As the First World War looms Armenian Michael Boghosian travels to Constantinople to train as a medical student. There he meets Ana and her lover Chris Myers, a renowned American journalist. Michael is already experienced as a doctor and quickly takes to the medical course, but whilst he is studying Turkey enters World War 1 and begins the systematic persecution and murder of Armenian citizens. Journalist Chris sends reports on what is happening back to Washington and soon falls foul of the Turkish authorities.
Between 1915 and 1918 a million and a half Armenians were murdered in massacres and on death marches, others were used as forced labour. It is seen now as the first modern genocide. The Armenians were predominantly Christian and for centuries had been treated as second class citizens by the Ottoman Empire, subject to extra taxation and other inhibitions. With the outbreak of the First World War this escalated into unprecedented violence and annihilation.
The Bible does not shy away from the horrors of life, the way that one group of people is capable of intimidating, punishing and massacring another. The book of Lamentations is a poem by Jeremiah, about the fall of Jerusalem to the invading Babylonians, it is a lament for the loss of life and hope in this once glorious city of King David. Years ago I heard someone say that the songs of lament in the Bible had helped to keep the church in Sudan alive during terrible times of oppression and hardship. Many of the psalms cry out to God in times of trouble. Psalm 69 begins with the lines: ‘Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold to stand on. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched and dry. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. Those who hate me without cause are more numerous than the hairs on my head. These enemies who seek to destroy me are doing so without cause.’ It seems that biblical faith is not merely about hope and wonder. It is very much too about darkness, doubt and despair. Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 once said, ‘Have the peace that passes understanding, but don’t be at peace with the world, because so many people in the world are not at peace.’ Like Jacob at the river Jabbok we are invited to honestly wrestle with God, the world and ourselves as we struggle to follow the call of Jesus each day. (Genesis 32 vv 22-32) I am so grateful for those who right now, as I write, are at work in the war torn and embittered places of this earth, reaching out, offering practical help, praying, listening, feeding and rescuing those, who like the Armenians in 1915, find themselves in places of great trouble, turmoil and despair.