Asa Jennings was a failed small-town Methodist minister from upstate New York working for the YMCA in Smyrna, Turkey, in 1922, when he saved a quarter of a million Christians from perishing in a brutal final chapter of the Armenian Genocide, according to BU Today.
“A private individual, a guy without portfolio, who held a minor position in the YMCA, came forward and put together this astonishing rescue,” says Lou Ureneck, who spent four years researching and writing Jennings’ story. “One of the things I hope the book does is give America another hero. People ought to know about the work of Asa Jennings.”
The College of Communication journalism professor’s book, The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide (Ecco, 2015) will debut at an event this week in Washington, D.C., amid commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the genocide’s beginning. The story’s staying power can be seen today in the continuing controversy over use of the word “genocide” and persecution of Christian minorities in other Muslim countries in the Middle East.
“I think the world has awakened to what happened in Asia Minor during those years,” Ureneck says. “When will Turkey stop denying it? I have no idea. But clearly there are a lot of people in Turkey who would like to know the truth, who are willing to admit the truth, who want to know the facts. So I think eventually Turkey will reconcile itself to its history. But it’s not an easy thing for any country to do, to admit it participated in a genocide.”