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Assyrians Seek Congressional Support For Genocide Recognition
By Joseph Lord
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A congregation of Assyrians gathered in Washington, D.C., on June 6 to give their backing to a bill that would recognize a massacre of their people by Iraqi Muslims during the mid-20th century.

Assyrians hail from northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and parts of Turkey. Almost entirely Christian due to the early evangelizing efforts of St. Thomas the Apostle, Assyrians are one of the oldest cultures in the world, responsible for world wonders like the Gates of Nineveh, recently destroyed by the Islamic State, and renowned classics like "The Epic of Gilgamesh."

Though they once lived peacefully in their ancestral homelands, where some communities have persisted for over 5,000 years, the political upheavals of the 20th and 21st centuries shattered this comfort.

Related: The Assyrian Genocide

Following the end of World War 1, the Ottoman Empire, which had kept a relative peace in the broader Middle East for a millennium, was dissolved as part of the Treaty of Versailles. Territories of the former Ottoman Empire were split apart, often without much regard for the ethnic, cultural, and religious differences of peoples.

Because of this division, Assyrians found themselves placed in the same country with Shia and Sunni Muslims still fuming over their previous defeat.

In 1933, tensions between the two religions boiled over, leading to the Simele massacre, a Muslim-backed massacre of Christian Assyrians who had fled to the small town of Simele to escape Muslim incursions against them. Historical accounts vary, but between 3,000 and 6,000 Assyrians were killed in the massacre, leading ultimately to a diaspora that has only accelerated amid the escalated threats of the 20th century.

Now, a bipartisan duo is seeking passage of a resolution recognizing the massacre, and Assyrians from around the world gathered in Washington to express their support for the measure.

The measure is sponsored by Reps. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). It would recognize the genocide for legal purposes.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) speaks in favor of a resolution recognizing a Muslim genocide of Christian Assyrians in Iraq during the mid-20th century. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

"The resilience and endurance of the Assyrian people is commendable and praiseworthy, despite being victims of an ethnocide that is being continued by the Islamic State," the resolution reads. "The Assyrian community across the world continues to feel the effects of the Assyrian Genocide, including families that have never been reunited."

Thus, the measure would "commemorate the Assyrian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance; reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Assyrian Genocide or any other genocide; call upon the Republic of Turkey to officially recognize the Assyrian Genocide; and encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Assyrian Genocide, including the United States' role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Assyrian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity."

Lesko told The Epoch Times that she was sponsoring the measure because "I think it's important for people to know what happened to the Assyrian people. And I think it's important to recognize it so that it doesn't happen again."

Speaking at the event, Schakowsky echoed this sentiment, saying, "We have to name it, and we have to pass it."

Epoch Times Photo

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) speaks in favor of a resolution recognizing a Muslim genocide of Christian Assyrians in Iraq during the mid-20th century. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Though the resolution is not controversial, it has previously languished in committee after being introduced during previous Congresses.

"It's been 90 years that we've been trying to get worldwide recognition about this atrocity against unarmed women and children," said Sam Darmo, an Assyrian American who was instrumental in pushing Lesko to back the resolution. He thanked Lesko for "spearheading this in Washington."

The two helped secure the passage of a similar measure at the local level in Arizona, Darmo said, "but this is the first time we're doing it at the federal level.

"It feels good," Darmo said, indicating that the measure would help bring attention to the "martyrs" who died in the massacre. "This way, these things will not happen again."

Juliana Taimoorazy, president and founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, said the resolution is "crucial" in that it would "finally give a voice to the deceased and dead who fought and died for our cause."

Juliana Taimoorazy, president and founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, speaks with reporters in Washington on June 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

She noted that even though the massacre is in the distant past, the Assyrian people "have continued to suffer."

During the reign of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, Assyrians were relatively well protected, guests said, so long as they didn't cross the dictator's totalitarian Iraqi nationalist aspirations.

One guest joked that people were "oppressed equally" under Hussein.

That fell apart in 2003, following the American invasion of Iraq. Hussein was killed in the invasion, and the region quickly descended into a maelstrom of chaos, famine, and political instability.

Thus, many Assyrians living in Iraq were forced to leave the country for more tolerant places like Syria, Turkey, Europe, and North America.

In the wake of advances by the Islamic State, the few Christian Assyrian people still living in Iraq are increasingly being pushed out, accelerating the centuries-long diaspora that began with the Simele massacre.

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