April 24: Genocide Remembrance

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

This day is set aside in the calendar of the church to hold in remembrance those who have died and those whose lives have been severely damaged as a result of acts of genocide: the systematic and intentional destruction of a people by death, by the imposition of severe mental or physical abuse, by the forced displacement of children, or by other atrocities designed to destroy the lives and human dignity of large groups of people.

This day is chosen for the commemoration because the international community recognizes April 24 as a day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide, the systematic annihilation of the Armenian people during and just after World War I. On April 24, 1915, more than 250 Armenian notables—civic and political leaders, teachers, writers, and members of the clergy—were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Before the cessation of conflict, it is estimated that as many as one-and-a-half million Armenians perished, many as the result of forced marches, deliberate starvation, and heinous massacres. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Armenian Genocide to be the greatest crime of World War I. The close relationships between Anglicans and Episcopalians and our sisters and brothers in the Armenian Church make the remembrance of this day a particular sign of our fellowship in the body of Christ.

Tragically, human history is littered with such atrocities and the Armenian Genocide was far from the last such mass extermination of people in the twentieth century. One need only mention Croatia, Nazi Germany, Zanzibar, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, East Timor, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Kurdish Iraq, and Tibet, and this is by no means a comprehensive list. The unflinching resolve of people of faith, in prayer and in action, is critical if the travesty of human genocide is to be curbed and eventually stopped.


I  Almighty God, our Refuge and our Rock, whose loving care knoweth no bounds and embraceth all the peoples of the earth: Defend and protect those who fall victim to the forces of evil, and as we remember this day those who endured depredation and death because of who they were, not because of what they had done or failed to do, give us the courage to stand against hatred and oppression, and to seek the dignity and well-being of all for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, in whom thou hast reconciled the world to thyself; and who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II  Almighty God, our Refuge and our Rock, your loving care knows no bounds and embraces all the peoples of the earth: Defend and protect those who fall victim to the forces of evil, and as we remember this day those who endured depredation and death because of who they were, not because of what they had done or failed to do, give us the courage to stand against hatred and oppression, and to seek the dignity and well-being of all for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, in whom you have reconciled the world to yourself; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Isaiah 2:2–5

Revelation 7:13–17

Matthew 2:13–18

Psalm 70

Preface of Holy Week

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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20 thoughts on “April 24: Genocide Remembrance

  1. So since this year 24 April happens to be the Feast of the Resurrection, to what day is Genocide Remembrance transferred?

  2. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (Title, Collect, Lections, and Proper Preface) are new.

  3. Title: Is this commemoration remembering the Armenian genocide or all genocides? If the former it should be noted in the title.

    Collect: The collect fails to mention the word genocide (or holocaust). Why? And, the collect seems a tad wordy to say the least. It appears to be all one 114-word sentence – with pauses for breathing of your own choosing. 😦

    Bio: The bio seems more like a lecture on genocide, particularly the last paragraph. Do we really want to list countries at the risk of not naming every instance? Already The Republic of Sudan has been left out – one of the few in this list that the USA government has actually termed a genocide.

    And why throughout does it avoid using the word ‘holocaust’. Yes, the Armenian genocide is front and center – but why neglect the word holocaust entirely, especially the Jewish Holocaust (which is remembered with its own day in July: “The Righteous Gentiles” on July 16th) ?

  4. If we are going to be thorough, we might remember also the medieval attempts at the anihilation of Jews in connection with the Crusades, as well as 18t and 19yh centruy pogroms in Russsia and elsewhere. And how about our war agsinst the Native Americans? The Armenian genocide is certainly not the first.

  5. About the Armenian genocide: people who live and work in Turkey for any length of time hear the official Turkish side of this question, which is that rather than being a systematic genocide, it had to do with WW I and the perception that Armenian leadership was working on the side of Turkey’s enemies during that war. I read the book _Snow_, whose Turkish author won a Nobel Prize for portraying the events as systematic genocide rather than a war issue. I liked the book and found it persuasive, However, people I otherwise respect said he “didn’t know what he was talking about.” I don’t know why this is such a tremendously sensitive issue among Turks today; it happened BEFORE Ataturk (much respected leader, who initiated a number of reforms), and countries like France and Germany are facing up to genocide that happened in their countries with increasing frankness as more and more incidents are discovered (like the Vel d’Hiver roundup, featured in the novel _Sarah’s Key_ as a historic backdrop, but also in Nobel Prize winning author Le Clezio’s _La Ritournelle de la Faim_ (2008). Nevertheless, the Armenian genocide IS a controversial and sensitive issue among Turks today.

