LONDON (AINA) -- The evening of the 24 January 2006 was orientated on a "Forgotten Genocide", however it was an unforgettable experience for the Assyrian community in London.
Just over 90 years ago, approximately two-thirds of the Assyrians were murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915. After much destruction in the Assyrian homeland, immense pain in the hearts of our brothers and sisters and continuous fear in the eyes of our children we have begun, 90 years later, to rise against the treacherous genocide and massacres that slaughtered two thirds of our nation in one region. To assist us in this plight for justice, MP Mr Stephen Pound and one of Britain's prestigious Law Lords were present to listen to four of our leading experts talking about the "forgotten genocide" and these were; Mr Ara Sarafian, Mr Sabri Atman, Ms Lina Yacubova and Mr Recep Marasli, who unfortunately was unable to attend, however his speech was given to Mr Ninos Warda to be read out on his behalf. Amongst these present were, the English Press, the Turkish Press, Wilfred Wong from Jubilee Campaign and Minority Rights Group, an organisation based in London, as well as a large and supportive Assyrian and Armenian community.
The evening began with an introduction by MP Mr Stephen Pound about an Early Day Motion (EDM) he has brought forward to the House of Commons about the recognition of the genocide by the Turkish government. He states that it is imperative for Turkey to recognise and accept their actions in the past in order for them to have any hope of becoming a member of the European Union (EU) in the future.
In order to understand why after 90 years we have begun to fight for this recognition we have to understand the context of how the first genocide of the 20th century took place. Mr Sabri Atman, a prominent author and journalist, gave a very informative history of the Ottoman Empire and the Assyrian position within it. He stated that the one common feature of genocide is that it is always denied by the perpetrators, for example Hitler and Nazi Germany in the killing of 6 million Jews, and now with Turkey and the Assyrian and Armenian people. To this present day the Turkish government comment on the "so-called genocide" as never taking place, using the World War I as a scapegoat for their actions to extinguish all Christian minorities. Mr Atman talked of true personal stories of people dying of hunger and thirst, of being intentionally left without homes and those people with wounds being refused medical attention and left to die in agony, women and children not even spared but raped and massacred by swords (Seyfo). Such stories from Mr Atman left the audience in awestruck and sorrowful emotion. He continued to state that our plight for the recognition of a genocide that occurred 90 years ago is not meaningless as many would say it is, as there is no legal limitation for a crime such as this, a crime against humanity! It is up to us, those living in democratic societies away from all oppression and massacres to bring justice and equality to the fore-front in order for all to live in tolerance with one another. Mr Atman ends his speech with the effects of the genocide would have both economically and politically. The thesis, he states, that the Turkish government has asserted being "the event is a historical event, leave it to the historians" is one evidence that Turkey is far from being a democratic society. The Assyrian community of today request acknowledgement and apologies for the victims of the genocide and ask the British government that this should be a pre condition for Turkey to accede to the EU. Not only will this augment respect for Turkey by countries worldwide but it will more importantly strengthen international democracy.
Our next speaker Mr Ninos Warda on behalf of Mr Recep Marasli, a Kurdish publisher who writes about the 1915 genocide, reads out a letter stating the enormous emotional effects of the Seyfo (a term widely used by the Assyrians in reference to the genocide). He states that a large numbers of the victims were taken by the Ottoman Empire as slaves and changed their identity and religion. The affect on the future continues denial of the Seyfo, it is still today picked up and discussed in large generations was uncertain for some, unknown as to their origin and who they descended from. Mr Warda reads on the importance of historians, writers and organisations to rid of the genocide mentality of which denial is a part of and start accepting. Despite Turkey's groups, and there are certain honourable individuals who are struggling to break the taboo. However this struggle can be overcome by individuals and groups all over the world who can speak out and pressurise the government in accepting the truth of the genocide of a nation who can not even be called a minority in its own native soil anymore!
