"The Greatest Persecution of Christians in History' (Part II)

Historian Michael Hesemann Says There is Proof Pope Benedict XV Tried to Stop Armenian Genocide

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Just before the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, well-known German historian Michael Hesemann announced the discovery of 2000 pages of hitherto unpublished documents on, what he calls “the biggest persecution of Christians in history” in the Vatican Secret Archives.

In Part II of this in-depth analysis with ZENIT, the historian speaks about the Holy Father’s recent visit to Turkey, why he didn’t speak on the subject, and what people should realize about the tragedy which happened then, and what’s happening now.

Part I of the interview was published Monday, March 2.


ZENIT: What is your view on Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey and on how he addressed the Armenian subject?

Hesemann: He was not the first Pope in history to speak about the Armenian genocide because Benedict XV and John Paul II did so, too. But I am very grateful that Pope Francis even before he became Pope, in his book with Rabbi Skorka, for example, mentioned the Armenian genocide. Even in the first months of his pontificate, in May 2013, when he received one of the Armenian Patriarchs, he called the events of 1915-1916 a genocide, which caused a lot of unrest and a very unfriendly reaction from the Turkish side, as did John Paul II’s remarks on the Armenian genocide did. So I am very grateful that he continued the long row of Popes who openly spoke about the Armenian genocide.

I was a little bit disappointed that he didn’t bring it up when he met Erdogan because his visit took place on the eve of this year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Then again, he was a guest and he didn’t want to provoke an even more hostile situation for the Christians, […] the still persecuted Christian minority in Turkey. So from a diplomatic point of view, he did the right thing.

ZENIT: Is the Holy Father doing anything in April to commemorate the anniversary?

Hesemann: Yes, indeed. Pope Francis announced that on April 12 he will celebrate Holy Mass in the Armenian rite in commemoration of what happened 100 years ago. I hope that he will find clear words in his homily on that occasion. And I hope that he will follow the invitation of the Armenian president and the Armenian Patriarch Catholikos Karekin II to come to Armenia. Even if he won’t come to Armenia on the 24th of April, he might come later this year. Sometimes, truth and solidarity with the martyrs are more important than diplomacy. Everyone who reads the Vatican documents on the events of 1915/6 gets a very clear idea about what happened. Even Pope Benedict XV, who was a very careful diplomat, stressing neutrality, wherever he could, could not remain silent and protested three times, two times in personal letters to the Sultan and one time in his speech during a consistory. Indeed, his attempt to stop the Armenian genocide by public protests is one of the most impressive examples in history how the Vatican’s diplomacy tried everything humanly possible to stand up for those persecuted brothers and sisters and save innocent victims of one of the biggest crimes in history. At the same time, it’s also a very frustrating example that Vatican diplomacy cannot change the minds of fanatic ideologists who just demonstrated that “conscience”and “compassion” are foreign words for them.

ZENIT: As we are now approaching the 100-year anniversary, is there anything you think people should realize or take away in a way they have not already?

Hesemann: One thing should be learned: Nobody should ever turn around and look away if he hears about atrocities in any part of the world. If you are ignorant today, you will bear the consequences tomorrow. So it’s better to act and react now.

Hitler believed he was on the safe side, but he wasn’t. So I hope that the atrocities of 100 years ago wake up Christians and responsible people from the world of politics, of art, science, and moral [realms], of all fields of life to look what is happening to Christians in the same area today.

When I saw reports and videos of what is going on the ISIS controlled areas, I had a déjà vu. I have to admit that when I studied these files, pictures, and everything from the Armenian genocide, I wondered sometimes if some of my sources were not just exaggerating. It sounded so unreal, all those atrocities, this violence, these reports about crucifixions and mountains of skulls of decapitated men and so on. And then all this happens in front of my eyes in the news. So history repeats itself: If you don’t learn from history, if you aren’t aware of what happened in the past, we allow people to commit the crimes again. That is why every crime has to be [prosecuted]. So that people learn that crimes don’t pay off. In 1915, the German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg knew everything about the Armenian genocide, since he received all those careful reports from his diplomats. But he was not willing to stop the slaughter, but, instead, declared: “We have to keep Turkey as an ally on our side until the war is over, even if the Armenians perish over it.” Because of this, Germany is guilty, too, of what it allowed to happen. Today, we shall not follow Germany’s example and ignore what is happening in order to not jeopardize diplomatic or trade relations. We should stop ISIS and end the slaughter of Christians right now!

And finally: As a Catholic, I believe that everyone can be forgiven if you confess your sins. But that is the first condition. I don’t want any revenge or punishment for Turkey. Not at all. I want reconciliation. Reconciliation between the Armenian and Turkish people, but the condition for this, for forgiveness, is the truth. If I go to confession and deny my sins, it is worthless and I won’t find forgiveness. Forgiveness I will only find if I honestly confess what truly happened. Only the truth can set us free!

The historical facts are so crystal clear. They are as clear as those of the Holocaust, or any other event that you’d find in any history book…so many documents, sources, clear statistics, clear evidence that 1.5 million Armenians and another 1 million Syrian and Greek Christians were murdered. You cannot deny it. You cannot excuse it. You can only, and that it’s overdue, admit it. This is the first step for reconciliation. Any historians looking at all the evidence would come to the same conclusion of what happened, unless they were being paid or put under pressure. But facing the evidence we have, there’s no other conclusion possible. It was genocide. It was the biggest persecution of Christians in history. If you still deny it, you protect the perpetrators, you side up with murderers. And you allow that it will happen again.

— — —

On ZENIT’s website:

To read Part I, go to: 


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation