New Book About the Assyrian Genocide Published
By Bar Daisan
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(AINA) -- A new book on the Turkish genocide of Assyrians has been published by Berghahn Books. The book, titled Let Them Not Return - Sayfo -- The Genocide Against the Assyrian, Syriac, and Chaldean Christians in the Ottoman Empire, was edited by David Gaunt, Naures Atto, and Soner O. Barthoma.

The book focuses on the genocide of the Assyrian people (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) that took place at the same time as the Armenian genocide during the First World War. The mass killing of Ottoman Armenians is today widely recognized, both within and outside scholarly circles, as an act of genocide. What is less well known, however, is that it took place within a broader context of Ottoman violence against Christians during and after the First World War. Among those populations decimated were the indigenous Christian Assyrians who lived in the borderlands of present-day Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, as well as Greeks.

Related: The Assyrian Genocide

Between 1915 and 1918 750,000 Assyrians (75%), 1 million Greeks and 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks and Kurds in a genocide that aimed at and nearly succeeded in destroying the Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire.

This volume is the first scholarly edited collection focused solely on the Assyrian genocide (Seyfo -- sword -- in Assyrian). It presents historical, psychological, anthropological, and political perspectives that shed much-needed light on a neglected historical atrocity. Chapters are wirtten by scholars from various academic disciplines.

The introduction provides a systematic and holistic analysis of how Assyrians living in different geographical regions (Turkey, Syria, Iran) were impacted. So far, Sayfo has been analyzed with focus on regional events, e.g. Urmia, Hakkari, Tur Abdin. Apart from this, the book deals with different issues that are directly related to Sayfo.

In chapter 1, Ugur Ümit Üngör confirms that the victimhood of the Assyrians was almost always eclipsed by the greater interest given to the plight of the Armenians. It has required painstaking research to rediscover the Assyrian genocide behind the Armenian genocide.

In her chapter, Florence Hellot-Bellier deals with the abduction, rape and forced conversion of Assyrian women by Muslim men in the region of Urmia, and attempts by the Assyrians to protect themselves from Muslim violence.

Jan van Ginkel focuses on the role that one church leader played during the time of genocide. He tries to answer such questions as: what was the response of the church leaders during the genocide itself and later? How did the genocide influence the behaviour of religious leaders after the event? How did the community respond to the behaviour of their secular and religious leaders?

Naures Atto and Soner O. Barthoma reveal how the Syriac Orthodox patriarch duirng the early years of the Turkish Republic did everything in its support for the new political line of the Turkish governing elite and downplaying the genocide.

Shabo Talay analyses how the year 1915 has become the symbol of genocide and has been referred to in terms of 'the year of the sword'. Sayfo as a designation has been in oral use since the event itself and was obviously used even earlier as a metaphor for massacre initiated by islamic religious radicalism.

Sebastian Brock takes up a recently discovered colophon in a Syriac liturgical manuscript which gives an account of mass killings of Assyrians in the Mardin area. It was written in the Orthodox Zafaran Monastery, and Brock compares it with another source, that of Qarabashi, from the same monastery.

Simon Birol interprets an epic poem in the classical Syriac language written by Gallo Shabo, who was the leader of the village Ayn Wardo in Tur Abdin which managed to defend itself successfully against the assaults of Turkish troops and Kurds. One key explanation offered by Gallo Shabo for what happened to his people is God's punishment for their sins.

Önver Cetrez applies psychological categories of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to determine the degree to which the Assyrian community has been marked by internal dissent and distrust of outsiders. He advances the idea that present-day Assyrians suffer from the death of time, that is, they are unable to distinguish between today and what happened in the past.

Racho Donef examines the denial activities produced by the recently created Assyrian section of the Turkish Historical Society. The aim of this new section is to challenge the Assyrian claims. As a rule, this is done by casting doubt on the statistics presented and by claiming that the testimony of survivors is flawed and therefore inadmissible.

Abdulmesih BarAbraham focuses on the key arguments employed by Turkish government officials when denying genocide. He also makes an analysis of several recent 'denialist' publications by the Turkish Historical Society.

Christophe Premat compares how the French and the Swedish parliaments have dealt with diaspora demands for the recognition of genocide. His study shows that the larger the group is, and the more votes it can muster, the greater the possibility of getting a recognition bill passed.

About the Editors

David Gaunt is Professor of History at the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University, and a member of the European Academy. He has written extensively on mass violence and genocide in Eastern Europe and in the Ottoman Empire. His book Massacres, Resistors, Protectors (2006) is considered the seminal work on the Assyrian (Chaldean and Syriac) genocide.

Naures Atto is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in World Christianities and their Diaspora in the European Context and Principal Investigator in the Aramaic Online Project at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of Hostages in the Homeland, Orphans in the Diaspora: Identity Discourses among the Assyrian/Syriac elites in the European Diaspora (2011).

Soner O. Barthoma is an independent researcher in the field of Political Science and co-coordinator of the Erasmus+ Aramaic Online Project at Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of several articles about the modern history of Assyrians in Turkey.


  • Introduction: Contextualizing the Sayfo in the First World War -- David Gaunt, Naures Atto and Soner O. Barthoma
  • Chapter 1. How Armenian was the 1915 Genocide? -- Ugur Ümit Üngör
  • Chapter 2. Sayfo Genocide: The Culmination of an Anatolian Culture of Violence -- David Gaunt
  • Chapter 3. The Resistance of Urmia Assyrians to Violence at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century -- Florence Hellot-Bellier
  • Chapter 4. Mor Dionysios 'Abd an-Nur Aslan: Church Leader during a Genocide -- Jan J. van Ginkel
  • Chapter 5. Syriac Orthodox Leadership in the Post-Genocide Period (1918--26) and the Removal of the Patriarchate from Turkey -- Naures Atto and Soner O. Barthoma
  • Chapter 6. Sayfo, Firman, Qafle: The First World War from the Perspective of Syriac Christians -- Shabo Talay
  • Chapter 7. A Historical Note of October 1915 Written in Dayro D-Zafaran (Deyrulzafaran) -- Sebastian Brock
  • Chapter 8. Interpretation of the 'Sayfo' in Gallo Shabo's Poem -- Simon Birol
  • Chapter 9. The Psychological Legacy of the Sayfo: An Inter-generational Transmission of Fear and Distrust -- Önver A. Cetrez
  • Chapter 10. Sayfo and Denialism: A New Field of Activity for Agents of the Turkish Republic -- Racho Donef
  • Chapter 11. Turkey's Key Arguments in Denying the Assyrian Genocide -- Abdulmesih BarAbraham
  • Chapter 12. Who Killed Whom? A Comparison of Political Discussions in France and Sweden about the Genocide of 1915 -- Christophe Premat

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