On behalf of Seyfo Center, Joseph Haweil sat down with Greek historian and researcher Stavros T. Stavridis to talk about the Assyrian Genocide and the worldwide movement for its recognition by the Republic of Turkey. Born to Greek parents in Cairo Egypt in 1949, Mr. Stavridis migrated to Australia with his parents in 1952. He took his BA from Deakin University having majored in political science and economic history. Between 1993-1998, Mr. Stavridis undertook a Masters program at Melbourne's RMIT University.
His dissertation entitled The Greek-Turkish War 1919-23: An Australian Press Perspective was published by Gorgias Press in 2009. He has taught at both TAFE and University levels both in Australia and the United States, teaching a variety of subjects including economics, sociology, urban and business studies and Greek history. Mr. Stavridis' latest publication is entitled The Assyrians in Australian Archives: Documents from the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial, 1914-1947 (co-authored with David Chibo) and is available through Gorgias Press.
When did you initially learn of the Assyrian Genocide and what sparked your interest in writing about it?
I learned about the Assyrians through passing references in British Foreign Office documents when I was writing my Honours and Masters Dissertations without giving it too much thought. What sparked my interest? In September 1999, I presented a paper at a genocide conference in Sydney about the Greeks of Asia Minor and it was here where I learned about the existence of an Assyrian Genocide. A Greek friend of mine in Sydney invited me in early 2000 to present a paper at an Assyrian conference that was staged at the University of Sydney in July of that year. I told him that I knew nothing about the Assyrians other than the introduction I had in September 1999. I presented my paper and the rest is history. Wilfred Bet-Alkhas" e-magazine Zinda proved a wonderful vehicle to publish my works on the Assyrians. Do you consider the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks to be one genocide? If yes, how best can these three communities work together towards recognition?
Each community regards its own genocide as a unique event. The genocides of the Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians should be considered as a single event as each group suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks and Turkish nationalists led by Mustapha Kemal during the years 1914-1918 and 1919-23 respectively. The Young Turks and Kemalists were determined to drive all the Christians out of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and establish a state only for the Turks. I believe it is important that the 3 groups set aside their differences and work together as a united group in pushing for genocide recognition. How can this be achieved? This is an interesting question where I will offer three suggestions. Firstly, academic conferences should be arranged inviting top Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide scholars to present conference papers with the conference proceedings published either online or in book form. There is also a need to increase the rate of scholarly p ublications on the Greek and Assyrian Genocides which is seriously lacking. Armenian scholars receive generous funding through their community organizations or from wealthy Armenians to produce serious academic works regarding their Genocide. The Armenians have established research centres in North America to continue research into their Genocide and also host academic conferences. This is something that both the Greeks and Assyrians can adopt from our Armenian friends. Secondly, the Diaspora communities can form combined committees to lobby politicians and use the media to publicize the three Genocides to the non-Assyrian, Greek and Armenian audiences in their adopted homelands. Finally, we could learn from the Jewish community in our adopted homelands of how to establish our own combined genocide museums e.g. in New York or Sydney. In the face of intense ongoing Turkish denial, what approach should the Assyrian Diaspora take in working towards recognition?
The Assyrian Diaspora should operate on two levels towards genocide recognition. Assyrian organizations should work on a national and international level to publicize the genocide through media campaigns, letter writing campaigns to major newspapers, insertion of single page advertisement of Assyrian Martyrs Day in major newspapers and lobbying important politicians in adopted homelands. At an international level, Assyrian organizations should use the fora of the United Nations and its relevant agencies as well as the European Union to publicize its Genocide. It is also important to engage a public relations firm to help "promote" the Assyrian Genocide to the international community. The issue of reparations remains a contentious one. Do you think a demand for reparations by the victims should be part of the genocide recognition dialogue?
Reparations could form part of the genocide recognition dialogue with Turkey. However this will depend on whether any Assyrians had purchased insurance policies or held bank accounts and title deeds to family property during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians have filed law suits against New York Life Insurance, Axa Insurance and Deutsche Bank trying to recover monies of their dead ancestors. So far New York Life and Axa have compensated Armenian descendants. Assyrian activists, like their Armenian counterparts, have sought to pressure Turkey by gaining recognition of the genocide by countries around the world. Do you think this approach is beneficial?
I find this a very good approach in gaining recognition by countries. It is a step-by-step approach which will yield results in time as more countries come to understand and recognize the Assyrian Genocide. As they say "Rome was not built in a day." As I said, a step-by-step approach will win out in the long run. In light of ongoing persecution of Assyrians in the Middle East, what some have deemed modern-day genocide, some argue that focusing on Assyrian Genocide recognition redirects valuable time and resources away from addressing the current persecution. What is your response to this view?
Assyrians can focus on the current Middle East situation without taking an eye off the past. I hope that the Assyrians can use their present persecution to tell the international community that their suffering has continued almost non-stop from the early 20th century. It is important that the victims of the First World War are not forgotten and their memories are preserved for future generations. What is the likelihood of genocide recognition by the Republic of Turkey in the next decade?
The possibility of genocide recognition by Turkey within the next decade is difficult to predict. However I see some "hopeful" signs with the Armenian Genocide being openly discussed in Turkey which was a taboo subject not that many years ago. There are some brave Turkish scholars and journalists who have had the courage to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. I believe that the Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians have to engage with Turks who acknowledge our Genocides both inside and outside Turkey.