AINA Editorial
The Genocide of Assyrians -- Then and Now
By Ashur Giwargis

(AINA) -- The massacres of World War I against the Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians, in what's known today as Turkey, did not suddenly and mysteriously appear out of nowhere. These events were links in the chain of human history that were founded on the contradictory religious and cultural mores that dominated the Ottoman character for hundreds of years.

Since Sultan Osman I, in the 14th century, as well as his sons, Orkhan Ghazi, and Murad III, the Assyrians, the Armenians and the Greeks were pursued as the Byzantine culture was destroyed and forcibly replaced by Islam. Over centuries the Christians, who are the indigenous people of what is today known as Turkey, were subjected to oppression, killing and Islamization according to "legislation by God" -- as the Ottomans believed.

Turks argue that Assyrian collaborated with Russia before WW1. But history tells us that the Turks themselves were the ones who first allowed foreigners in, through the Treaty of the Capitulations in 1535 between the French King Francis I and Sultan Suleiman I (Suleiman the magnificent). According to this treaty, the French enjoyed the right to "protect" Christians living in the Ottoman territories. This is how a segment Armenians became Roman Catholic, and a segment of Assyrians became Roman Catholic.

After allowing the Roman Catholic missions to enter Assyria and Armenia, the British Anglican missions were allowed in next.

Based on this historical fact, the Ottoman Empire is the one who collaborated with foreigners and consented to their presence in that territory.

Sultan Selim I brought the Kurds from Isfahan in the 16th century and settled them in the Assyrian highlands on the Iranian borders to fight the Shiite Safavids.1 The Ottoman Empire began using these Kurdish tribes over the centuries to kill the Christian Assyrians and Armenians systematically. This forced the Christians under the Ottoman domination to ask for help from their neighbouring Christian countries, especially Russia, (the most powerful Christian nation at the time), and begged to be saved from the Islamic persecution in the region, after the Ottoman government neglected their pleas repeatedly.

In 1853, Frederick Engels used these facts as an example in his letter to Karl Marx: "What is this status quo? For the Christian subjects of the Porte, it means simply the maintenance for ever' and a day, of Turkish oppression over them. As long as they are oppressed by Turkish rule, the head of the Greek Church, the ruler of sixty millions of Greek Christians, be he in other respects what he may, is their natural liberator and protector. Thus it is, that ten millions of Greek Christians in European Turkey, are forced to appeal to Russian aid, by that very diplomatic scheme, invented in order to prevent Russian encroachment. "2

Engels' statement was affirmed 15 years later in a letter, dated May 14th, 1868, from the Assyrian Patriarch Mar Rouil Shimon to the Russian king Michael. In this letter the Patriarch states:"... We are a poor nation, my people have not enough grain to provide themselves with bread ... The Kurds have forcibly taken many of our Churches and convents, they constantly abduct our virgins, brides , and women, forcing them to turn Moslems ... The Turks are worse, they do not protect us, demand military taxes, poll tax, also the Kurds take our money for they consider us as "Zirr Kurr" (slaves - being Christians .. .)... Now, such being our condition, we beseech your mightiness, for the sake of Jesus, His Baptism, and cross. Either to free us from such a state or to procure us a remedy? May God preserve you, Amen."3

This was the religious background of the hatred against Assyrians, but the greatest scandal took place as Turkish nationalism was introduced to the Ottoman Sultanate in 1908-1909, where loud calls from Turkish officials demanded the ethnic cleansing of all nationalities, in order to preserve the Turkish nationality. One such voice was that of the Turkish official, Dr. Nazim Manzar, (a leader of the Young Turks Movement) who said: "If it wasn't for foreign diplomatic intervention, we would have unified all nationalities within the Turkish one creating one culture because we want the Turkish component to live on this land without any other."4 Indeed, This opportunity presented itself in 1914 when chaos ensued and WWI began.

At the beginning of WWI in the summer of 1914, the Kurdish tribes, which were settled in Assyria and Armenia, and which formed a Kurdish cavalry force in the Ottoman army known as the "Hamidian Cavalry" (named after Sultan Abdul Hamid II, and backed by other Turkish battalions) headed to the Assyrian plain villages in the east of what is today known as Turkey as well as the Assyrian villages in Tur Abdin and Hakkari in the south-east, and the Salamas to Margawar plain in western Iran (all in all 115 Assyrian villages on the Turkish borders), and proceeded to kill thousands of Assyrians, burn and raze their cities, towns, villages, ancient monasteries and churches and kidnap women and girls under the banner of Jihad.

