Reflections on the Assyrian Genocide and the Next 100 Years

October 15, 2015  (Source:

(AINA) — As a child I sat and listened to my grandfather Benjamin recount how he, as an orphaned child, had to carefully step over the dead bodies of his relatives and friends, as he made his escape from the Assyrian village of Mar Bishu in 1915. On a clear summer day, under an old and twisted berry tree in our home in Baghdad, over 50 years after his escape from the killing grounds of the Assyrian genocide, he described his experiences to me. Turkish and Kurdish irregulars bombed and pillaged their village nestled in the mountains east of the Hakkari mountains, killing everyone they could because they were Assyrian Christians. My grandfather would often speak and then turn away in an effort to avoid any show of emotion. I asked questions, but he was a man determined to overcome what he had seen as a child and did not want me to dwell on the evil and suffering in the world. He once placed his hand on the table, and with the other hand’s fingers simulated how he went through dead bodies to escape. Then, as if regretting he recalled the scene, the inhumanity he witnessed, waived his hands to close the subject.

I have heard the stories, the songs, and the lamentations in my family.

Some want the inhumanity closed and forgotten, not because they are granting the wishes of those tortured by its memories, but because they do not want their name stained with the crimes of genocide. But they do themselves and their humanity a disservice, and so we do not forget. We do not forget not only for the sake of our people, but for all of humanity, including the sons and daughters of those who committed the crimes. It was Hitler who mocked “Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” before he went on to perpetrate the holocaust on the Jews and other minorities of Europe. The lesson for humanity, when Hitler conducted his crimes, was not yet well learned. This lack of learning and lack of acknowledgement, it must be noted, can never be repeated. The subject, the story of inhumanity and the important lesson in it, can never be closed as long as we live on this earth and desire a civilized existence.

The genocide of the First World War, starting in 1915, was an event that uprooted the Assyrians of Hakkari and Tur Abdin from their villages, homes, and churches. Along with 1.5 million Armenians and Greeks of Anatolia, the Ottomans extinguished 750,000 Assyrian lives and 500,000 Greek lives. Men, women, and children were shot or hacked to pieces, their blood soaking the earth of their ancestors. Others were taken and then tortured and murdered because they refused to convert to Islam. Women were raped and humiliated. Others were abducted and forced to abandon their faith, only to recount these tales decades later, when their desire to return to their community was no longer an option.

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NFTU: Orthodox Christians should never forget the great evils that have happened; the same evils happen today, often out of site of ‘polite company’ (like the great massacre of abortion), or in plain view for all the world (like what is happening in the Middle East to the Christian populations).  In the case of the Assyrian Genocide which was perpetuated by the Ottoman government, with Kurdish aid, we should not forget that tens of thousands of Orthodox Assyrians also suffered massacre by these forces (though, of course, far greater numbers of Assyrian Nestorians suffered than Orthodox, again, in terms of total numbers; the Ottomans and their allies, though, targeted all indiscriminately, and slaughter of the innocent was beyond imagination).

Before the massacres, the Orthodox Church had a flourishing Orthodox Assyrian mission under Mar Yonan, then his successor Mar Elia, and then Mar John (Gevargizov), who escaped in the 1920s with much of his flock.  The vast majority, though, could not escape, and clergy and laity alike, suffered martyrdom. Reports of the day state that Mar Elia and other Orthodox Assyrian clergy were hung inside the mission by Ottoman troops. The collapse of the Russian Empire, with the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, saw to this; the Russian troops had occupied many of these regions during the war with the Ottoman Empire (Russia’s traditional enemy to the south). With the rising to power of the Bolsheviks, a peace treaty was signed with the Central Powers (including the Ottoman Empire). Whereas before the Tsar’s forces had protected the Christian populations (Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike), the Socialist government could care less. Great massacres followed.

Millions of Greeks, Assyrians, Armenians, and Syrian Christians were massacred in untold proportions. Whereas before Asia Minor, or modern day “Turkey”, had Christian populations that were the majority in some regions, especially Eastern Asia Minor (and significant Christian populations in the East), after the genocide program of the Turkish government (with Kurdish help) was finished, these populations were wiped out.  The nearly 2500+ year old Greek presence was gone; the Armenians who had maintained cultural and historical ties in Eastern Asia Minor going back to antiquity, an area anciently called ‘Armenia Major’ (“Greater Armenia”), or the Armenian Highlands, was finished; the Syro-Aramaean speaking peoples (Assyrians and Syriac peoples), who had dwelt in these regions since the Assyrian Empire and before, and had become Christians as the others, were finished as well.

The Middle East, in only a few years, was transformed from 20% Christian before the Genocides and expulsions, to now far less than 5% today.  But, it is convenient to overlook this for society, because they are Christian peoples. Such peoples do not fit into the narrative of the ‘evil Christians’ bent on persecuting anyone they could get their hands on.