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Home » Church History » “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch » Chapter 24: Not Peace but a Sword (1913-60) – Part I

Chapter 24: Not Peace but a Sword (1913-60) – Part I





Describe the Vatican’s relationship with fascism and Benito Mussolini during the 1920s. Describe the creation of the Vatican State.

Cardinal Gasparri and Benito Mussolini (both seated) after exchanging treaty ratifications in the Hall of Congregations, the Vatican, June 7th, 1929


What a surprise to learn that the Vatican state was thanks to the Italian Dear Leader.  One step removed from heir Fuehrer endorsement.   I had always assumed the Vatican State was a much older institution and not such a recent invention.  Not surprisingly, the Vatican and Mussolini were closely allied since they were both Italian.  The big boogie man at the time was Communism/Socialism and the Church  helped Fascism shut down problematic trade unions.  Creating the Vatican State and  providing substantial monetary funds guaranteed a friendly ally who would overlook  some questionable actions.  Even though there were questions of being too cozy with authoritarian regimes for influence, this gives yet another reason to look the other way.  It is surprising how important Christianity was to the political events of this time and its effect on governments leading up to them.






Describe the effects of the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI ended in 1918. How were the Orthodox churches (Miaphysite and Dyophysite) affected by the empire’s demise? What were the events that led up to the genocide of Armenian Christians between 1915-1916? Who were the ‘Assyrian Christians‘?


The Armenian Genocide   Why Wont American Presidents Mention

Armenian girls crucified by Ottomans during the 1915-1918 Armenian genocide.



Needless to say, WWI changed the face of Europe forever. By the end of the war in late 1918, three of the world’s largest empires had fallen: the Austro-Hungarian, Germany’s Second Reich, and the Ottoman Empire. Only the British Empire had remained in tact after the war. The fall of the Ottoman Empire would bring about great changes and suffering throughout Europe and the Middle East, and to the Orthodox Church in particular.


The Ottoman Sultan had joined the war efforts as an ally with Germany and Austria. After the loss, the Sultan was ousted in 1922 and the caliphate would be formally abolished two years later. The Ottoman Empire had lost virtually all its lands in Europe and Africa. Before the start of WWI, anti-Christian sentiment was kindled in the capital city of Constantinople by the reformist ‘Young Turk’ regime that came to power in 1908 and saw Christians (esp. the Armenian Christian minority) as allies of their war enemy, Russia. After WWI broke out, Armenians organized volunteer battalions to support Russians who were fighting against the Turks in the Caucasus region. These events led the Turkish government to push for the ‘removal’ of the Armenians from the war zones of the eastern front. Between 1915 – 1916, more than a million Armenian[1] Christians (roughly half the entire Armenian population) were systematically killed. Largely forgotten in modern history, it has been called the ‘Armenian Genocide’. This genocide was carried out during and after WWI. There was a wholesale massacre of the male population, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on ‘death marches’ to the Syrian desert without food or water. Along the way, they were subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Many others were drowned, crucified, or burned alive by government sanctioned ‘killing squads’. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups, such as Assyrian Christians and Ottoman Greeks, were also targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government and were also part of the large-scale genocide efforts. The Ottoman government also implemented a network of 25 concentration camps to eliminate Armenians who had survived the deportations. The large-scale murders were so great that Britain, Russian and France appealed to the Turks during the war to stop these atrocities from further occurring, threatening post-war retributions and denouncing these ‘crimes against humanity’. By 1923, the entire Armenian population of Anatolian Turkey had been wiped out.


Dyophysite Christians (those who believe that Christ had two distinct and separate natures – divine and human) in Mesopotamia and the mountains of eastern Turkey had rebranded themselves as ‘Assyrian Christians’. During the war, they sought to create their own national homeland in the face of massacres by Turks and Kurds. They were able to hold off the Turks for a while, but once Britain withdrew their support after the war, the Assyrian Christians found themselves part of a newly constructed, multi-ethnic British puppet kingdom called ‘Iraq’ that was dominated by Muslims. (loc. 17950) They were subsequently treated harshly by the Hashemite monarchy and its Republican successors.


MacCulloch writes that the primary reason why the victorious Allies turned a blind eye toward the Armenians and the Assyrians had to do with a series of post-war victories by Turkey, especially against the Greek armies that occupied Anatolia which had effectively eliminated nineteen centuries of Christian culture, and ten earlier centuries of Greek civilization in Asia Minor. (loc. 17959 – 17963)


The collapse of the Ottoman Empire, that had reined in that region from 1299-1922[2], after WWI created enormous internal political and economic turmoil which significantly contributed to ethnic tensions in its areas. Since the late 15th century, when Armenia had come under Ottoman rule, Armenians (lead mostly by the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople) were treated as second-class citizens (or as ‘infidels’) by the ruling Muslim authorities, frequently over burdening them with discriminatory taxes, forced conversions, and other forms of exploitation. Armenian aspirations for government representation and basic civil-rights aroused suspicions among the Muslim Turkish majority during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In an effort to snuff out these voices, the Turkish government implemented their own plan of ‘ethnic cleansing’ – which was, in effect, an all out effort to eradicate any trace of Christianity in Turkish lands. Till this day, the Turkish government denies the Armenian genocide even took place and refuses to even call it that. Instead, they claim that since the Armenians were an enemy force supporting a war enemy, their slaughter was a necessary war measure. Despite pressures from Armenians and social justice advocates throughout the world, it is still illegal in Turkey to talk about what happened to Armenians during this era. Turkey’s allies, which include the U.S. and other Western nations, have been reluctant to condemn these past killings. It was not until March 2010 that a U.S. Congressional panel at last voted to recognize the Armenian genocide.[3]



[1] Beginning in the 4th century AD, the kingdom of Armenia became the first nation in the world to make Christianity its official religion.

[2] Became an Ottoman sultanate after the conquest of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire in 1453 by Mehmed II.



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