7th of August, Assyrian Martyrs Day
Assyrian history is replete with the martyrdom of thousands who were massacred
for the sake of their beliefs, religious or national. Clearly, too, the number
of Assyrians massacred before August 1933 especially during the period of World
War I is far greater than the number killed in Simel. This raises the question
why Assyrians have zeroed in on the August 1933 tragedy over all others. More
specifically, what motivated the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) in 1970 to
designate the 7th of August each year as the “official” Assyrian Martyrs Day.
The rationale for selecting this particular date over several alternative ones
forms the central motif of my booklet, 7th of August The Day of Assyrian Martyrs
- Symbol of the Nation’s Immortality. Here are some of the considerations.
- The elements and trappings of nationhood typically include a flag, a
slogan, an anthem, a monument to the unknown soldier (or martyrs), heroic
names and legacies. The date of August 7th is a rallying symbol expressing
the maturity of Assyrian national and political awareness. It underlines the
importance of their national entity, and in some situations making the
ultimate sacrifice for the Assyrian nation, as was the case in August 1933.
It is worth noting that, at the same period, i.e., in early 1970’s, at the
peak of national consciousness, a national flag, an anthem and April 1st
were declared national symbols.
- The tragedy of Simel is relatively recent, and it serves more effectively
than previous massacres the contemporary ideology relating to the Assyrian
nation and its politics. This is consistent with a principle of political
science which holds that the emphasis on contemporary events is a better
than older historical ones as a rallying point for national zeal and
- Most of the national movement figures of 1933 were alive until recently.
In addition, many eyewitnesses survive to this day. This first-hand
attestation is not only more reliable, but also more powerful than events
which are recorded in books or preserved as oral history. Assyrian
nationalists of the second and even of the third generation have been
personally moved by the remembrances of those who lived in the eye of the
- The last three decades has seen the emergence of a number of Assyrian
political parties and nationalistic organizations. Like all political
entities, these new organizations needed to be invested with acts of heroism
and examples of supreme sacrifice, as a means of fortifying their resolve.
Still vividly in the memory of many, Assyrian political parties found the
tragic event of 1933 to be a timely, and most suitable symbol for the
support of national aspirations, no matter the cost.
- The Simel massacre (and its contemporaneous Assyrian national movement)
has spawned a plethora of books and other documentation in Assyrian,
English, Arabic, Russian and Farsi. This unusual amount of writing served to
increase awareness of the event, and eased the way to elevating its national
symbolism. Worth mentioning among the many works on this subject are Mar
Shimun Eshai’s The Assyrian Tragedy (author ‘Anonymous’ at the time of
publication); Malik Yacu’s Assyrians and the Two World Wars, and Yousef
Malik’s The British Betrayal of Assyrians. These particular works are all
the more significant because they were authored by individuals who were
considered leaders of the Assyrian national movement of 1933, and who
remained highly visible several years after.
- The Simel massacre and its high celebration is unique in another way. For
the first time, this event was framed by the Assyrian national movement in
terms more apart from religious considerations than was ever the case in
previous Assyrian tragedies. While the old leadership possessed strong
allegiance to the church and the tribal system, underneath there were
nationalist embers. It seemed only natural that such a budding national
movement would inspire patriotic fervor, propelling the people to the next
stage, including political parties and national organizations.
- The August event killed thousands of Assyrians, and resulted in
widespread looting and the obliteration of farms and entire villages.
Obviously such savagery has a major physical component. But the ripple
effect was far-reaching, with psychological, political and legal
consequences. From the point of view of the Iraqis, it led to characterizing
Assyrians as a mutinous, renegade and alien minority, one which had migrated
from Turkey only to be a disruptive British tool (a fifth column) in the
newly-independent country of Iraq. In turn, this Iraqi attitude translated
into a series of unfair laws whose inequities have had to be borne by
ensuing generations of Assyrians. A particular onerous example is the
problem of obtaining the certificate of Iraqi nationality, a difficult task
for all Assyrians and even more so for any known follower of the Mar Shimun.
Ironically, the inherent bias of such laws towards Assyrians played into the
perpetuation of Simel as a watershed event, and its consequent echo on
Assyrian national consciousness.
The foregoing provides a justification for selecting August 7, 1933, as the Day
of Assyrian Martyrs. At the same time, efforts should be made not to allow one
event to overshadow the many others which have claimed thousands of Assyrian
lives. With the passage of time, massacres of olden times become shrouded in the
clouds of history, unless we the people refused to abandon these sacrifices.
Having said that, it is understandable for the morale of the nation that the
focus should be on one event with a specific date. Simel symbolizes all of our
other tragedies as well, and our national aspirations. The AUA was right to
declare it our day of mourning and of national pride.