The Assyrian Genocide
The Assyrian Genocide (also known as Sayfo orSeyfo, Syriac: ܩܛܠܐ ܕܥܡܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ or ܣܝܦܐ) refers to the mass slaughter of the Assyrian population of the Ottoman Empire during the 1890s, the First World War, and the period of 1922-1925. The Assyrian population of upper Mesopotamia (the Tur Abdin region, the Hakkari, Van, and Siirt provinces of present-day southeastern Turkey, and the Urmia region of northwestern Iran) was forcibly relocated and massacred by Ottoman (Turkish) and Kurdish forces between 1914 and 1920. Estimates on the overall death toll have varied. Contemporary reports placed the figure at 250,000. Numerous scholars and journalists have accepted that figure, though some sources lacking a detailed statistical analysis claim figures as high as 750,000.
The Assyrian genocide took place in the same context as the Armenian and Pontic
In these events, close to three million Christians of Syriac, Armenian or
Greek Orthodox denomination were murdered by the Young
Since the "Assyrian genocide" took place within the context of the much more widespread Armenian genocide, scholarship treating it as a separate event is scarce, with the exceptions of the works of David Gaunt and Hannibal Travis.]In 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) reached a consensus that "the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks. The IAGS referred to the work of Gaunt and Travis in passing this resolution. Gregory Stanton, the President of the IAGS in 2007-2008 and the founder of Genocide Watch, endorsed the "repudiation by the world's leading genocide scholars of the Turkish government's ninety-year denial of the Ottoman Empire's genocides against its Christian populations, including Assyrians, Greeks, and Armenians."
The Assyrian genocide is sometimes also referred to as Sayfoor Seyfo in English language sources, based on the modern Assyrian (Mesopotamian neo-Aramaic) designation Saypā(ܣܝܦܐ), "sword", pronounced as Seyfo, and as Sayfo in theWestern dialect (the term abbreviates shato d'sayfo "year of the sword"). The Assyrian name Qeṭlā ḏ-‘Amā Āṯûrāyā (ܩܛܠܐ ܕܥܡܐ ܐܬܘܪܝܐ), which literally means "killing of the Assyrian people", is used by some groups to describe these events. The wordQṭolcamo (ܩܛܠܥܡܐ) which means Genocide is also used in Assyrian diaspora media. The term used in Turkish media isSüryani Soykırımı.
In countries where significant Assyrian diaspora communities exist, the designation "Assyrian" has become controversial, notably in Germany and Sweden, alternative terms such asAssyriska/syrianska/kaldeiska folkmordet"Assyrian/Syriac/Chaldean genocide" are employed. Nestorians, Syrians, Syriacs, and Chaldeans were names imposed by Western missionaries such as the Catholics and Protestants on the Ottoman and Persian Assyrians. The Greek, Persian, and Arab rulers of occupied Assyria, as well as Chaldean and Syrian Orthodox patriarchs, priests, and monks, and Armenian, British, and French laypeople, called the
The Assyrian population in the Ottoman Empire numbered about one million at the turn of the twentieth century and was largely concentrated in what is now Iran, Iraq and Turkey. There were also hundreds of thousands of Maronite Christians in Lebanon, with some Assyrian heritage but which are less often called Assyrians. There were significantly larger communities located in the regions near Lake Urmia in Persia, Lake Van (specifically the Hakkari region) and Mesopotamia, as well as the eastern Ottoman provinces of Diyarbekir, Erzerum and Bitlis. Like other Christians residing in the empire, they were treated as second-class citizens and denied public positions of power. Violence directed against them prior to the First World War was not new. Many Assyrians were subjected to Kurdish brigandage and even outright massacre and forced conversion to Islam, as was the case of the Assyrians of Hakkari during the massacres of Badr Khan in the 1840s and the Massacres of Diyarbakir during the 1895-96 Hamidian Massacres. The Hamidiye received assurances from the Ottoman Sultan that they could kill Assyrians and Armenians with impunity, and were particularly active in Urhoy and Diyarbakir.
Outbreak of war
The Ottoman Empire began massacring Assyrians in the nineteenth century, a time of friendly relations between the Ottomans and the British, who were defending the Ottomans from the Russian Empire's efforts to include under its protection the communities of Ottoman Orthodox Christians. In October 1914, the Ottoman Empire began deporting and massacring Assyrians and Armenians in Van. After attacking Russian cities and declaring war on Britain and France, the Empire declared a holy war on Christians. The German Kaiser and the German Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire directed and orchestrated the holy war, and financed the Ottomans' war against the Russian Empire.
The earliest programs of extermination took place in the southern province of Diyarbekir, under the leadership of Reshid Bey. The commander of Ottoman Army Group East declared in his memoirs that his forces accounted for 300,000 Armenian deaths in Diyarbekir and elsewhere. A German Vice-Consul reported in July 1915 that Assyrians were being massacred in Diyarbekir province. A German Consul reported in September 1915 that the adult Christians of Diyarbekir, Harput, Mardin, and Weranscheher, and an Ottoman reign of terror in Urhoy. The German ambassador reported that the Ottoman Empire was being "clear[ed]" of its indigenous Christians by "eliminat[ion]". In July 1915, he confirmed that the Assyrians of Midyat, Nisibis, and Jazirah were also slain.
Jevdet Pasha the governor of Van, is reported to have held a meeting in February 1915 at which he said, "We have cleansed the Armenians and Syriac [Christian]s from Azerbaijan, and we will do the same in Van."