Ms Lena Yacubova, an award winning film maker of the Assyrian and Armenian genocide, talked of her experience when making documentaries and gathering the evidence for her film "A Forgotten Page of a Nation". She states that whilst visiting many of the
Assyrian and Armenian towns and villages in Turkey she recorded many of the churches were desolate and in ruins, large number of the artefacts damaged and the people, many of whom are Muslim now, no longer speak their native mother tongue language, still speak of the thousands that died in the Assyrian name. According to Ms. Yacubova, there are 4000 such Assyrians and 2000 such Armenians that still live in Hakkari. Ms Yacubova finished with that although today the Assyrians and Armenians struggle against plight for recognition of the Seyfo, we must not forget and bow our heads before the hundreds of thousands of our people that died with no tombstones on their graves.
Our final spokesperson of the evening, Mr Ara Sarafian, an academic Armenian and Archive Historian, stated that there is a growing number of Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals who recognise the Assyrian genocide against their own government. Therefore, it can only be a matter of time before the Turkish government comes to recognise this also. As this week is Holocaust Memorial Week, it is important to remember the other past genocides, in particular the Seyfo, and by this way we can raise more awareness internationally and pressurise for the acknowledgement of its occurrence in 1915. Mr Sarafian states that Turkey's denial of genocide is a crime in itself, "a crime in a catalyst of the genocide crime itself", he continues to talk about the repercussions of the denial as an example that would only permit other countries to commit it against minorities and deny it ever happened. This will not only lead to and affect international human rights but also even more instability in undemocratic countries. Mr Sarafian poses the question, "Is it reasonable to expect the British Government to take Mr. Ara Sarafian holding Toynbee's blue book an active role in the recognition of the genocide?" and his answer to that was "Yes", as it was the British who gave the first systematic thesis on Seyfo and the Assyrian and Armenian genocide. He continues to state that the Turkish government feel threatened by its atrocious history and they try to this day to undermine real research and real issues and evidence, by burning books and petitioning to the British government (only less than a year ago) to rescind the reports compiled by Arnold Toynbee in the Blue Book because they claim it to be a fabrication of what the Turkish government purport to be the truth. Mr Sarafian concludes his speech with deliberate encouragement that with continuous books, articles and films being made and in order for the prevention of future genocides it is only a matter of time before the Assyrian and Armenian genocide is recognised. So what is it we want from the recognition? The Assyrians want our artefacts to be preserved and we want the souls of those who died in the Assyrian name to rest in peace knowing justice has been served and we want the future generations to know what happened to our homeland and two thirds of our nation!
The evening was concluded with a powerful speech on the dignity of human rights by MP Mr Stephen Pound. He stated that the "successors of those responsible must admit their culpability". Had the Assyrians and Armenians known that their death would have been denied, they would have died in more agony, but if only had they known that in future generations their nation is striving for the recognition of their deaths, they probably would have died more honourably. Mr Pound states that the history of the Assyrians can not be denied today. The EDM in the House of Commons is for justice and respect, for admiration for the Assyrians who have flourished to every corner of the world. Despite the vicious and cruel attack on the Assyrian and Armenian nations, they have survived and strengthened. Mr Pound concludes that this is the beginning and the "end will only be reached when the Turkish Parliament gives an apology, and may that day come!!"
If you would like further information on the EDM and an update on the signatures of the MP's please see here.
I asked some of the Assyrians who attended what they thought, Mr Colin John stated that the impact of this on the UK is that it would wake people up as to the facts of what happened in 1915 and we can not forget our history, we must learn more of it. Furthermore, Mr Aram Warda and Mr Edwin Shlemon of Assyrian Society of United Kingdom said, "if WE do not fight for rights to be recognised, who will? We must not forget the blood of our martyrs and recognition is important for the new Assyrian generations to know our history and cherish it". Miss Fay Toma, Mr Sargon Dawod and Mr Frank Darmoo, all felt that they learnt something new from today, and it is highly important for our youth to be educated about our history. Our people died for being Assyrians and Christians and no other reason at all and this needs to be recognised!
By Miriam Jaso
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