Monday 15 March, 2004, this day can go into Assyrian history as a memorable day for the Assyrian nation. It is a known fact that whether committed in Africa or Asia, the common feature of all genocides is that they have been denied by the perpetrators. This also counts for Turkey, who committed a planned, organized, and systematic genocide to all christians in Turkey. We Assyrian’s call it SEYFO.
Prof. Dr. Johannes Houwinkten Cate, who is the director of the Centre for Holocaust and Genocide studies, opened the lesson by introducing the two speakers of the day. Two very well known, praised persons who made the SEYFO issue their work. Dr.Gabriele Younan and Mr. Sabri Atman. The lessons are for history and political students of the University of Amsterdam. The Assyrian genocide is a part of the subject of general genocides.
Dr. Gabriele Younan, has devoted over 30 years study to the history of Christianity and the present situation of the Assyrian people in their homeland. Her lecture revolved the background information of the Assyrian Genocide and the facts about the SEYFO. She believes it is truly a shame that the west only recognises the Armenian Genocide during these years, forgetting the Greek and Assyrian victims. Mr. Sabri Atman, who is from Assyrian descent, has specialised himself through the years in the SEYFO issue. He gives lectures through Europe to let Assyrian people scan the importance of recognizing of Assyrian Genocide and to let them know this cannot be a taboo any longer.
Dr. Gabriele Younan started the lecture by introducing the international statement. The Genocide of 1915 is the first genocide of the 20th Century. Yet this genocide was against all Christians in Turkey, we are only familiar with the genocide against the Armenians. We forgot the Assyrians and the Greeks. Only recently has the Assyrian name been mentioned in international statements. Like the governor of the state of New York, Mr. Pathaki, who said in an statement (2001) that 3 minorities were killed by the Ottoman empire in 1915, namely the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek. A total of 3.5 million Christians were killed. It was also mentioned in the Encarta encyclopaedia. This is an interesting story, because it was mentioned that Assyrians were slaughtered in the Genocide of 1915. After protest by the Turks this was removed. They forgot to remove it along with the keyword Nestorian where the genocide was mentioned as well. This happened in autumn 2000.
Now the Assyrian issue lives publicly. To let the students get familiar with the Assyrians, Dr. Younan explained who the Assyrians are. Assyrian is a political term which started to be used at the end of the 19th century. Not everybody accept this name. We have Syrian-Christian, Chaldean, Nestorian, Syriac-Orthodox. These are all religious names of the millats ( = religion nation). There are around 250,000 Assyrians in Europe. Most of them are Syriac-Orthodox.
At the end of the 19th century a national movement rose up who wanted Unity (Huyodo/Huyada). What does Assyrian Christian have in common? For one, they are all Christian. Secondly they all speak Aramaic. The Assyrians lived mainly in clans and tribes in the south east of Turkey. There were 2 classes. One was dependent of Kurdish landlords. The others were independent and lived in the “Hakkari” mountains.
To understand the SEYFO it’s important to know the political background of the Ottoman Empire. This existed until WWI. In the beginning of the 20th century you had especially English missionaries who protected the Nestorians. Also Christians were equal to the term “Armenie”. The revolution was influenced by the western countries. In 1908 the “Young Turks” arose and in 1913 they came to power. Mainly three people were the architects “passah” who were linked with the genocide. On the 12th November 1914 the Young Turks declared the “Jihad”. This was actually not an idea of the Young Turks but of the German government (what was known by the rest of Europe). The Ottoman republic was supported by three Christian countries, Germany, Austria and Hungary. Germany had a high military position in the Ottoman army. The hope for Germany was that there would be a Christian revolution which Germany would support. Armenia still accentuated the presence of Germans in the Ottoman army, but it has never been proved that German were involved with genocide.
The Jihad was not an Armenian genocide but a Christian genocide. Although the Armenians cite to their 3 main sources, namely:
It's important to know that the book of John Rice has a big part about the Assyrians included. Afterwards it became known that it wasn’t really John Rice who had written the book, but his assistant Arnold Toybie. He had given the original title: “The treatment of the Armenians and Assyrian Christians”. The Armenians use the John Rice title. Now officially the title has been changed to the original one and the name of Arnold Toybie is also mentioned. The Turkish historians say its European propaganda. The missionary was Christian, Morgentham was never in south east Turkey and the translators were Armenian. They don’t recognize these sources.
So what is convincing for the Turkish? The Ottoman archives. So why are they not showing them freely if they have nothing to hide? There are archives online, but they are written in the Ottoman alphabet, which not many people can read. Also you have to know your way around the archives. We only have 5 Turkish documents and 2 Russian sources.
History and identity; what’s the difference between the Jewish/Armenian genocide and the Assyrian one?
