Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Power of Forgiveness

Faith in the Public Square
October 21, 2007

Nearly a century ago, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians died in Turkey. By any measure, this example of ethnic cleansing deserves to be called genocide, but unfortunately Turkey continues to deny that genocide occurred during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Even as discussion of this event is taboo in Turkey, geopolitics has left much of the world silent as well. It's not surprising - Turkey is an important American ally and is in general considered moderate and western in its policies. So, there is a conspiracy of silence regarding the Armenian genocide.
When the House of Representatives recently voted in committee to send a non-binding resolution to the full House, Turkey recalled its ambassador and the Bush administration tried to distance itself from the resolution.
Everyone here seems to agree that something horrible happened nearly a century ago - even the Turks recognize that the Armenian people suffered during this period. But it is argued that now is not the time. Turkey is too important an ally in the war on terror and central to the Iraq war effort to offend them.
But when will it be a good time? A similar resolution was pulled from a House vote in the 1990s at the insistence of the Clinton administration because of Turkish sensitivities - and there was no war being fought at the time.
This particular resolution does little more than recognize that genocide occurred - the Turks can deny it, but we need not abet their denial. I understand the embarrassment that the Turks must feel, embarrassment that has led them to engage in nearly a century of denial. However, the time has come for them to set aside their embarrassment and acknowledge the truth of this matter. This will be painful, but it can lead to healing.
The United States has had to do much the same thing over the years. In recent years, Congress voted to apologize for and make reparations for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Then there's the Trail of Tears - certainly that qualifies as genocide and needs to be acknowledged as such. Various statements of apology have been made concerning the legacy of slavery. Some have said that these events lay far in the past and apologies and such are of little value - or are they?
Confession is good for the soul. In the Christian faith, we speak of repentance, of turning away from our sins and embracing the ways of God. Such confession leads, we're told, to reconciliation with God and with the one's offended (2 Corinthians 5).

Questions have been raised about the timing of the legislation, but perhaps the most important reason for taking this step is that our continued silence not only adds to the anguish of our nation's Armenian community, but it undermines our moral voice when speaking on other genocidal actions - such as Darfur or Zimbabwe.
It is said that when Hitler was poised to invade Poland, he said: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” That silence not only encouraged his invasion of Poland, it also set in motion the Holocaust. When the Iranian president questioned the historicity of the Holocaust, and even hosted a Holocaust Denial Convention, we, as we should have, recoiled in horror. To deny that this act of inhumanity perpetrated against the Jews occurred is unconscionable, and must be strenuously opposed. If this is true, then why are we timid when it comes to the Armenian genocide?

I have a good friend, a retired Methodist pastor, who is Armenian. He has told me of the suffering that continues to haunt the Armenian people. That pain cannot be lifted, he tells me, until the truth is told.I believe in the power of forgiveness. It stands at the center of my faith. Paul the Apostle speaks clearly about the possibilities of reconciliation. He speaks of all things being reconciled in Christ, so that all things might be made new. This is my hope and my prayer, that confession by the Turks will bring reconciliation with the Armenian people. May victim and victimizer show us the way forward so that genocide will become a term of history and not a description of present day realities.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at and may be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 92438.

October 21, 2007


Anonymous said...

Pardon me but I doubt you would forgive if you lost your grandparents and uncles and aunts in the Armenian Genocide...Turkey must take full responsibility in what it did in 1915...only than can the healing process ever begin

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I agree, Turkey must take full responsibility -- which is why I speak here of forgiveness. If the Turks can come to terms with this tragedy and name it for what is, then forgiveness will be possible, making healing possible as well.