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The 20th Century Genocide against
Assyrians, Armenians and the Greeks

by Hermiz Shahen, Deputy Secretary General, Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA)
Published: Christian Democratic Party, Newsletter: July, 2014. (PDF)

Posted: Tuesday, July 01, 2014 at 10:08 PM UT

AssyriaAssyrians 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.

“With the recent spike in sectarian violence it seems that the very existence of Christian Assyrians in Iraq is under threat.”

— Hermiz Shahen

The modern Assyrian language is an offshoot of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ. Assyrians received Christianity and established the first apostolic church in the first century AD when Apostles Thomas, Bartholomew and Thaddeus, obeying Christ’s Great Commission, visited them.

The 20th century ushered a very dark chapter in the history of the Assyrians. In the
early part of the 20th century the small remnant of Assyrians, who had withstood the melting process of the millennia and had remained homogeneous in their ancestral lands, fell prey to genocide perpetrated on them by the Ottoman Turks. This outrageous act nearly annihilated the whole nation, reshaping completely the destiny of this ancient people.

The Assyrians call this heartless deed “Seyfo,” which means “sword” in Assyrian.
The Assyrian genocide was part of a drawnout, systematic, official policy implemented under the cover of war on the Armenians and the Hellenic Greeks. The Young Turk nationalists planned to create a Pan-Turkish state or “Turan,” stretching from the Bosphorus to the frontier of China. The three indigenous Christian nations were a hurdle they had to overcome at all cost. Dr Behaeddin Shakir, one of the Young Turks’ chief ideologues, told the Ottoman assembly at the 1911 Congress of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in Salonika that “the nations that remain from the old times in our empire are a kin to foreign and harmful weeds that must be uprooted to clear our land…” This description is almost identical to that used by the Nazis to describe the Jews just before the Holocaust.

The implementation of the Pan-Turkic program and ideology can be described as the “Dark Period” of ethnic and religious “cleansing” of the Assyrians, Helenic Greeks and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, without fear of international condemnation and political reprisals.

In August 1914, the Ottoman Turks began implementing their policy by violently
persecuting the Assyrians residing in the areas around Hakkiari, Mardin and Midyat. The characteristics of this persecution included general massacres and total devastation. Annihilation was supplemented until after the end of WWI. Nearly 750,000 Assyrians died during the genocide, amounting to almost three-quarters of their pre-war population. The rest were dispersed elsewhere, mostly in the Middle East.

Prior to WWI Assyrians lived as one nation numbering over 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. By 1922, the Assyrian population in Turkey had been reduced to less than 200,000 people. Today, the number of Assyrians in Turkish Mesopotamia is barely 3,000 and the Turkish government does not recognise Assyrians as an ethnic minority within its borders.

Unfortunately, the persecution of Assyrians did not end with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. From 8-11 August 1933, in the newly established state of Iraq, Assyrian villagers in the northern Iraqi town of Simele were brutally murdered. Some 3,000 men, women and children were massacred by the Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish irregulars.

The vulnerable Assyrian population in Iraq has suffered from Saddam Hussein and his
Ba’athist party’s “Arabization” program that culminated in the bloody al-Anfal campaign in 1988, forcing Assyrians to leave their towns and villages in the northern part of Iraq after their homes, farmlands and churches were demolished by the regime’s forces. There still remained a substantial minority of nearly 1.5 million Assyrians, roughly 8 per cent of the total population of Iraq until the invasion of the country in 2003. As a result thousands have fled and hundreds have died at the hands of Islamist militants. With the recent spike in sectarian violence it seems that the very existence of Christian Assyrians in Iraq is under threat.

Presently, the Assyrian diaspora stretches from the Middle East to Central Asia, as well as Western Europe, North America and Australia. While Assyrians continue to celebrate their rich cultural heritage, their modern legacy as victims of genocide has yet to be fully recognized.

On 1 May 2013, in a historic move, the Legislative Council of NSW Parliament passed unanimously a motion moved by Rev the Hon Fred Nile MLC, President of the Australian Christian Party, recognizing the Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide. And on 8 May 2013, the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP, Premier of NSW, moved a similar motion calling for the recognition of the three nations’ genocide.

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