Book Review: Shall This Nation Die?
Assyrians’ past remembered
The spring of 1915 was not celebrated with a renewal of life in Turkey rather the slaughter of three million Eastern Christians, Assyrian and Armenian. Shall This Nation Die, available through the Internet-based Assyrian International News Agency, is the memoirs of Fr. Joseph Nayyam, O.I., an Assyro-Chaldean priest. This short yet powerful work examines the events of the World War I era as the Turks, eager to express their new nationalism and religious idealism, sought to wipe out the two Christian communities.
What might have been a tedious accounting of the atrocities committed by the Turks and their henchmen, the Kurds, is a gruesome, yet compelling read. A survivor of the Turkish persecution himself, Fr. Nayyam first describes his arrest and torture by the Turkish authorities.
After witnessing his own father dragged off to prison and other members of his family executed in a night raid on the family’s home, Fr. Nayyam decides he must escape. Dressed in the long robes of a Bedouin, he and his Bedouin friend, Sallal, bade farewell to friends and family. They ride through the streets of Urfa where the bodies of 600 Christians, massacred in one night, are strewn in the streets. Fr. Nayyam through the intervention of relatives finds refuge with a Chaldean parish priest in Aleppo, Syria with whom he remains until the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon suggests he return to Constantinople as the chaplain to the Allied prisoners.
At this point, the mention of these English and French Allied prisoners will leave most readers puzzled for it is not until the third and final chapter that reasons for the Turk’s brutality become clear. Not only has a new wave of nationalism swept Turkey, but the Assyrian-Chaldean army has joined forces with Russian and Allied troops to roust the Turkish forces. Ready to throw off their masters, the Assyrians serve the Allies’ cause further enticed by a promise of money, equipment, ammunition, reinforcements and self-government, should the armies be victorious.
Fr. Nayyam ministers to the prisoners’ needs until he too is taken prisoner by the Turks in the fall of 1916 for his ostensible loyalty to France. Beaten senseless, his long beard torn out, Fr. Nayyam is finally thrown into a cell to await his fate. Months later he is finally tried before a Turkish tribunal. His charge: his love for France. Acquitted of any offense other than personal sentiments, Fr. Nayyam is released.
Even more significant than Fr. Nayyam’s own story are the depositions which the priest took from a handful of other survivors depicting the torture they and their fellow Assyrians had endured. Young and old, male and female, cleric and lay person, it seems no Christian was to be spared.
In their quest to rid themselves of all things Western, Christians being associated with the West, the Turks and Kurds raided Christian villages and mixed Muslim-Christian towns. Eyewitnesses corroborate each other’s testimony as they recount numerous violations against humanity.
Described repeatedly, men were tied two by two and marched away from their villages to be massacred en masse. Women and children were assembled in huge convoys and forced to walk to some unknown destination. Those who did not die from hunger or thirst were robbed, stripped of their clothes, raped and finally murdered. Few escaped.
Despite her tears, one middle-aged woman, Madame Halata, related how several thousand men of the village of Sairt had been roped together. They were marched to the Zeryabe Valley, she said, where they were shot. Her pain at their suffering is so aptly captured in her words: “I wish I could have seen those dear innocent victims, those martyrs,” she said. “I should have cut a lock of hair from the head of each and kept it on my heart as a relic.”
A compelling account of the Assyrians’ sufferings at the hands of the Turkish government, Shall This Nation Die will follow you into your bed at night.
The complete book can be read at the following URL... http://www.aina.org/shalt.htm
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