  6. Given that only twenty nations (by Wikipedia’s count) out of the world’s 194 (and counting!) independent states have officially affirmed the events in Armenia as genocide, “the international community recognizes” is a bit of a stretch. But see below . . .
    “Travesty of human genocide.” A travesty is a “parody,” “burlesque,” or “grossly inferior imitation” of something else, as in “Interior design is a travesty of the architectural process and a frightening condemnation of the credulity, helplessness and gullibility of the most formidable consumers—the rich.” (Stephen Bayley).
    Given the horrific nature of genocide, working toward and praying for a day in which it can be “curbed and eventually stopped” seems awfully weak. As James Russell Lowell put with respect to another crime against humanity,

    If there breathe on earth a slave,
    Are ye truly free and brave?
    If ye do not feel the chain,
    When it works a brother’s pain,
    Are ye not base slaves indeed,
    Slaves unworthy to be freed?
    . . .
    They are slaves who fear to speak
    For the fallen and the weak;
    They are slaves who will not choose
    Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
    Rather than in silence shrink
    From the truth they needs must think;
    They are slaves who dare not be
    In the right with two or three.

    So how about making the last sentence of the write-up just “ The unflinching resolve of people of faith, in prayer and in action, is critical if future genocides are to be prevented.”
    Of course, “unflinching resolve” and “action” are precisely what has been lacking in the “international community” to date. Even more unfortunately for a church which leans toward pacifism, Bismark was probably right: “Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 [and of 1900, 1915, 1932, 1937, 1938, 1963, 1964, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1981, 1982, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 2003] – but by iron and blood.” Speaking as one who used to wield the iron and supply the blood, be careful what you pray for!

  7. Something about this observance seems out of whack. Partly it’s the scale of the evil it deals with—it’s almost like having a special observance bewailing sin in the world. Which isn’t a bad idea, but it seems like it should be a much more serious event than a HWHM thing. A national day of fasting and repentance for our blindness during these events seems the least we should be considering. I feel like this trivialises these horrors in some way. I know that’s not the intention, and perhaps it’s just me, but there it is.

    For me the collect only underlines the trivialisation, going from ‘the courage to stand against hatred and oppression’ to ‘seeking the dignity and well-being of all’. All I want to pray for after thinking about these things is a personal opportunity to hang the perpetrators from the highest tree, but that probably shouldn’t be encourage either.

    I think this needs a totally different approach, but I don’t have anything to suggest.

  8. While I am not opposed to the concept of setting aside a day each year for TEC to join others in remembering “Man’s inhumanity to Man”, I don’t think this listing belongs in a Sanctoral Calendar,. It is a Day of Remembrance, not a Feast, nor a Fasr, and mentions no Holy Persons.

    I find the choice of the Preface somewhat awkward–not just because this year the date happens to coincide with Easter.

  9. For me, this commemoration doesn’t work. It’s an occasion to fast rather than feast, a day of mourning, not at all a commemoration of holiness, focusing instead on atrocity, corporate sin, and moral outrage. Falling on Easter Day in 2011 didn’t help its timeliness. Holy Innocents is a similar kind of day, and it has long worked, as a remembrance. The Book of Lamentations has a place in the OT, so the fact of grieving over an atrocity is not in itself out of place in our tradition and spirituality. Three possible explainations of WHY it didn’t “work” for me are (1) insufficient focus, (2) inadequate data, (3) unsure connection with reader.

    (1) Focus: Michael’s comment asked if the commemoration was intended as “remembering the Armenian genocide [only,] or all genocides?” It attempts to do both, but wasn’t particularly successful. Michael and Cynthia list several genocidal campaigns ignored in the narrative. Michael also asks if it is wise to list some genocides when others (and why only in the 20th century?) might be overlooked and, indeed, are even disputed by various governments including our own. The commemoration’s focus is obscured by its ambivalence.

    (2) Data: Do we know why genocides are undertaken? Even after reading this narrative I can’t say I understand even the Armenian genocide, much less all others. Are they religious? Would we grieve or lament a genocide against an aggressively anti-Christian religious group? If not based on religion, would we admit to genocides that claim perpetration by groups with which our own country, our own race(es), or our forebears are identified?
    Not saying what the object of a genocide was seems to point to facts we don’t know or feel comfortable revealing.

    (3) Connection: What is our connection, or point of entree, regarding a genocide? The Book of Lamentations is “our” (Judeo-Christian biblical) story — so we view it from an “interested” point of view. Do we respond the same way from a more distant, less intimate point of view? Does Donne’s bell toll for “me” in terms of affective response? HOW do we respond? With a corporate sense of repentence? With moral outrage demanding reform, reparation, punishment? Do we merely feel regret for a day and move on tomorrow? The narrative concludes, “The unflinching resolve of people of faith, in prayer and in action, is critical if the travesty of human genocide is to be curbed and eventually stopped.” That is a curious (and poor) conclusion. It can be taken as moral advice meaning, “people of faith should pray and take action to curb and stop genocide.” Frankly, it strikes me as strangely detached and non-committal. As a factual assertion it is less than a glowing assurance. People of faith might well pray and take action, and genocide may well continue in the way “powers and principalities” perpetuate sin and evil in general.

    Perhaps a particular person’s story, representative of a whole group, would be more in line with the HWHM hagiographical style, and lend itself better to telling the story of cruel, sinful, organized genocide.

    • I haven’t addressed the Readings, Collect or particulars about the write-up because they seemed to be beside the point after the reaction I had to the whole thing.

