Damn you Armenian infidel! Swore the teacher, and turned around to the board to continue teaching. The eighteen-year-old Armenian infidel just happened to be sitting next to a classmate whom he had never known but one that could not keep mute. Even at such an early age, Sabri stood courageously, and said: “excuse me sir, are you implying that all Armenians are infidels and if so, do you think that would be correct?” The fuming teacher turned to Sabri, slapped him for his audacity, and tried to ridicule him with discriminating and vulgar remarks but Sabri kept screaming defiantly: “you are a racist, and a fascist!
This was not the first time that Sabri was confronted with such an injustice, and definitely not his first objection to the appalling tactics, of the dominant Turkification policy in Turkey.
Before migrating to Istanbul, Sabri, like many Assyrians used to live in a remote Assyrian hamlet near Nesibin. As a result of Ankara’s Turkification policy the Assyrian name of this village was changed to an alien Turkish name.
When Sabri first saw the signpost on the side road identifying his village by its new Turkish name, he escaped the strong grip of his mother’s hand, and ran forth bursting with anger, and tears: kicking the sign post with all the force a kid could source from his inner natural strength.
After a while he sat down where he had successfully managed to knock the wooden signpost down, weeping, sobbing and whispering, “this is not the name of my village, why change something so beautiful”, as if he was in a deep and private conversation with humanity’s consciousness.
Those that have known Sabri Atman will attest that nothing has changed in his character, not only he has devoted his life to help built a world based on justice and equality but he is perceived by many as a noble example of patriotism, and a man of principles. The more one gets acquainted with him the more one appreciates his beliefs. When it comes to the issue of Seyfo, many perceive him as a colossal bank of resources, information, and motivation. He has travelled all over Europe lecturing on Seyfo, meeting with both Assyrians and non-Assyrians, and government institutions to lobby for the recognition of Seyfo.
I feel he has an agenda, which seems he was born to fulfil. He has a natural charisma that he is well aware of, and he exploits it to influence, and transform our youth into matured activists. He has successfully managed to form an ethnically diverse network of academics, scholars and activists, who share a common ideology and stand on the same platform advocating Seyfo’s recognition.
“excuse me sir, are you implying that all Armenians are infidels and if so, do you think that would be correct? ...you are a racist, and a fascist!”
I first came across Sabri Atman’s name in a progressive bookstore in Istanbul. On one of their top shelves, I saw two of his books called “Asurlar Suryaniler” (Assyrians Syrians) and “Mezopotamya Ozlemi” (I Long for Mesopotamia). I had not yet had the pleasure of his acquaintance or known that he was an Assyrian but it sure felt good to see books on Assyrians, in the heart of Istanbul.
He has now completed his third book “59 Answered Questions on Seyfo”, and he is negotiating with various publishers for its release. This pioneering research will be published in English first and maybe in Swedish and Turkish later.
During his recent visit to London, he shared some of his thoughts with me, and I was delighted to have had the opportunity to ask him the following questions:
Q: Why is it important for the Assyrians to work towards recognition of Seyfo? Many believe it is a thing of the past, and we should divert our concentration on other topical issues; which are of vital importance for our survival as a nation.
If we were to study and analyse any particular phenomena, we will not be able to conclude with objective results, if the historical background and the environment that shaped its present form were not taken into account.
All the challenges we face today as a nation that strives to survive another day, are direct results of Seyfo. Take the name issue for example or the fact of why we are living in the Diasporas at a time, when our heritage is being wiped out in our ancestral lands.
We need Seyfo recognised and an apology for the suffering, and terror we continue to endure, not only for the sake of the Assyrians but also for the general interest of Turkey, its people and international peace. In today’s world, we all strive to assure that no genocides are perpetuated. But how are we to do that if those genocides of the past are not recognised and condemned. Remember: those who condone the past are condemned to repeat it.
Q: What is Turkey’s official stance on the Genocide issue?
The official ideology denies that such atrocities ever took place. The right wing extremists simply ignore the facts and propagate an absurd theory to back up their denialist manipulations.
Then there are the so called liberals, this group does not go further than labelling Seyfo as a tragedy without any present relevance, and one that must be left for historical research. Their usual maxim is: the Ottomans perpetuated Seyfo, and today’s Turkey should not be held responsible for those terrible actions taken during that phase.
But they can not simply wave the responsibility off to the Ottomans. Many prominent members of the Committee for Unity and Progress (1) like, Mustafa Kemal, Ismattin Ono and Jalal Bayar later became the founders and vanguards of today’s state of Turkey, these individuals were tremendously proud of Turkey for being an extension of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey has inherited all the wealth and riches amassed by the Ottomans through the annihilation of the Assyrians, Armenians and the Greeks, and by confiscating their property and holdings. If the state of Turkey can so easily disassociate herself from the actions taken during the era of the Ottoman Empire, then Turkey should also not inherit the riches which were seized during that period of her history.
