By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
ANKARA, TURKEY (ANS, Dec. 21, 2016) — According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) www.aina.org, the Armenian genocide of 1915 has been well documented.
Much less is known, however, about the Turkish genocide of the Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) people, which occurred simultaneously in their ancient homelands in and around ancient Mesopotamia — now Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
A new English book titled Year of the Sword — The Assyrian Christian Genocide — A History, has been published by Prof. Joseph Yacoub, an emeritus Professor at the Catholic University of Lyon, France. The book is an English edition of the French book published last year and titled “Qui s’en souviendra ?: 1915: le génocide a ssyro-chaldéo-syriaque.”
The advent of the First World War gave the Young Turks and the Ottoman government the opportunity to exterminate the Assyrians in a series of massacres and atrocities inflicted on a people whose culture dates back millennia and whose language, Aramaic, was spoken by Jesus. Systematic killings, looting, rape, kidnapping and deportations destroyed countless communities and created a vast refugee diaspora. Hundreds of thousand Assyro- Chaldean-Syriac people were murdered and a larger number forced into exile.
The ‘Year of the Sword’ (Seyfo – The Sword) in 1915, as Assyrians recall the events, was preceded over millennia by other attacks on the Assyrians and has been mirrored by recent events, not least the abuses committed by Islamic State.
The Armenian Genocide, also known as the Armenian Holocaust, was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians, mostly Ottoman citizens within the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, the Republic of Turkey. The starting date is conventionally held to be April 24, 1915, the day that Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported 235 to 270 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople to Ankara, the majority of whom were eventually murdered. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labor, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government in the Assyrian genocide and the Greek genocide, and their treatment is considered by some historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. Most Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.
A Rutgers University study, http://tinyurl.com/z83v425 states the Assyrian people have also been repeatedly victimized by genocidal assaults over the past century. They first suffered, along Ottoman Greeks and Armenians, from Turkey’s simultaneous genocides during and immediately after World War I. Soon after, the Armenians of northern Iraq were brutally massacred by the newly established Iraqi state. Persecution continued during the reign of the Ba’ath Party and Saddam Hussein, and sectarian violence unleashed during the recent Iraq War has left Assyrians vulnerable in their historic homeland. As a result of these successive tragedies, an Assyrian diaspora stretches across the world.
The study says the Assyrian people have deep autochthonous roots in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, going back well before the 3rd millennium BC. Christianity came early to the Assyrians, at least since the third century AD. With subsequent Arab, Mongolian, and Ottoman conquests of Mesopotamia, the Assyrians and their Christian brethren were subordinated to minority status. The millet system of the Ottoman Empire ensured a certain degree of cultural and religious autonomy, at least until the crises of the 19th century. By then, geopolitical forces and the rise of nationalism threatened the multiethnic status of the Ottoman Empire, which subsequently directed its ire against its Christian subjects. Along with the Armenians, the Ottoman Assyrians suffered grave depredations towards the end of the 19th century, when the Ottoman Sultan organized an irregular cavalry force of Kurdish tribesmen called the Hamidiye. This was the awful prelude of what was to follow in the coming decades.
The status of Ottoman Christians became even more precarious after the ultranationalist “Young Turks” emerged as a dominant political force in the Empire. Organized as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the “Young Turks” staged a successful coup in 1913, thereby establishing a military dictatorship on the eve of World War I. They initiated a national project of “Turkey for the Turks,” whereby they sought to forge a homogenous nation state through the deliberate removal of all minorities.
Soon after the Ottoman Empire entered World War I in November 1914, the CUP ruthlessly began its genocidal project. Waging more or less simultaneous genocides against Assyrians, Armenians, and Greeks, the CUP essentially followed the same pattern of group destruction. Massacres, rapes, plundering, cultural desecrations, and forced deportations were all endemic. Around 750,000 Assyrians died during the genocide, amounting to nearly three quarters of its prewar population. The rest were dispersed elsewhere, mostly in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the persecution of Assyrians did not end with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. From August 8-11, 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 killed by Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish irregulars. The massacre was covered by Western media sources, and it inspired the intellectual development of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish jurist who would go on to coin the word “genocide.”
There remains a vulnerable Assyrian population in Iraq. They suffered along with their former Kurdish tormentors from Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist party’s “Arabization” program that culminated in the bloody al-Anfal campaign in 1988.
As of the invasion of Iraq in spring 2003, there still remained a substantial minority of nearly 1.5 million Assyrians, roughly 8 percent of the total Iraqi population. However, the recent Iraq War has been devastating for the Assyrians, as they have been caught in the midst of vicious sectarian violence.
Presently, the Assyrian diaspora (dispersion) stretches across the world, from the Middle East to Central Asia, as well as Western Europe, North America, and Australia. While they continue to celebrate their rich cultural heritage, their modern legacy as victims of genocide has yet to be fully recognized.
University Professor and Author, Joseph Yacoub, whose family was murdered and dispersed, has gathered together a compelling range of eye-witness accounts and reports which cast light on this ‘hidden genocide.’ Passionate and yet authoritative, his book reveals a little-known human and cultural tragedy. A century after the Assyrian genocide and the treat of so-called Islamic State (IS), the fate of this Christian minority hangs in the balance in its ancestral homeland of Syria and Iraq.
Here are some selected reviews of the book:
Vicken Cheterian, Webster University, Geneva, author of ‘Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide,’ said: “Yacoub’s work is essential reading and sheds light on a dark chapter of twentieth century Middle Eastern history that has been deliberately silenced.”
William Harris, Professor, Department of Politics, University of Otago, author of ‘Lebanon: A History, 600-2011,’ writes: “This book is intended for multiple audiences: the survivors of the communities themselves, as an account by a descendant of victims; academics, journalists and others dealing with the Middle East; and a wider public interested in Middle Eastern Christians. The diaspora communities include well over half a million people, so this alone is a very substantial audience. I think it is definitely an original contribution. To the best of my knowledge the literature on the massacres and persecution suffered by these communities is very limited, certainly compared with the Armenian dimension”
Geoffrey Robertson QC (Queen’s Counsel), human rights barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, and author of ‘An Inconvenient Genocide,’ stated: “This important and revelatory book tells of the biblical race which has suffered genocide twice within a century: over half were destroyed by the Ottoman atrocities of 1915, and now their descendants in Mosul and elsewhere are being put to the sword by ISIS. The Assyrians today deserve more than our pity — they need our protection.”
Christian Sahner, Research Fellow in History, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, and author of ‘Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present,’ writes: “Meticulous and moving, Year of the Sword documents the forgotten horrors that befell the Syriac-speaking Christians of the Ottoman Empire. This is a book for all times, but especially our own, when the Middle East’s distinctive ethno-religious diversity is again under the threat from violence and forced migration. Readers will be sobered and better informed thanks to Yacoub’s efforts.”
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2016)
Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 1.4 x 5.8 inches
Photo captions: 1) Cover artwork for ‘Year of the Sword – The Assyrian Christian Genocide, – A History’. 2) Joseph Yacoub. 3) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael.
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