  10. Rwanda
    Native Americans, especially in the 19th Century
    Canaanites, a very long time ago

    A day of fasting & repentance that would *always* fall during Lent, no matter the date of Easterday, would be more appropriate. plus I agree that naming countries and people groups does lead to the chance of leaving someone out – Rwanda . I think it better to say in many times and places people have turned against those who are different and dehumanized them.

  11. I could not bring myself to even think about Genocide Remembrance Day on Easter day. A little research informed me that April 24th is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and is a national holiday in Armenia. As has been noted by others, the commemoration as written in HWHM for April 24 appears to include more than the death of Armenians, but appears to be an attempt to address all 20th century genocides. As such the remembrance appeals to be woefully inadequate.

    Comparing Genocide Remembrance to Holy Innocents does not work since million and millions of men, women, children died because of their ethnicity and/or religion during the 20th century. Holy Innocents remembers the deaths a couple dozen children at most, despite the exaggerated numbers which appear in medieval writings. The deaths of even a small number of children because they were Jewish males less than 2 years of age is still an outrage [sometimes called gendercide instead of genocide]. Holy Innocents is a symbol of the deaths of many millions of children because of religion and ethnicity over the centuries. Yet, Holy Innocents does work practically because of the proximity to Christmas.

    As has been pointed out, April 24th is going to fall during Eastertide and the remembrance of genocide does not fit with Easter joy. If there is to be a genocide remembrance, it needs to be a fast day, preferably during Lent or on a Friday outside of the “festival seasons”. The Episcopal Church does not need to follow other calendars since April 24th is not an well-established holy-day.

    It is not clear why only 20th century genocides are being remembered except that perhaps it is easier to establish information about them. If only the 20th century is considered, Americans would appear to have mostly “clean hands.” (See below)

    The listing of countries but not necessarily ruling regimes in the third/last paragraph of countries is going to anger one or another group since the list is incomplete. For example, Croatia is listed but Serbia is not. As noted above, Burundi is listed but Rwanda is not. What about the killing of Hindus and Muslims following the partition of India and Pakistan? Why is not the mass starvation in the Ukraine under the Soviet Union not listed?

    It seems that whenever there is a significant difference between people in terms of religion, ethnicity, language, customs, then there is the characterization of the other people as savages or in a way less than fully human. Then the death or deprivation or enslavement of the other people becomes socially acceptable, though later generations would call this genocide. Some would argue that the death of aboriginal peoples by colonizers carrying unknown diseases should not be considered genocide, but other scholars would not agree. How would one characterize the forced displacement of peoples within the United States such as the Cherokee Trail of Tears? This forced dislocation seemed planned to cause deaths. And the United States is far from the only country which needs to look hard at its history and treatment of native persons to decide whether we also are guilty of genocide.

    In short, it seems as though naming the countries and rulers/regimes responsible for the deliberate killing of women, children and men because of ethnic, religious, language, and custom difference is fruitless. The list gets longer and longer to the point of becoming meaningless. And if the list is not complete, then one or another group will say that their grievances have not be fairly accounted. Would is not be better to recall the long bloody and sinful history of man killing man because of difference in race or ethnicity or religion or language or customs? And how does one address the apparently God approved genocides of people of “towns that are very far from you.” [Deuteronomy 20.15-8]? God commanded that all people and animals of such places be killed.

    Clearly this observance needs much more thought and consideration before it is included in the calendar of commemorations. The commemoration as it now stands is not ready for inclusion.

  12. I agree with Suzanne. Would just add that the killings of whole groups of people often took/take place because what one group wanted was antithetical to what the other group wanted; for instance, people emigrating to the North American colonies, especially after the French and Indian War, increasingly encroached on territory reserved by treaty for native Americans as the regions along the eastern coast became crowded. A cycle of violence from both sides began. Then in the 19th century Americans of European descent (one President in particular, I forget which one) said that it was unreasonable to refrain from moving west simply because the native Americans wanted to maintain their life style, which meant keeping large areas free for hunting. When co-habitation became difficult, the majority imposed their will on the minority. Most did not deliberately set out to commit genocide, although in some cases that was the result.

  13. I agree with what has been said above about the appropriateness of this as a day in our sanctoral.

    In reading the collect through several times, I kept tripping on “those who endured depredation and death because of who they were, not because of what they had done or failed to do.” Surely enduring depredation and death because of what they had done or failed to do isn’t much better, is it? Also, the bit towards the end about giving us courage, etc. brings me up short: I’d rather have a commemoration of lamentation for all the victims of war and genocide than a reminder that I might be able to do something in the face of all that horror.

    It’s a tricky one. I do think we need a “Various occasions” proper for this, but it’s not a good fit for the sanctoral, in my opinion.

  14. I like the concept and think it is good for us to remember the victims of genocide.

    The collect doesn’t work for me; it seems way to vague and wordy.

    Maybe there is a way to include this so it can be used for various commemorations (I am thinking of Yom Ha’shoa).

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