On March 5, 1915, the Baku newspaper reported that 20 Assyrian villages were completely destroyed while the bodies of women and children laid in the streets with marks of daggers and cleavers on them. On March 15, 1915, the Tbilisi newspaper described the Kurdish tribes' attacks, led by Turkish officers, as "barbaric." These are just a few examples of the headlines that made it in the newspapers of that era. At the time these events were taking place, the Assyrians had not yet joined the war. As the massacres continued against them, compounding all this religious, national and social degeneration surrounding the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, the Assyrians were finally obliged to seek help from those who shared their religious beliefs, as they obviously had no other recourse since the killers and looters were either the ruling authorities or their gangs.

The Assyrian Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimon (who was later assassinated by a Kurd) declared that the Assyrians joined the war on Russia's side in self-defence and for liberation from the Ottoman occupation and oppression. This decision was made during a meeting between the Patriarch and tribal leaders in the Diz area on June 1, 19155

These facts are answers to those who claim that Assyrians collaborated with Russians before the massacres. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Assyrians were massacred in Tur Abdin area and its surrounding townships6 even though they did not have any contact with any foreign state in the first place.

Even after the Assyrian tribesmen were armed, Turkey and its Kurdish recruits did not differentiate between civilian and military. Genocides were repeated against the Assyrians in the Assyrian highlands known as the Hakkari Mountains, as well as in the vicinity of Urmia. One of the Assyrian death marches is described by the Russian Victor Shklovski, who was the assistant Commissar of the Russian Expeditionary Corps in Persia during WW1, mentioning in his memoirs that after Russia withdrew from the war following the Bolshevik revolution, a convoy of 253,000 Assyrians fled from the city of Urmia, marching on foot in the summer of 1918, covering a distance of 900 kilometers towards the Iranian mountains and plains heading to Hamadan in the south where the British were settled. During that journey 85,000 Assyrian women and children were killed by Turkish, Kurdish and Iranian attacks while another 15,000 were killed as their convoy headed to the north, towards Russia and Georgia7

Russian8, British9, American10 and even Turkish11 records confirm that between 1914 and 1922, Turkey led its armies into the unarmed Assyrian, Armenian and Greek villages and towns and committed ethnic cleansing and deportation whereby nearly 750,000 Assyrians, (the equivalent of three-fourths of the Assyrian nation at the time) were massacred.

This falls within the definition of Genocide as adopted by the United Nations in 1948, since it covers ethnic cleansing in accordance with the following specifications of the United Nations:

  1. Mass murder
  2. Physical and spiritual damage to a group
  3. Mass starvation with the intent of social destruction
  4. Transferring children forcibly to other cultures and societies

The human and political results of the Genocide against the Assyrian Nation were as follows:

  1. Eradication of three-fourths of the Assyrian nation between the years 1915--1922
  2. Diseases and epidemics that killed 33,680 Assyrians in British refugee camps in Iraq.12
  3. Abduction of thousands of women and children, who were taken to the homes of Muslims (Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Iranians) never to be seen again
  4. Lack of understanding on the part of the Iraqi state regarding the Assyrian rights due to its Ottoman culture, which resulted in the Simmele massacre of in August, 1933 against the Assyrian people in 63 villages in North of Iraq
  5. The exile of a large number of Assyrians to Syria and abroad after being accused of "creating chaos" and despite the massacres against them

The price paid by the Assyrians for their religious and national beliefs considerably reduced the Assyrian national numbers and contributed significantly to the weakening of the Assyrian presence in the Middle East.

Since the international community recognized the Genocide against the Jews, as well as in Sudan and Yugoslavia, it can also recognize the Genocide against the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks insofar as the crimes against these peoples are not less than those committed against others whom we have mentioned.

The reality seems disproportionate when it comes to recognizing the genocide committed by Turkey against the Assyrians, the Armenians, and the Greeks, except through the illegal political manoeuvring and hindrances, since parliaments as legislative powers are recognizing "Genocide" while governments or the executive authorities of a state are always the ones denying it. For example, following the recognition by the Swedish Parliament that the Turkish organized killings against the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks as Genocides, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt expressed his regret at the Parliament's decision and voiced his concern regarding Turkey's position.

