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A Note from Our Editor: "Ararat," the Armenians, and Missionary Doctor Clarence Ussher

Regular readers of the GLOBAL JOURNAL will recall that the Editor’s  Introduction to the last issue  took off from a film (“Men in Black II”).  The same is true for this issue.  Yes, the Editor is a bit of a film buff, and, donkey’s years ago, actually refused even to consider a position at Wheaton College because of its legalistic, unbiblical prohibition against movie attendance.  (Will one really be corrupted by Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”?  Does one refuse to read all books because some books are immoral and/or disgusting?)

The film to which we point our readers is not easy to find, though it was released late in 2002 and has an international cast, including Christopher Plummer (remember him as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music?) and distinguished French actor (better known as singer and composer of popular French chansons) Charles Aznavour.  The film is titled “Ararat” and was produced in Canada (in English, with some subtitled French and Armenian). It is now showing in Paris, where I recently saw it, as well as in select movie houses in major cities in other countries.

“Ah,” you, say, “Ararat.  Of course Montgomery could not resist, having carried on extensive Ark research on the said mountain in the 1970’s and even climbed to the peak of that formidable mountain.” (See my Quest for Noah’s Ark, which Bethany Fellowship Publishers has allowed to go out of print, presumably to make way for the evangelical romantic novels they now publish.)  But No!  The film “Ararat” does not in the least deal with the search for the Ark, and the only appearances of the mountain itself in the film come by way of what appears to be stock footage.  The point of the title is that Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey has always been the symbolic centre of Christian Armenia.

The film “Ararat” is the first attempt to document, by way of a major motion picture, the hideous genocide of Armenians in Turkey from 1914 to 1918. That genocide has been almost entirely ignored, in some degree because it occurred when the West was preoccupied with World War I.  And the Nazi genocide of the Jews during the Second World War explains to some extent the lack of historical awareness of what the Turks did to the Armenians (the Jews have been much better propagandists than the Armenians in publicising their loss).  But the blame for ignoring what was done to Christian Armenia lies especially with the Turkish nation, which has systematically denied that anything significant even took place! 

In point of fact, the Turkish régime of the time effectively destroyed the Christian Armenian community by slaughtering vast numbers and forcing the emigration of the survivors to Europe (especially France ) and the Americas .  Charles Aznavour’s relations were among those émigrés, and he has contributed significantly to eleemosynary work among Armenians throughout his career. 

The importance of the film “Ararat” for evangelical Christians is two-fold.   First, we are told every day, by everyone from Prime Minister Tony Blair (who, as a believing Christian, should know better) to the pundits and the media (who know next to nothing) that September 11 was the result of insane terrorism and not to any inherent viciousness in the Muslim religion.  The history of Islam, of course, entirely belies such a judgment.  Conversion by the sword was standard practice through much of the history of Islam, and the genocide of the Armenians (though also motivated, as the film shows, by economic considerations) is a further horrifying example of the consequences of bad religion.  What one believes makes all the difference in the world as to what one does.  Evangelical Christians—just about the only people left who maintain that religion is a matter of truth, not cosmic preference, can have their convictions and their concern to preach the Gospel to other faiths powerfully strengthened by way of this film.

Secondly (and this simply reinforces the first point), “Ararat,” though scrupulously fair to the Turkish position and not at all religiously propagandistic, is based almost entirely on the account of the genocide written by an American evangelical missionary doctor!    One Dr Clarence Ussher  appears prominently in the film: his missionary clinic in the Armenian area of Van in Eastern Turkey provides extensive medical aid and Ussher  attempts vainly to convince the fanatical Turkish military authorities not to exterminate the populace.  In the credits at the end of the film, the statement is made that the film derives from a book by Dr Ussher.

