By Tony Rennell for the Daily Mail
- In 1915 the rulers of the Ottoman empire turned their hatred on Armenians
- The Young Turks persecution of the minority turned to unbridled savagery
- Modern Turkey faces disgust over refusal to admit the historic genocide
- WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGES
She was in bed when the soldiers came in the middle of the night and dragged her father out of the family home in Diyarbakir, a city in eastern Turkey.
The last thing little Aghavni (her name means ‘dove’ in her native Armenian) heard as she cowered in her room was his shout of defiance: ‘I was born a Christian and I will die a Christian.’
Not until first light did Aghavni dare to creep downstairs on that morning 100 years ago. ‘I saw an object sticking through the front door,’ she later remembered. ‘I pushed it open and there lay two horseshoes nailed to two feet.
the ruling Turks had turned their hatred on the 2 million men, women and children of Armenian extraction who lived within their borders
‘My eyes followed up to the blood-covered ankles, the disjointed knees, the mound of blood where the genitals had been, to a long laceration through the abdomen to the chest.
‘I came to the hands, which were nailed horizontally on a board with big spikes of iron, like a cross. The shoulders were remarkably clean and white, but there was no head.
‘This was lying on the steps, propped up by the nose. I recognised the neatly trimmed beard along the cheekbones. It was my father.’
The year was 1915. In the sprawling, beleaguered Ottoman Empire — an ally of the German Kaiser in the world war that had engulfed Europe and parts of Asia for nine months — the ruling Turks had turned their hatred on the 2 million men, women and children of Armenian extraction who lived within their borders.
The Armenians — who lived on the eastern edge of the empire ruled from Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) — were Christians and had been since the year 301, making theirs the first nation officially to adopt Christianity, even before Rome.
But here, among the Islamic Turks, they had long been second-class citizens, a persecuted minority. Now, as power in the land was seized by a junta of nationalist officers known as the Young Turks, persecution turned to unbridled savagery.
Over the next six months, there was to be a systematic uprooting and slaughter of perhaps as many as 1.5 million Armenians — on the grounds that they were infidels, racially inferior ‘dogs’ and traitors who were siding with Russia against Turkey.
Those who weren’t put to death on the spot, their faith cruelly mocked — such as Aghavni’s father, a mild-mannered, cultivated spice merchant who spoke five languages — were hounded in columns, eastwards, into the deserts of Syria and Iraq to die.
Their remains are long turned to dust, but the controversy that surrounds those terrible events is as alive as ever.
Just this week at mass in St Peter’s in Rome, the Pope heralded the upcoming centenary of the first killings on April 24 by describing the slaughter of the Armenian Christians as ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’ — only to be ticked off by Turkey in no uncertain terms for inflammatory remarks.