For the Jewish/Armenian recognition of the genocide was/is crucial for their identity. Now it’s the same for Assyrians. The Jewish genocide has been a political issue for the last 30 years. Assyrians have just started. Armenians are no longer in Diaspora to give attention to the genocide. Assyrians escaped the Middle East in the last 20 years. 99% of the Jewish/Armenian research is written by them. It’s the other way round with Assyrians. There is just a small group who gives attention to the SEYFO.
Armenian and Jews have a memorable day for their victims. For a long time Assyrians did not have this. Now they have 7 August; the day of Simile in Iraq. Here it shows again the SEYFO did not have a central role in the politics. Why after 90 years Assyrians want justification? There is a new interest; people finally have the freedom to speak in public about the SEYFO. In Turkey it was a taboo to mention it; they were scared to do it.
In the Conference of Paris and Sevres (1919-20) five different Assyrians spoke and told the people present they were the victims of genocide. A Bishop spoke with bitterness about the pain the Assyrians had and how they were neglected and ignored by the Europeans. All Christians were slaughtered, not only the Armenian. He also gave statistics.
The name of the Assyrian genocide of 1915. There are two Assyrian words. The Seyfo and Ferman. Seyfo means sword. The sword of Islam and the way people get killed by the Turkish army and Kurdish troops. Ferman means order. Order of the government.
One third of the Assyrian population has been killed during the genocide of 1915. What happened under the regime of the Young Turks was a Christian genocide. The Young Turks wanted assimilation of all minorities. They wanted one Turkish population. The Jihad had the plan to deport all non-Turks; they wanted purification.
The other speaker was Mr. Sabri Atman. While Dr.Gabriele Younan had given a more factual lecture, the lecture of Sabri Atman was more emotional. He had 2 important subjects: denial and the importance of remembering. (a part of his lecture)
“To understand the 1915 genocide that was committed in Turkey against its Assyrian, Armenian, and Greek citizens, it’s important to do research on the last century of the Ottoman Empire. Its relationship with Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary and Tsarist Russia need to be scrutinized.”
In that century, the Ottoman state is unable to implement the reforms that European countries urged them to. The Ottoman Empire struggles with modernity and is labeled all over the world as the “Sick Man”. Many nations gain their national independence and secede from the Ottoman Empire. It is in this context that the Assyrians live in their ancestral lands, in the Southeast of Turkey, namely in the regions of Mardin, Urfa, Harput, Diyarbekir, Van, Bitlis, and Hakkari. When the First World War broke out, Assyrian national consciousness wasn’t as developed as the Armenians’. The war provided the Ottoman government with the unique opportunity to rid itself from its Christian minorities. They would be destroyed from the social and economic fabric of Ottoman society in the aforementioned regions. And it is precisely this destruction, resulting from deliberate, systematic plans from a central authority that must be called genocide.
In the First World War, as it occurs in all wars, tragic events took place, and in the shadow of such pain, humanity witnessed the first genocide of the 20th century. This genocide was perpetrated against the Christian people (Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks) living under the rule of the Committee for Union and Progress, which governed the Ottoman Empire.
WHERE ARE THEY?
In this genocide, hundreds of thousands of people were brutally slaughtered without any mercy. Not even the women and children were spared. Many people were thrown alive into water wells, which were later on sealed. People were put on boats and thrown into the deep seas as food for fish. Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred by swords (Seyfo). Women were raped. Parents were butchered in the presence of their children. Hundreds of thousands of people were intentionally left to die of hunger and thirst in the wilderness of Mesopotamia. Great pains, great tragedies were experienced. Prior to the First World War, the population of Turkey was fourteen million; four million and a half of those were Christian peoples. In other words, thirty three percent of the population was Christian. Today in Turkey, the total number of all the Christian people only amounts to 0.1 percent of the population.
What happened to these people? What happened to the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks? Where are they? Where did they disappear to? Would not this diversity of people be a great wealth to a country? Then, what happened to Turkey’s greatest asset, its ethnic diversity? The annihilation of this mosaic of colours and diversity was deliberately and strategically accomplished. This genocide against the Assyrians and other Christian people was planned, designed and systematically carried out. More than two million people were massacred and over two million people were forced to face migration. No one who can see wars, massacres and tortures taking place in many parts of the world today, has the right to think that our appeal to recognise a supposedly forgotten genocide that occurred long time ago is meaningless.
This is because opinions like these are not right. Genocide is a crime against humanity and there is no statutory limitation for a crime such as this. Such a crime should not be forgotten and if it is to be forgotten, it can lead to enormous disasters. During the Second World War, when Hitler committed genocide against the Jews, Gypsies and all the democratic people, it was said “whoever mentions the genocide of the Armenian people today?” It is clear to everyone that Hitler saw an opportunity due to the silence, ignorance and forgetfulness of the international public opinion regarding the Armenian genocide. If the international public democratic opinion and countries had not overlooked the genocide of our people in the shadows of the First World War, would Hitler have been able to implement a second genocide in the shadows of the Second World War? This is why we speak to the silent majority! The aim of bringing the issue of the genocides of the past to the fore today and discussing them, is not just to condemn them. This cry is equally important for people from different religions, races and cultures coexisting in democratic societies and living in security. Only such societies, which possess a democratic mechanism and functions, may remain distant from all kinds of oppression and massacres. It should be clear that the massacres and the genocides that have been carried out until today share a unique characteristic, which is that they were all implemented in undemocratic countries and by forces opposing democracy. It is therefore important for us to know in what kind of society and world we would like to live!