In the United States, the Genocide against Armenians was used as a campaigning card for Barack Obama, whereby after the U.S. Congress adopted the decision to recognize the Genocide, Obama expressed his rejection and at the same time said that he did not regret using the term "Genocide" during his elections campaign13

We find a much worse situation in Greece as the Greek Parliament has refused to recognize the systematic crimes perpetrated by Turkey against the Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians, as Genocide, and it is even more disappointing that until now the proposal has been presented four times to the Greek parliament and rejected each time to preserve good relations between Greece and Turkey.

The international community's neglect of this issue is in essence a second Genocide, not to mention disrespectful towards the concepts of humanity. This silence and indifference is dangerous as it is perceived as a green signal by those who would perpetrate more genocides against the weak and helpless people of the world, which is exactly what is happening to the Christian Assyrians in Iraq whom I present as an example.

The Assyrian people are still living amongst the degenerate factions ruling Iraq, without any protection or international attention. More than 500,000 Assyrians have fled Iraq since 2003, while only 300,000 had migrated during the 35-year reign of Saddam Hussein. All this is taking place under the watchful eyes of the international community, who has offered the Assyrians nothing short of deadly solutions, such as forcing the Assyrian Nation to migrate and flee its historical lands, obliterating its culture and dissolving it within the western societies under the banner of "Saving the Christians of Iraq."

The same policy which was followed before and during the massacres of WWI is practiced today against the Assyrians throughout Iraq and particularly under the Kurdish Occupation of Assyria, where the Kurdish tribes use the policy of polite persecution by giving fictitious religious rights while obliterating the national existence of the land and people through the culture of Kurdification. Through the schools of the Kurdish Occupation zone, generations of Assyrians and others are moulded according to the curriculum of Kurdification. In addition to the confiscation and occupation of Assyrian lands, the Kurds invent new and impossible laws when the legitimate owners ask for their lands. Throughout Iraq, Islamization and forced displacement have reached an insolent state which confirms the religious and ethnic cleansing of the Christian Assyrians, and this is all legislated within the Iraqi constitution which instigates the Islamization14 of Iraq and the Kurdification15 of its north, while it is void of any principle of equality which federalism calls for, even though and according to international declaration it is to uphold and protect the indigenous people's rights. The right of equality is the least of what the Assyrians should get, being the indigenous people of Iraq and in danger of extinction.

Based on the narrative of events and their consequences, and based on the world moral obligation towards humanity, the Assyrian Nation is very interested in historically holding accountable those who committed crimes against humanity during World War I, and according to international legislation, in order to avoid the repetition of genocide, and intercept the degenerate currents and societies who may neglect to realize that there is no room for committing such crimes against humanity anywhere in the world again.

Notes:

1 Prof. Meisami, Julie Scott, "Persian Historiography to the End of the Twelfth Century", Edinburgh University Press, 1999, p. 179

2 Engels, Fredrick. "What Is to Become of Turkey in Europe?", New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 607, April 30, 1853 vol XII 1853, p: 32

3 Prof. Joseph, John "The Nestorians and their Muslim Neighbors", New Jersey, 1961 Princeton University Press, P: 99.

4 Prof. Versessian. G, "The Massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman empire", Yerevan -1966, p: 364

5 K. Petrovitch Matviev, Al-Ashuriyyoun Wal Mas'ala L'Ashuriyya Fil Asr L'Hadith (The Assyrians and the Assyrian Question in Modern Era), Arabic Ed. From the original Russian, 1989 -- p: 81

6 Prof. Gaunt, David, "Muslim--Christian relations in Eastern Anatolia During WW1", Gorgias Press, 2006.

7 Shklovski, Victor, "A sentimental Journey, memories of 1917-1922" -- Ed. 1924, Dalkey Archive Press, p: 109

8 Versessian, p: 246: Report of the spokesperson of the Russian army in Caucasia, 24/02/1915.

9 London Times, 09/Oct/1915: "Urmia Massacres, Death of 12000 Nestorian Christians"

10 New York Times, 11/Oct/1915: "Turkish Horrors in Persia"

11 Dr. Donef, Racho, The deportation of the Assyrians in Ottoman documents -- Letter from the Ottoman minister of Internal affaires to the Mosul governor dated : 05/Dec/1915

12 A. Menashi, "The History of Assyria", Tehran -- 1962, p: 328

13 Agence France-Presse (AFP) - April 25, 2009.

14 The Iraqi constitution, Article 2-a

15 The Iraqi constitution, Article 143


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