have every reason to rejoice.

In the world of Islam, however, none of the above occurs. My Muslim students not only emphatically told me that Jesus is not God’s son, they also told me that Jesus didn’t die. According to them, Jesus was a prophet whom God took to heaven because he was a good man. There was no death and no resurrection. So the Muslims I have talked to are in complete denial of Christendom’s Holy Week.

Hmmm. … They evidently know nothing of world history or are trying their best to rewrite it. And they definitely haven’t read the Injil, the four Gospels in God’s Word. It says: “And he [Jesus] bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of the skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha; where they [the Roman soldiers] crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (Gospel of John 19: 17 & 18). “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished; and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19: 30). “Then took they [Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus] the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury…. There [in a new sepulchre] laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (John 19: 40 & 42).

“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. … And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Gospel of Matthew 28: 1,2,5, & 6).

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene out of whom he had cast seven devils” (Gospel of Mark 16:9). “And as they [Cleopas and his friend] thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them [Jesus’ eleven closest followers] and saith unto them, Peace be unto to you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Gospel of Luke 24: 36-39).

See? Even Jesus’ closest followers were dumbfounded by His death and resurrection. When they recovered from their shock, they rejoiced and, with great excitement, told everybody about it.

So, along with other Christians, Armenians rejoice on Easter Sunday because Jesus Christ’s death provides salvation from their sins and His resurrection gives hope for eternal life with God in heaven to both men and women.

From the beginning of His life to His death and resurrection, Jesus was living proof that there is a God and He loves each and every person. Jesus is God’s love letter to you and me.

The Muslim Turks of the Ottoman Empire couldn’t have been more wrong in their decisions in 1915. They chose to slaughter their Armenian neighbors, a people who could have shown the ultimate hope for both life on this earth and eternal life with God. Why kill hope, I ask you? How does killing Christian believers save a nation, let alone an individual? Has the nation of Turkey (that evolved out of the Ottoman Empire) benefited from the extermination of its Christian population? Perhaps modern-day Turkey is more like the cows in an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh’s dream. “And the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows. Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them; for they were just as ugly as before” (Genesis 41: 20 & 21). The Ottoman Turks planned and carried out the elimination of Turkey’s Armenian population, took over their lands and businesses, and stole all their property. Yet the greedy swallowing of so much left Turkey no better off after World War I than it was before.

So where is hope today – for Armenian Christians, North American Christians, the people of the world in general, even Muslim Turks? Denial of Jesus’ death and resurrection might delay a clear view of our Heaven Father’s expression of love for all people. But rewriting history doesn’t change HIS story.The risen Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross still stands as the greatest hope for the present and the future.

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (Excerpt #1)

For the past seventeen posts of this blog, I have published some aspects of the historical research for my historical fiction Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it.

What follows is an excerpt of the scene I have pulled from the middle of the book to serve as its prologue. In this portion of the central plot, one of the two young protagonists lets her friend in on the kind of disaster she and her family will face shortly.

Nazli is a fourteen year old Muslim, Turkish girl. She is the only daughter of a government-appointed mayor in a small town on the Anatolian Plain in Ottoman Turkey. When Nazli attends the town’s school for girls, the only classmate who willingly offers friendship is a girl called Annie.

Also fourteen years old, Annahit (Annie) Gregorian is a Christian Armenian, the oldest of daughter of six children whose family’s farm is a kilometer from town. When Annie attends the school for girls, she makes friends with Nazli because Annie empathizes with the recent arrival from Constantinople whose life experience is different from all the other small town girls in their class.

Add to the mix Nazli’s overpowering inclination to snoop. She always has to know what’s going on. When she discovers odd mounds of things in her father’s storage room next to his office, she and her Aunt Hatije decide Nazli must bring Annie to the mayor’s storage room to see for herself what the mayor is up to.

The following excerpt is told from Annie’s point of view. Once Nazli has let Annie into the storage room, Annie approaches one pile of odd things, squats, and picks up two items.

Prologue

The small town of Kemahcelli, central Turkey, April, 1915

…..

Trembling, I remembered my family’s night of stark terror. I stood up and faced my best friend. “Nazli, two nights ago, Turkish soldiers pounded on our door. One held my mother, brothers, and me against the wall. Others ransacked our home and outbuildings. Dumped out storage jars. Slashed apart cushions.” I held up the sheep shears and rifle. “Took these things from our stable and hen-house!”