Do we want to live in a society of equality and brotherhood between people from different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds; or, in societies where some brutal forces do not show even a modicum of tolerance? The source of the problem is not the diversity of ethnic backgrounds. The source of the real problem is the inability to accept and tolerate diversity and beauty! This is what Turkey did in the shadows of the First World War.
My problem, my anger is with those that created the genocide, not against all Turks and Kurds.These emotions and thoughts are the emotions and thoughts of the Assyrians as well. Our issue is with those that planned and implemented the genocide. Perhaps you will wonder that this is odd because the perpetrators are all dead. Yes they are. But it is on their heritage that a country was founded. The modern Republic of Turkey was founded in this manner. Turkey was homogenized, and this was solely due of the perpetrators.
The effects of the genocide of 1915 were both economic and political. The present political elite is still denying the genocide by asserting the following thesis: “the event is a historical event, leave it to the historians”. I must say that this thesis emanates from Turkey’s wish to pacify and forget the whole issue.
With respect to this aspect, Turkey is far from being a democratic society. Democratic societies don’t have taboos. The descendants of Assyrian, Armenian and Greek victims of the 1915 genocide request acknowledgement and apologies for the genocide within the framework of international law. Without these concessions it is inappropriate for Turkey to accede to the European Union. We think that acknowledgement of the genocide should be a precondition for membership of the European Union.
Acknowledgement and apology is the only right step to be taken with referens to the genocide. Turkey will benefit greatly from critically scrutinizing its history because it will receive more international respect. Denial will only bring the opposite.
Acknowledgement of the genocide does not only imply societal maturity, but also prevent future outbreaks of violence and persecution. Turkey’s reckoning with its past, a growth of respect for human rights and an increase of democratization will prove to be a great asset for the entire world.
DENIAL IS TO BE KILLED TWICE
Finally I would like to point out the following. The Assyrian genocide is not very known globally. An unknown and denied genocide inflicts great emotional pain on us, children of a people victimized by genocide. Many of our contemporary societal problems can be deduced from the genocide. Even though the democratic world has failed to prevent the genocide committed against our people, it has to cooperate to alleviate the problems we are facing today. As the first genocide of the twentieth century, the Assyrian genocide should be more prominently present in universities.
Committed whereever and by whoever, genocide remains genocide. It survives the traces of time. The historical profession is not only an exercise in constructing the where and what of facts. It is also a means to cope with the past. Past genocides have to be known and condemned in order to prevent future genocides. And this is precisely why the Assyrian genocide should be known and considered. It is a big mistake to think that it lays in the past and should be forgotten. History is not about oblivion. It is about knowledge. It is about education. It is about the future.
Those that suggest we should forget about the genocide are having difficulties understanding us. These people have no idea about the socio-economic, political and psychological effects of genocides. “Forget about us” is their advice. But is forgetting that easy? We Assyrians lost two thirds of our population in 1915. We were uprooted from our motherland. The remnants of the genocide were cast into distant parts of the world. Today we are struggling with our sheer existence. As I said before, many contemporary problems are a product of the genocide. How can we forget about all this?
They are telling us to forget about all this. How can I forget this? How can I forget my grandfather, my village, my homeland, my loved ones? All this is my personal story, and it is impossible for me to forget about them. Of course, the deceased can never be returned, however much we want. But Turkey owes us an apology. It must acknowledge the genocide.
Acknowledgement will be very advantageous to Turkey. First of all, it will augment its international respectability and it will strengthen democracy. Denial, on the other hand, will only bring the opposite. These two great speakers made us feel uncomfortable. In two hours they brought us back in history so our return to today would be painful. Dr.Gabriele gave us the facts to stay clear, Mr Atman gave us the emotions to feel. Good things followed from this lecture. A Turkish reporter of Hurriyet and Ozgur Politica and a Kurdish reporter were present. There is finally attention for the Assyrian genocide. Also Prof. Ton Zwaan was present; he is a well known specialist in genocides and gives lectures all over the world. Sabri Atman is given the opportunity to give more lectures about the Seyfo at the University of Amsterdam. And even a student wants to write her paper about the SEYFO. Is this enough? No it is not. We have to do research, we have to write books and we have to lobby for the Assyrian genocide. The countries must know we don’t accept it any longer that we are being denial and ignored. It is our right to get an apology; it is our right to get our properties back.
The new Assyrian generations will not rest until they get justice for their martyrs.