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National Prayer Breakfast 2015 Preview: Remembering the Armenian Genocide of 1915

( [email protected] ) Jan 15, 2015 01:21 PM EST

National Prayer Breakfast 2015
A jumbo screen shows President Barack Obama as he addresses the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., February 3, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The theme for this year's National Prayer Breakfast, which is on Feb. 5 this year in Washington, will focus on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

The annual event, which takes place at the Washington Hilton in the nation's capital, is organized by the Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian group, and hosted by the United States Congress. According to Azbarez Newspaper, attorney Ben Smith spoke to Public Radio of Armenia about the yearly event, which is held on the first Thursday of February each year, focusing on the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

"We've brought greetings and letters from our leaders in the U.S. to encourage the leadership in Armenia to participate in the commemorations set up Washington," Smith said.

According to the official website of Fellowship Foundation, the tradition started in 1953, when members of Congress invited President Dwight D. Eisenhower to join them for a fellowship breakfast "in the spirit of Jesus."

"Because of the warm environment of that first gathering, the breakfast has continued each year, hosted and directed by members of the prayer groups in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives," the organization wrote. "Annually, the House and Senate groups take turns inviting people from every state and many nations to join with the President of the United States for this special time of fellowship and prayer together."

The organization added that the breakfast has a typical attendance of "more than 3,000 people of all races, cultures and faith traditions."

According to Smith, the National Prayer Breakfast was started "in an effort to bring leaders from both parties together at least for one day to focus on prayer and the principles of Jesus so that they could dispel their different points of view and their arguments."

"They actually focus one day on spiritual principles," Smith said.

Smith told Public Radio of Armenia that the Fellowship Foundation is working with various Armenian communities in the United States to recognize and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

"Three years ago I was part of the commemoration in Aleppo, Syria, and it was really powerful," Smith said.

As for the politics behind the issue, Smith commented on that aspect, noting he had no power to deal with it.

"I think most people in the U.S. recognize and want it recognized," Smith said. "I can't say to what extend and when President Obama will do that, but I'm confident most of the Americans are aware of the Genocide."

Christopher Atamian of the Huffington Post elaborated on the events surrounding the Armenian Genocide, which happened back in 1915.

"Armenian intellectuals of the Ottoman Empire were rounded up in the dead of night and sent to be executed in inland concentration camps in Ayash and Chankari," Atamian wrote. "This event followed on nearly two decades of ethnic cleansing and pogroms against Armenians that included the murder of some 300,000 Armenians by Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1896 and 30,000 killed during the Adana Massacre in 1909."

Atamian noted that the Ottoman Empire, which is now the modern-day country of Turkey, nearly wiped out its entire Christian population through these crimes against humanity.

"Christians were rounded up and locked inside churches that were set on fire and burned alive or thrown into caves with sulfur thrown on top of them and cremated in primitive gas chambers," Atamian wrote. "The Turks, aided and abetted by their ally, the German Kaiser, seized Christian properties and bank accounts, raped and enslaved women and children and forced thousands to convert to Islam under pain of death."

Although Turkey's government has refused to apologize to the Armenians about the scale of human depravity exercised back in 1915 in the days of the Ottoman Empire, Atamian noted that the "Jews of the Caucasus" have managed to rebuild and thrive in both the former Soviet Union and modern, independent Armenia. He tried to explain the reasons behind the Armenian Genocide, which included "a surreal mix of ethnic and financial jealousy."

"The Armenian Amira class, for example, ran everything from the state mint to the bread factories and most of the empire's industry, while the Greeks and Levantines were the most successful diplomats and merchants as well," Atamian wrote.

On a lighter note, Smith elaborated on his first visit to Armenia. He told Public Radio of Armenia that he was impressed by the country's people, history and culture.

"I think Armenia is really a well-kept secret," Smith said. "This would be a great place for tourism. And if American people knew more about it, and knew about the beauty of the country, they would be interested."

Smith's trip, according to Public Radio of Armenia, included a visit with His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. They discussed the invitation to join President Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast.

"I'm very grateful to the leadership and the church, we were graciously received," Smith said. "We intend to come back as soon as we can."

The National Prayer Breakfast will be aired Feb. 5 on C-SPAN.

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