We all will be appalled if Germany was to say “Yes, the Holocaust did take place but we can not bear responsibility for what was perpetuated by the Nazi regime.”
Only a minority are ashamed of this epoch of their country’s history. They address the issue coherently, and earnestly. They are not afraid to voice their opinions both in and outside Turkey. Although this persecuted minority are few in number but we must respect their heroic actions. We must liaise with this group, and help Turkey to come to terms with her past. Only then, and then only, will Turkey be able to step towards true democracy.
Assyrian Youth Running a Marathon in Europe in 2004 for Seyfo's recognition
Q: Why do you think the Armenians ignore Seyfo, and always portray the genocide of 1914 as that of the Armenians only? And how do you think we should promulgate Seyfo in light of such denial from our co-victims?
First of all, two wrongs do not make one right, I do not agree with some Assyrians who believe, we too should do the same. Nobody who has researched the Genocide, and is genuine and sincere, can deny and ignore the fact that we all: Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks shared the same terrible fate.
Yes it does hurt when we read books and articles written and published by certain Armenian scholars, who would have certainly come across some documents on the Assyrians. Yet, not only do they ignore them but they also deny them a sentence or two. However, we must understand this is not the mentality of all Armenians. For example, Mr. Ara Sarafian who is a renowned academic, and the director of Gomidas Institute, and Sterndale Classics (2), has reprinted “The Treatment of The Armenians Under The Ottoman Empire” which is often called “The Blue Book” inclusive of the segments on the Assyrians, which by the way were excluded from some editions.
A few months ago, together with some friends, we tried very hard to have an opportunity to meet with some Dutch members of parliament. When we finally met with these parliamentarians, I spoke of Seyfo, as the genocide of Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks. Yet, the second morning I read in a certain Armenian news bulletin which enjoys a large circulation: that the Armenian genocide had been debated in the Dutch parliament without any mention of the Assyrians, or the Greeks. Of course it hurts, I mean I was an Assyrian, I could have debated the genocide as that of the Assyrians only but knowing this would not be ethically, and morally right, I mentioned the Armenians and the Greeks also. I mean the least the editors of this particular Armenian news bulletin could have done, is to have mentioned the Assyrians once, at the very least in their article.
Once again I remembered an incident I read about which had taken place in Diyarbakir during the genocide. The army had gathered all the villagers to be massacred and their women and children deported. The soldiers were mocking a particular Assyrian priest with a peculiar barbarity. The crowds protested but they were beaten and told: if you want to put an end to this episode, then one of you must sacrifice his life to save this priest of further ridicule. Yes, it was an Armenian who stepped forward to save this Assyrian clergy. We should not forget such a stance or that of Mr. Murad Artin, a Swedish parliamentarian of an Iraqi-Armenian descent, who brought the case of the Assyrian genocide to the fore in the Swedish Parliament.
Q: Do you think that our political parties, institutions and organisations are doing enough when it comes to Seyfo?
Many have done a lot but not enough! An annual event does not suffice to gain recognition.
Most of our organisations forget all about Seyfo, and only remember it when they draw near to the 24th of April, and most of their initiatives do not seem to be pre-planned. This simply does not give us any credibility. We lack proper documentations, we know they are there we just have to source, and present them to the public and the international bodies.
If we are truly serious about Seyfo, we must work harder in rendering our research, and influencing the world opinion. It can be done it is not impossible; we just need to be more committed in our cause.
I believe that there has been tremendous progress during these few last years, especially amongst the youth, and this is a sign of a natural phenomenon.
The first generation of the Holocaust survivors for example, were too traumatised to do anything about what they had suffered. Their children, however, struggled for its recognition. Hence it is the responsibility of our youth who have inherited the suffering of their parents and grandparents to confront this issue of paramount importance.
Ittihad Ve Terakki: the then ruling government and the architects of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek genocide.
To find out more about Gomidas Institute, you can visit their website. They have excellent books related to the Armenian and Assyrian genocide. www.gomidas.com
\ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)
1: an ancient empire of Ashur
2: a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern
Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)
a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of
its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender
4: a democratic state that believes in the freedom of
religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the
principles of the United Nations Charter —
Ethnicity, Religion, Language
Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
\ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)
1: descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur
2: the Assyrians, although representing but one single
nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now
doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle
ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding
hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the
East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.
These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the
Christian Era. No one can coherently understand the Assyrians
as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church
from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly
difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for
in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control,
religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a
criterion of nationality.
the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya,
Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean,
Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu,
Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye,
Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. —
1: a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of
the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.
2: has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical
Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.