A sign with a flower outside a cathedral at what has to be one of Manhattan’s busiest intersections on 34th Street and Second Avenue stands as a subtle reminder of genocide.
One wonders how many diplomats on the way to and from the United Nations headquarters, tourists and commuters have passed it this year without noticing the banner for the centennial year of the Armenian genocide outside St. Vartan Cathedral.
2015 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, even as the massacre still goes unacknowledged throughout the world. As Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput put it in a speech:
“Starting in 1915, Turkish officials deliberately murdered more than 1 million members of Turkey’s Armenian minority. The ethnic and religious cleansing campaign went on into the 1920s. [The victims] were overwhelmingly Christian. Turkey has never acknowledged the genocide. It’s one of the worst unrepented crimes in history.”
And there could be other such crimes on the way. By way of a brief tour, Chaput said: “Today we have our own tragedies, from church bombings in Pakistan to the beheadings of Christians in North Africa. More than 70 percent of the world now lives with some form of religious coercion. Tens of thousands of Christians are killed every year for reasons linked to their faith.”
I was heartened to see President Obama issue a statement just before Christmas recognizing “brutal atrocities” being committed against Christians in Iraq and Syria. “In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by (ISIS).”
In the weeks preceding Christmas, it was reported that the White House would soon be issuing a statement labeling the slaughter of the Yazidi people in Iraq genocide. While applauding that move, an ecumenical coalition urged that the administration include Middle Eastern Christians in the designation.
As the letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry signed by pastors, scholars and activists put it: “We have extensive files supporting a finding that ISIS’ treatment of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities, meets this definition. They include evidence of ISIS assassinations of Church leaders; mass murders; torture; kidnapping for ransom in the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria; its sexual enslavement and systematic rape of Christian girls and women; its practices of forcible conversions to Islam; its destruction of churches, monasteries, cemeteries and Christian artifacts; and its theft of lands and wealth from Christian clergy and laity alike.”
In testimony before Congress shortly thereafter, Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, which has an emergency aid campaign supporting church efforts on the ground in the region, urged: “The United States is rightly viewed as the world’s leading defender of vulnerable minorities, and it is critically important that the State Department consider the best available evidence before issuing a statement that would exclude Christians. An official government declaration of genocide is an opportunity to bring America’s religious communities together to pursue the truth, to support victims, and to bear witness to the noble principle of ‘Never Again.’ ”
The White House could listen to its own ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein. He was in Rome in December, where he said that the West “cannot remain silent” about what is happening to Christians, who are in danger of being “wiped out.” President Obama, not for the first time, said something beautiful about religious freedom. Acknowledging the fact of genocide against Christians in the world today would put some teeth to his words.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA.
Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: Follow @csteditorials
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org