Yesterday President Joe Biden became the first American President to officially recognise that the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians in 1915 was a genocide, by declaring that “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” although the current Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu stated, “We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the US regarding the events of 1915 … It is clear that the said statement does not have a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence.”
During the period 1894-1924 the Ottoman Turks specifically slaughtered vast numbers of Christians, among whom several million Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox were also martyred. Abba Seraphim commended President Biden for his statement, which he believes is absolutely accurate and also raises current concerns about the treatment of Armenians in the recent Nagorno-Karabagh War.
In 1915, the year of the Genocide, the Armenian clergy suffered. There is an eyewitness account of part of this pitiless slaughter given by a Venezuelan mercenary serving in the Ottoman army:
“As night was falling we passed the little island of Aghtamar, which seemed to possess no other edifice than an ancient and beautiful convent, where the Catholic Bishop of Van had lived. Its outer facades are adorned with allegorical pictures, which were barely visible from the launch through the gathering dusk. Apart from the corpses of the Bishop and the monks, huddled on the threshold and atrium of the sanctuary, there seemed to be no human beings on the islet except the detachment of gendarmes which had slain the Christians. As they asked us urgently for some munitions, with which to seek out and kill God knows whom, we left them five thousands cartridges and continued the journey to the shore – which was outlined by the glare of burning villages that bathed the sky in scarlet.”
Two names, Bishop Hovsep Khosdeghyan and Vartabed Boghos Garabedian are given as having been martyred on Aghtamar although there were several other clergy killed in Van, which included monks from the Aghtamar brotherhood seeking refuge in the Armenian Quarter of Van which staged a very successful resistance for about a month against the attacks of the Turkish army and civilians, and was finally rescued by Armenian volunteers serving as the vanguard of the Russian army.
Abba Seraphim was a close friend of the late Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II (Mutafyan) of Istanbul (1956-2019) who had inherited the pastoral oversight of the historic island of Aghtamar in Lake Van. In October 2013 Abba Seraphim joined members of the ‘Tur Abdin Focus Group’ and a number of other pilgrims on a pilgrimage to Eastern Turkey, led by the Anglican Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun), when they visited Aghtamar and other historic sites of the Armenian Church, once part of their heartland but abandoned since the Genocide.
Since 1989 Abba Seraphim, who is a great cat-lover, has possessed six ‘Van Cats’ who have lived at the British Orthodox Church Secretariat at Charlton. They are generally referred to as ‘Turkish Vans’ but he prefers to call them ‘Aquatic Armenians’ because they derived from a territory which was an ancient Armenian homeland before it was conquered and annexed by the Ottoman Empire. For this reason all his cats were given Armenian rather than Turkish names: Gregory I & II, Sarkis, Hripsime, Senekerim and Shoushan.