When history speaks about a massacre or a genocidal crime against a nation, it speaks about one specific tragic event causing the death of thousands or hundreds of thousands of the people. When the subject is the Assyrians, history speaks about hundreds of such massacres and genocides throughout the last 2500 years.
Since the collapse of Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, colonization of their lands by various powers has been a common occurrence, with each wave of such colonization causing more land losses, more human losses and more tragedies for the Assyrians.
However, it was the dominance of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century to the first part of the 20th century, which completely reshaped the destiny of the Assyrian people. Those few millions who had withstood the melting process of the millennium, and had remained homogeneous in their ancestral homeland, became the victims of one of the worst Assyrian genocides in the early part of the 20th century.
1895-1896, witnessed the Assyrian massacres in Diyarbakir /Amid/, Hasankeyef, Sivas and other parts of Western Armenia or Anatolia, by sultan Abdul Hamid II. These attacks caused the death of other 55,000 Assyrians and the forced Ottomanization of further 100,000 Assyrians – the inhabitants of 245 villages. A further 100,000 Assyrians women and children were forced into Turkish and Kurdish harems. The Turkish troops looted the remains of the Assyrian settlements. Assyrians were raped, tortured and murdered.
Although, as noted, in the 19th century several massacres against Assyrians took place none matched the brutality of the genocide of 1915.In 1911, the Young Turk “Committee for Unity and Progress” declared its goal to “Turkify” all subjects. This implementation of the Pan-Turkic program and ideology can be described as the “dark Period” of ethnic and religious “cleansing” of the Assyrians , Greeks and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. According to admissions by the Ottoman Home Office Minister, the Young Turks’ Committee and the Ottoman leaders, Enver, Talat and Jamal Pashas, the pretext of war was to be used to justify the Turkish drive towards ethnic cleansing, without fear international condemnation and political reprisals. Consequently, the systematic extermination of the Assyrian people, which continues to this day, has caused the population in that region, previously numbering millions, to diminish to as mere few thousands. These few Assyrians today fight to remain free in their traditional homeland.
Persecution the Assyrians on the territory began as early as August 1914, reaching its first high point between January and April 1915.
Prior to WWI Assyrians lived as one nation numbering millions and inhabiting about 750 villages across the Taurus mountains, Tur Abdin, Hakkari, Botan and Tigris areas. Assyrians also lived in the Lager towns of Urhai, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Mosul, Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus.
When Turkey entered the war in November 1914, the Assyrians were filled with hope. Those that lived in Turkish Mesopotamia and Persia thought that liberation was immanent. It was a time of promises for an independent statehood in the secured soil of their ancestors. To that end, Assyrians subjected to hundreds of years of continuous persecution and massacres, sided with the allies for protection, first with the Russians from May 1915 to October 1917, then with the British forces following the Bolshevik Revolution. Instead of liberation they were subjected to the genocide of their people, and the loss of more than two-thirds of their estimated 1.5 million populations.
In September 1914, the Baku newspaper reported the fired destruction of some 30 Assyrian villages and the death of over 200 Assyrians who were burned alive.
In Tur-Abdin 12,000 Ottoman soldiers, looted the village of Aynvardo and killed all its inhabitants. The attack resulted in struggle lasting 2 months and 6 days as the Assyrians fought back in defense.
Reports about the attack on Midyat tell blood pouring down from the roof gutters of every house. In Seyrd Assyrians were rounded up like cattle and made to march for days in the harsh climate. Women, children and the elderly, were subjected to beatings, rapes and constant abuse. Those that became too weak to walk killed.
In the village of Gardienne, eye witnesses speak about the attack on the elderly with spears and swords, the burning of churches, the raping and talking of women, the slaughtering of those refusing conversion to Islam.
Eyewitnesses from villages of Thuma region tell of the brutal killings of Assyrians by the Turkish swords and finding of killed loved ones along the way as they attempted to escape the swords and daggers.
Newspapers report about the attacks on the villages of Hakkiari Mountain and the murdering of every Assyrian villager in the 30 settlements of the Gjavar region.
Diyarbekir reports tell of piercing of priests’ noses with rings used to be dragged chains in streets, the slashing of pregnant women wombs, the throwing of babies against walls and of women committing suicide so as to avoid brutal rapes by the soldiers. Properties and lands were confiscated and even graves were upturned.
In 1919 the “French Asia” / periodical/ observed that the “massacre of Assyrians reminded the massacre of Armenians. And as it was told a little about these people with 250,000 of victims it should be informed all over the world”.
Priest of Diarbekir J.Nayem testified that from April 8, 1915 terrible massacres had taken place: they had gathered men above 16,beaten them, tortured, killed then had tied bands round their heads and photo them in order to prove that as though Christians had oppressed Muslims.
Djeved Bey / Governor of Van/ who had had “butchers” regiment of 8,000 had done “his business”.
Eyewitness accounts about Assyrian genocide are voluminous but restriction of time permits me to only provide selected examples to demonstrate the terrificand horrific ways by which the Ottoman soldiers attacked, killed and destroyed Assyrians. No mercy was spared on women, children or the elderly.Killings of the clergy and community leaders were carried out public to instill fear and weakness into the Assyrian community before their slaughter, their forced conversion of their forced deportation from their ancestral homelands.
By October 1914, the daily number of refugees to Urmia and regions of Iran had begun. Ironically there was a very strong Turkish force presence in Urmia.Assyrians relying on the presence of the Russian troops in the same region took the unavoidable risk, only too soon learn of the sudden withdrawal of the Russian troops. Pleadings by, and on behalf of Assyrians to the Russians for help went unanswered.
The result was the continued demolition of Assyrians settlements and further reports of murder of men women and children. Several hundred thousand Assyrian women and children took the desperate journey on snowy mountains, which lasted a month. Countless numbers failed to get through.
These Assyrians who were still alive began a long journey from Urmia to Russia. It is reported that 40,000 Assyrians were riddled with famine and disease and the constant sight of dead and dying refuges along the way.
The start of Russian revolution in 1917 lead to the disintegration and the withdrawal of the Russian army and the Turkish preparation for the taking of Azerbaijan. More Turks went to Urmia to exterminate more Christians, among themAssyrians.
Assyrians had to leave again and this time to Hamadan. Along the way attacks and death continued. That journey records 50,000 people dead. Despite the loose of more than two thirds of their population between 1914 and 1918 this dark event in Assyrian history has been inadequately termed as the “genocide of Armenians”. This is partly because the historical writings and the stands of journalistic and academic evidence about the Assyrian genocide have been ignored.
One of the most important documents is the work of the British Secretary for Foreign Affairs, James Bryce, who in his book The Treatment of the Armenians and the Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire (London 1916) includes 21 documents substantiating the crimes committed against the Assyrians as well as eye witness accounts of the genocide in Turkey and Persia during WW1. This was despite the fact that Bryce’s assistant Arnold Toynbee, who compiled the documents, failed to include more than 100 pages of detailed reports on the Assyrians as well as documents presented to the Paris Peace Conference (1920).
Today the Assyrians scattered all over the world continue their age-old and just struggle.
So, during WWI in turkey and adjoined countries where about 1.5 million Assyrians lived according to measures of international law the real genocide took place. Till now this matter is set aside by the international community. In this direction in official quarters of different countries it is necessary to make serious scientific investigations and wide discussions in deference of Assyrian People and in favor of restoration of justice.