No biographical information on Ussher is provided to the viewer, other than what can be gathered from the film itself.  Having seen the film, I had to obtain such information—and, if possible, Ussher’s book.  I suspected that he must be an evangelical (was it Malcolm Muggeridge who said that he had yet to find a Unitarian leper colony?).  On checking out-of-print book sources—and, as a bibliomaniac, I know a staggering number—I was unable to locate a copy of Ussher’s book to purchase, but I did turn up a pamphlet, “Before Governors and Kings,” by Clarence D. Ussher, M.D., published by Covenant House, Toronto, Canada.  On obtaining this 14-page booklet, I read on its cover sheet: “With permission from a reprint by Howard A. Kelly, M.D., through the courtesy of Dr Ussher and the Houghton Mifflin Company.”  The pamphlet was clearly an extract from the book--and Kelly, to be sure, was the famous evangelical doctor and author!  I then contacted the library of the Moody Bible Institute and was graciously provided with a photocopy of Ussher’s 339-page book, titled, An American Physician in Turkey, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1917, and never reprinted.  The Moody copy lacked the frontispiece photographs of Dr Ussher and his wife, but I was able to obtain a reproduction of these from a copy of Ussher’s book at the University of Illinois.

Dr Clarence Ussher was, fascinatingly, a descendent of the Bishop Ussher  celebrated (or notorious) for his biblical chronology and the dating of the creation at 4004 B.C. Clarence, a believing Episcopalian and licenced medical practitioner of Canadian origin, went to Turkey under the Congregationalist American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.  He had previously signed the Student Volunteer declaration, “I am willing and desirous, if God permits, to become a foreign missionary,” and he went to Turkey out of a powerful evangelistic desire to bring the gospel to a land benighted by Islamic error.  And there he was to recount, as an eyewitness, the horrors of the Turkish extermination of the Armenian Christian community.[1]

The events he recounts are not just moving; they are heartrending.  For example, he describes the death of a young Armenian hero, Aram :  “I had received word that he was coming, and met him at the operating-room door.  He endeavored to reach for my hand, and smiling in my face he said: ‘O Doctor, I am so glad I learned to know Jesus and am ready to go.  But please, Doctor, let me die quickly.’” 

In the final chapter of his book, appropriately titled, “Opportunity,” Ussher writes: “They [Turkish Muslims] have had before their eyes unnumbered examples of fortitude and loyalty to Christ. Thousands of Armenians, after struggling footsore and starving along the road to exile for days, whipped along when exhausted, have been taken into Moslem villages and given their choice: ‘Now accept Mohammed and you shall have a home and food and clothing and fields and implements and seed and a bonus from the Government—everything you need.  Refuse and you shall have not a drop of water.’ With hardly an exception these thousands have turned their backs on all thus offered and have gone into the desert to death, rather than deny Christ.  So the hearts of the Turks are now open to Christian truth as never before in the history of Mohammedanism.”

The “opportunity” of which Ussher spoke, was, of course, the privilege and responsibility of missionising that Muslim land.  Let us today be especially vigilant not to allow irrational views of religious indifferentism blunt that evangelistic task, about which Ussher wrote so eloquently three-quarters of a century ago.

 *    *    *

This issue of the GLOBAL JOURNAL has a strong apologetic focus: we include essays touching several aspects of the defence of classic Christian faith—contemporary, historical, and biblical.  The Editor’s essay on “Chesterton the Apologist” treats that great literary apologist who has influenced all the defenders of the gospel who have succeeded him.  (This is the full version of an article which recently underwent radical reduction, dismemberment, and what the French call “vulgarisation” at the hands of the editors of Christian History magazine!)  Wang Yen analyses a question of central importance to entire case for Christianity: “Can Historical Evidence Prove Anything?  The Adequacy of History as Evidence in Christian Apologetics.”  Finally, biblical apologetics will benefit greatly from the detailed archeological treatment of one of the standard examples cited by religious liberals and the higher critics to show the non-inerrant nature of Old Testament history”:  Peter Briggs of Trinity Southwest University, Albuquerque, New Mexico, engages in rigorously “Testing the Factuality of the Conquest of Ai Narrative in the Book of Joshua.” 

-- John Warwick Montgomery


[1] “Nothing less than a plan of extermination was put into effect.  Throughout the country, soldiers, state police, Kurds, and brigands fell upon the Armenians.  The young men and the strong were exterminated, and the rest of the population deported under horrific conditions. . . .  Of the 2,100,000 Armenians still in the Ottoman Empire, approximately one million perished from 1915 to 1918”  (Jean-Pierre Alem, L’Arménie (“Que sais-je?,” No.851; 2d ed., Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1963), pp. 58-59 (our translation).  See also, H. L. Gates, The Auction of Souls (reprint ed.; London: Phoenix Press, 1968) [American title: Ravished Armenia], with references to Dr Clarence Ussher.

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