Assyrian Martyrs Day
Every nation needs to have a day set aside for the remembrance of those who gave their lives for the preservation of their cultural and ethnic identity. The 7th of August has been designated by the Assyrian Universal Alliance as a Memorial Day for Assyrian Martyrs.
Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Lebanon. , who have a history that spans over 7000 years. Today’s Assyrians are the descendants of the ancient Assyrian Empire that was one of the earliest civilizations to emerge in Mesopotamia.
Since the collapse of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, colonisation of their lands by various powers has been a common occurrence, with each wave of such colonisation causing more land losses, more human losses and more tragedies for the Assyrians.
However, the twentieth century was to be the darkest chapter in the history of the Assyrians. Those few millions who had withstood the melting process of the millennia, and had remained homogeneous in their ancestral homeland, became the victims of one of the worst Assyrian genocides in the early part of the 20th century by the Ottomans Empire that dominated most of the Middle East from fifteenth century to the first part of the twentieth century, which completely reshaped the destiny of the Assyrian people.
In 1842 Assyrians living in the mountains of Hakkari South East of Turkey faced a massive attack by a Kurdish Leader advancing from East, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Christian Assyrians and occupying their lands.
1895-1896, witnessed the Assyrian massacres in Diyarbakir, Hasankeyef, Sivas and other parts of Anatolia, by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These attacks caused the death of over 55,000 Assyrians and the forced Ottomanisation of a further 100,000 Assyrians - the inhabitants of 245 villages. A further 100,000 Assyrian women and children were forced into Turkish harems. The Turkish troops looted the remains of the Assyrian settlements. Assyrians were raped, tortured and murdered.
In 1911, the Young Turk “Committee for Unity and Progress” declared its goal to “Turkify” all Ottoman subjects. This implementation of the Pan-Turkic program and ideology can be described as the “Dark Period” of ethnic and religious “cleansing” of the Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, without fear of international condemnation and political reprisals.
Prior to WWI Assyrians lived as one nation numbering a million and half, and inhabiting about 750 villages across the Taurus mountains, Tur Abdin, Hakkari, Botan and Tigris areas. Assyrians also lived in the larger towns of Urhai, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Mosul, Aleppo and Damascus.
When Turkey entered the war in November 1914, the Assyrians were filled with hope. Those that lived in Turkish Mesopotamia and Persia thought that liberation was imminent. It was a time of promises for an independent statehood in the sacred soil of their ancestors. To that end, Assyrians subjected to hundreds of years of continuous persecution and massacres, sided with the allies for protection, first with the Russians from May 1915 to October 1917, then with the British forces following the Bolshevik Revolution. Instead of liberation they were subjected to the genocide of their people, and the loss of more than two-thirds of their then estimated 1.5 million populations.
Documents, historical materials and diaries of eye witness accounts convey of the beating of little children with stones, dismembered bodies of women and girls who refused to be raped, the beheading of men, those who refused to convert to Islam and the burning and skinning alive of priests, nuns and deacons.
As WWI came to an end, preparations began to settle all disputes between the winning Allied Powers and the losing Central Powers. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, under Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant, Iraq was formally made a Class “A” mandate country entrusted to Britain. Here the British continued to show the Assyrians that they were going to keep their promise they have made to the Assyrians, who served the Allies throughout the Great War, including the issue of a homeland. the thought of a betrayal did not trigger the Assyrians’ mind. But it would become clear in 1932 when the mandate was terminated and Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations that the policy of the Colonial Britain has been anything but honorable, as admitted by many British officials.
With no effective guarantees for the protection of their rights, extermination followed. 7 August 1933 was the beginning of a systematic effort of the Iraqi authorities aiming to destroy this nation, be it by massacre, by forceful displacement from their ancient and only remaining homeland, by political assassinations, by genocide of the Assyrian identity, and its cultural and linguistic heritage. After all, Assyrians are the erectors of that great civilisation, and the most legitimate claimants for autonomy and land.
Allow me to read one account which described the Simile massacre in the book titled “The Assyrian Tragedy”:
“…The inoffensive population was indiscriminately massacred,…with rifle revolver and machine gunfire. In one room alone eighty one men…were barbarously massacred…priests were tortured and their bodies mutilated. Those who showed their Iraqi Nationality papers were the first to be shot. Girls were raped and women made to march naked before the Arab army commander. Holy Books were used as fuel for burning girls. Children were run over by military cars. Pregnant women were bayoneted. Children were flung to the air and pierced on the points of bayonets. Those that survived in other villages were now exposed to constant raids… Forced conversion of men and women was the next process. Refusal was met with death. Sixty five out of ninety five Assyrian villages and settlements were either sacked, destroyed or burnt to the ground.”
The Simile massacre was the price paid for the neglect of the Assyrian question following the genocide of the Assyrians during WWI. The present persecution and forced displacement of Assyrians by the Iraqi regime is the result of the continuing apathy of the international community towards the Assyrian question and the neglect of the genocide of Assyrians. So is the fact that whereas the Assyrian population in Turkey previously numbering millions has now diminished to a mere few thousand. So is the fact that Assyrians in the last few decades have increasingly sought refuge to the west and who today live predominantly in the Diaspora.
The international decree should not be to eliminate Assyrians from history. They should not be considered as a people who disappeared off the face of the earth at the time of the collapse of their empire. They are the original people of Mesopotamia and the legitimate remnants of the first recognised and documented civilisation that was responsible for the development of almost every initial component of the modern civilisation. Assyrians were also among the first people to adopt Christianity, to build the early churches and to go onto missions to Asia.
As a consequence of actions taken by powerful oppressors such as the Ottoman Turks and the Iraqi regimes, with their intention of race purification, Assyrians today have been forced to live as stateless people in the Diaspora. Assyrians hope that countries such as Turkey harbouring such a past will be compelled to evaluate their past with objectivity and humanitarianism so that future evils may be forestalled. The continuation of Turkey’s denial demonstrated by the construction of the mausoleum in Ankara in honour of the principal architect of the genocide Talat Pasha, however, requires Assyrians to appeal to the world to treat this as an international question. It is the moral responsibility of the international community to recognise this historical injustice.