Nazli fixed her eyes on the rifle in my hand. “Whose is that?”

I swallowed hard. The room felt suddenly as hot as our tonir, the lavash-baking pit on the farm. As much as I love her, Nazli’s quite a gossip. Can I trust her to keep this information to herself? “Taniel’s. He uses it to keep foxes out of our hen-house and vineyards. But … please don’t tell anyone.”

Hands flew to Nazli’s hips. Her lips set like stone. “I thought so. One rifle on an Armenian farm would only be for the protection of that farm. … But when the soldiers’ raid turned up no cache of real weapons, my baba was livid.”

My mouth dropped open. “Why?” My body stiffened. “Why did your father think we had any?”

“Guns in your houses would prove Talaat Bey right. He says you Armenians are plotting a rebellion.”

“A rebellion?” I felt the blood drain from my face. My knees and hands shook. Taniel’s rifle almost slipped from my grip. “Who’s Talaat?”

“Baba’s boss. In Constantinople. Baba talks about him all the time.” Nazli rolled her eyes and sighed. “Ever since Turkey took Germany’s side of the war in Europe, baba’s talked on no one else. He agrees with the man. Talaat Bey says Turkey is only for Turks.”

I swayed. Get a grip on yourself, Annie.

“Whose rifles are those?” I asked, pointing at the second mound.

“The Turkish soldiers’.”

I gasped. The room smelled of more that ground-in dirt on damp stone. My eyes lit on the box camera that stood on a tripod in the corner of the room. An odor like burnt matches wafted from the photographer’s hand-held, flash-powder pan that rested on the floor beside the tripod. The photographer’s equipment in such sinister surroundings gave me a premonition of evil intent. “What’s the camera for?”

“Baba photographed the soldiers’ rifles. Sent the photo to Talaat Bey. Told him the rifles in the photo came from your homes!”

“But that’s a bold-faced lie!” I felt as if a donkey had just kicked me in the chest.

“I know.” With tears in her eyes, Nazli gripped my shoulders. “Baba and the lieutenant are scheming with Talaat Bey to make trouble for your people, Annie. Aunt Hatije and I wanted to warn you.” …

The March Madness of 1915

North Americans bend over backwards, these days, to avoid incarcerating, convicting, or executing innocent people. For the most part, even for felons, who have been tried and convicted of the most heinous crimes, capital punishment has been expunged from judicial systems on this continent.

No such attitude or even ideal existed in Turkey during its Ottoman Empire days. In the last several posts about the realities behind my historical fiction Lavash, little was mentioned about what the Turkish government planned for the Armenian men. It is time for explicit exposure.

When the gangs of Turkish soldiers couldn’t find caches of guns during their raids of Armenian homes and churches in October of 1914, the soldiers photographed their own guns as ‘proof’ that Armenians were planning a rebellion (2006, Shameful Act:  The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility). Minister of War Enver and Minister of the Interior Talaat, two of the Young Turk government in Constantinople, rumored that the Armenians openly supported the Russian invasion into Ottoman Turkish territory and participated in mob violence (1989, A Peace to End All Peace). Although none of that was true, Enver and Talaat apparently functioned on the belief that if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes proof of guilt.

‘Convicted’ by rumor and false ‘evidence,’ the Armenian men, who had served in the Turkish Army in December of 1914 and had survived, were re-conscripted in March of 1915 for labor battalions. Under armed escort and carrying only shovels, these battalions of Armenian men were marched out of towns to do road construction, supposedly. Without trials, any concrete evidence, and based only on an assumption of collective guilt because they were Armenians, the men were taken out in groups of fifty, made to dig their own graves, stripped naked, bound in groups of four, knifed to death, and buried in shallow graves next to the roads they had repaired. During a transfer of several such battalions in Turkey’s interior between Harput and Diyorbakir, for example, two thousand Armenian men were killed. Their corpses were laid side by side in ditches and covered by only a few inches of dirt over their mass graves (2006, Shameful Act: …).

Meanwhile, the Armenian families never learned what happened to the husbands and fathers who went with the labor battalions. Their men left before Easter and never returned. By April of 1915, the Armenian population consisted of women, children, elderly, and a few male leaders of businesses, schools, and churches in many towns and cities of Ottoman Turkey.

Divested of guns and men, the Armenian communities were easy prey for the remainder of Talaat’s ultranationalistic scheme: Turkey’s only for Turks.