Food for the Soul
5/11/15 at 01:50 PM 1 Comments

New book details the horrific account of the first Christian genocide of the 20th century

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Author draws a definitive parallel to today’s persecution of Christians in the Middle East

The current persecution of Christians in the Mideast has its echo in the religious cleansing that swept Asia Minor early in the last century. Over the course of ten years beginning in 1912, three million Christians were slaughtered. It was the first genocide of the 20th century. Smyrna was a majority-Christian city inside the mostly Islamic Ottoman Empire, and its destruction was the final episode of the genocide. A small-town minister whose faith in God gave him the strength to save hundreds of thousands of lives during the Armenian genocide is at the center of a new book, THE GREAT FIRE: One American's Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century's First Genocide (HarperCollins), written by critically-acclaimed author Lou Ureneck.

The book tells the story of Reverend Asa K. Jennings who arranged the evacuation of the city of Smyrna (Turkey) after it was burned and a slaughter of its Christian inhabitants was begun by the Turkish army in September 1922. The arson and slaughter at Smyrna occurred as the navies of the great powers – the United States, Great Britain, France and Italy -- stood by as neutrals. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of helpless people seemed inevitable until an American minister came forward to stage a bold rescue with the help of a courageous U.S. Naval officer.

After meticulous research into the facts of the Armenian genocide, Ureneck believes this story is one of the great humanitarian acts of history and he wanted to be sure it was told correctly.

“The story shows the power of faith, and the importance of compassionate service in the life of a Christian person,” says Ureneck. “Jennings is a model for all of us. He overcame enormous obstacles and changed the course of history. Faith and service were central to Jennings' life. He suffered a long and difficult battle with tuberculosis and Potts disease, which left him crippled and in constant pain. The Bible was his constant companion, and he turned to the book of Job for solace and comfort.”

The Orthodox Patriarch at Constantinople said Jennings saved a million lives all along the coast of Turkey. With the assistance of Lt. Commander Halsey Powell, Jennings was able to gather the ships needed for a massive rescue operation. He removed a quarter million people form Smyrna alone in seven days. He acted when the United States, Great Britain and France seemed paralyzed or unwilling to get involved. They had designs on doing business with Turkey, and did not want to offend the Turks by intervening on behalf of Christians. Ureneck believes there is a clear parallel of the Armenian genocide to what is happening in the Mideast today.

“The genocide that swept Turkey was fueled by a fanaticism rooted in a desire to create a ‘Turkey for the Turks,’” Ureneck explains, “and the principal marker of Turkishness was Islam. It was fusion of radical religious fervor with an ideology that saw Christianity as an enemy and a threat. ‘Holy War,’ or jihad, was a term applied back then as well as now.”

The Great Fire recounts the burning of Smyrna -- the symbolic end of five hundred of years of Ottoman rule and ten years of religious slaughter. The book reveals forces that would define the rest of the century -- genocide, trading oil for national principles and conflict between the Christian West and Muslim East.

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About Lou Ureneck:
Lou Ureneck is a professor of journalism at Boston University and directs the Business and Economics Journalism Program. Ureneck was a Nieman Fellow and editor-in-residence at Harvard University, the deputy managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and editor and vice president of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. He is the author of Backcast, which won the National Outdoor Book Award in 2007 for literary merit, and his work has appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Boston Globe, and Field & Stream. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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