The Bible calls true believers “soldiers”, fighting an ongoing battle in this world of darkness. We are vying for a Kingdom, in a war to uphold the honor of our Commander and rescue as many ‘captives’ from Satan’s clutches as possible. We are mandated to “put on the amor of God” and above all and through all, “to stand”. In fact, Jesus said, “He who endures to the end will be saved.”
But, to our discredit, soldiers of worldly campaigns and wars outshine Christians with their commitment, sacrifice, zeal and diligence even though their victory lies this temporal realm. The Old Testament, replete with the battles and wars of God’s people, is foundational to the precepts of spiritual war in the New Covenant under Jesus Christ. Allegiance, sacrifice, diligence and enduring love must mark the soul of believers. Complacency and ‘lukewarmness’ are the marks of AWOL Christians whom, as Jesus threatens in Revelation 3:16, will be judged.
The Lord calls us into the battle and, in everyway, leads us and teaches us how to wrestle, fight, and win. “Praise be to the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”
However, there is still value in studying the heroes of this world, acknowledging the bravery and sacrifice. While there are great many leaders and soldiers that stand upon the pedestals of history, there is one unknown to most that I keep framed before me.
Haroutiun Sarmanian, 1894-1977.
My grandfather left Marash Turkey, in 1911 at the age of 16, to seek a better life for himself and those he left behind. He found a vibrant Armenian community in Watertown MA and began working as a barber. Soon after he was able to open his own barbershop and, with a pool room in back, worked 6am to midnight to prosper and support his family overseas.
Then the bloodshed of strategic genocide began, April 14, 1915, and soon lead to the devastation of his homeland Marash.
Few folks, even Armenians, know of the French Foreign Legion’s campaign in Armenia, 1918. Within the complicated politics of WWI, the French Army moved into Cilicia, to capture and liberate the region from Turkish occupation. Marash, a major Armenian city therein, was destroyed, its inhabitants massacred. A call was proclaimed to surviving Armenians and those abroad to join in the battle to reclaim Turkish held Cilicia. Thousands of surviving Armenians who were exiled fled back, including 20,000 from Marash. They joined the French as the French Armenian Legion.
From Watertown MA, Haroutiun Sarmanian immediately answered this call to “wrest Cilicia from the Turks”. In 1918, with 20 American gold coins, he boarded a ship back to Turkey. His treacherous journey with 1175 others, led to France and then forward to the Mediterranean, was fraught danger even as their ship struck a mine and left the survivors in the ocean for hours until rescued by French and British ships. Other fighters died of malaria. Haroutiun Sarmanian survived the journey; the French sent part of this fighting group to Adana, the other part to Marash.
However, the French occupation and Armenian fervor for justice and freedom came to a bitter end when, in January 1920, the French military received orders to immediately evacuate the region. In the dead of night, even covering the hooves of their horses with cloth, the French evacuated and left the Armenians. Those who had returned to their homeland after the genocide, to recover their land and home, were abandoned to be slaughtered. Thousands of civilians fled to churches and schools but perished as they were locked in and set aflame by the Turks.
A story of great valor, deep betrayal, and heartbreaking defeat. So why tell it? Why keep the photo in daily view?
My grandfather returned to Watertown MA and reestablished his life, worked diligently to raise a family and contribute to the community. But the photo reveals his heart and soul.
When the call came to defend his homeland, fight for the hope of repatriation and reclaim what was devastated, he left all his gain and traveled weeks by sea, to reach a land of bloodshed and anguish. Brave and selfless, sacrificial and zealous, Haroutuin Sarmanian had hope of victory in a land of utter death and destruction.
Our call to battle goes beyond this physical realm and calls for no less. We have a ‘Commander in Chief’ to Whom we must give total allegiance and honor. He will never forsake us and in that truth we’re called to bravery, “Fear not!”. As our Forerunner in triumph, he mandates us, “Pick up your cross and follow Me”. Like my grandfather, we may have to leave behind worldly gains, abandoning plans and ambitions for an uncharted course. While all are called to fight, some will face unbearable suffering and martyrdom.
Winning may look like losing in the Christian faith. But as God pronounced victory through a suffering Servant, through the death of His Son, our obedience in the battle and in suffering hold eternal value and reward. Unlike the wars of this world, the victory for us is already won. Jesus is Victor! Our call as His soldiers is to bravely obey Him in all His directives and acknowledge that “our lives are not our own”. While I may surely be one of His weakest soldiers, I pray for a willing heart to hear and obey the Lord’s call, to sacrifice and go where He leads, and fight with a living faith that will honor our Sovereign God and count for eternity.