In late 1915, Jevdet Bey, Military Governor of Van Province, upon entering Siirt (or Seert) with 8,000 soldiers whom he himself called "The Butchers' Battalion" (Turkish: Kasap Taburu), ordered the massacre of almost 20,000 Assyrian civilians in at least 30 villages. The following is a list documenting the villages that were attacked by Cevdet's soldiers and the estimated number of Assyrian deaths:
The village of Sa'irt/Seert, was populated by Assyrians and Armenians. Seert was the seat of a Chaldean Archbishop Addai Scher who was murdered by the Kurds. The eyewitness Hyacinthe Simon wrote that 4,000 Christians died in Seert
Assyrian resistance in upper Mesopotamia
On March 3, 1918, the Ottoman army led by Kurdish soldiers assassinated one of the most important Assyrian leaders at the time. This resulted in the retaliation of the Assyrians. Malik Yosip Khoshaba of the Bit Tiyari tribe led a successful attack against the Ottomans. Assyrian forces in the region also attacked the Kurdish fortress of Simko Shikak, the leader who had assassinated Mar Shimun XIX Benyamin, they successfully stormed it, defeating the Kurds, however Simko escaped and fled.
Assyrians were involved in a number of clashes in Turkey with Ottoman forces, including Kurds and Circassians loyal to the empire. When armed and in sufficient numbers they were able to defend themselves successfully. However, they were often cut off in small pockets, vastly outnumbered and surrounded, and unarmed villagers made easy targets for Ottoman and Kurdish forces.
Assyrian military relation in Iran
The Assyrians in Persia armed themselves under the command of General Agha Petros, who had been approached by the Allies to help fight the Ottomans.
The Assyrians proved to be excellent soldiers, and Agha Petros' volunteer army had quite a few successes over the Ottoman forces and their Kurdish allies, notably at Suldouze where 1,500 Assyrian horsemen overcame the far larger Ottoman force of over 8,000, commanded by Kheiri Bey. Agha Petros also defeated the Ottoman Turks in a major engagement at Sauj Bulak and drove them back to Rowanduz. Assyrian forces in Persia were greatly affected by the withdrawal of Russia from the war and the collapse of Armenian armed resistance in the region. They were left cut off, with no supplies, vastly outnumbered and surrounded. In 1918, the Assyrian population of Urmia was nearly wiped out, 1,000 killed in the French and American mission buildings, 200 surrounding villages destroyed, and thousands perished of famine, disease, and forced marches.
In early 1918, many Assyrians started to flee present-day Turkey. Mar Shimun Benyamin had arranged for some 3,500 Assyrians to reside in the district of Khoi. Not long after settling in, Kurdish troops of the Ottoman Army massacred the population almost entirely. One of the few that survived was Reverend John Eshoo. After escaping, he stated:
You have undoubtedly heard of the Assyrian massacre of Khoi, but I am certain
you do not know the details.
These Assyrians were assembled into one caravansary, and shot to death by guns and revolvers. Blood literally flowed in little streams, and the entire open space within the caravansary became a pool of crimson liquid. The place was too small to hold all the living victims waiting for execution. They were brought in groups, and each new group was compelled to stand over the heap of the still bleeding bodies and shot to death. The fearful place became literally a human slaughter house, receiving its speechless victims, in groups of ten and twenty at a time, for execution.
At the same time, the Assyrians, who were residing in the suburb of the city, were brought together and driven into the spacious courtyard of a house. The Assyrian refugees were kept under guard for eight days, without anything to eat. At last they were removed from their place of confinement and taken to a spot prepared for their brutal killing. These helpless Assyrians marched like lambs to their slaughter, and they opened not their mouth, save by sayings "Lord, into thy hands we commit our spirits.
The executioners began by cutting first the fingers of their victims, join by joint, till the two hands were entirely amputated. Then they were stretched on the ground, after the manner of the animals that are slain in the Fast, but these with their faces turned upward, and their heads resting upon the stones or blocks of wood Then their throats were half cut, so as to prolong their torture of dying, and while struggling in the agony of death, the victims were kicked and clubbed by heavy poles the murderers carried Many of them, while still laboring under the pain of death, were thrown into ditches and buried before their souls had expired.
The young men and the able-bodied men were separated from among the very young and the old. They were taken some distance from the city and used as targets by the shooters. They all fell, a few not mortally wounded. One of the leaders went to the heaps of the fallen and shouted aloud, swearing by the names of Islam's prophets that those who had not received mortal wounds should rise and depart, as they would not be harmed any more. A few, thus deceived, stood up, but only to fall this time killed by another volley from the guns of the murderers.
Some of the younger and good looking women, together with a few little girls of attractive appearance, pleaded to be killed. Against their will were forced into Islam's harems. Others were subjected to such fiendish insults that I cannot possibly describe. Death, however, came to their rescue and saved them from the vile passions of the demons. The death toll of Assyrians totaled 2,770 men, women and children.
The Ottoman Empire invaded northwestern Persia in 1914. Before the end of 1914, Turkish and Kurdish troops had successfully entered the villages in and around Urmia. On February 21, 1915 the Turkish army in Urmia seized 61 leading Assyrians from the French missions as hostages, demanding large ransoms. The mission had enough money to convince the Ottomans to let 20 of the men go. However, on February 22 the remaining 41 were executed, having their heads cut off at the stairs of the Charbachsh Gate. The dead included bishop Mar Denkha.
Most of the Assyrian villages were unarmed. The only protection they had was
when the Russian army finally took control of the area, years after the presence
of the Ottoman army had been removed. On February 25, 1915, Ottoman troops
stormed their way into the villages of Gulpashan and Salamas. Almost the entire
village of Golpashan,
of a population of 2,500, were massacred. In
Salamas about 750 Armenian and Assyrian refugees were protected by Iranian
civilians in the village. The commander of the Ottoman division stormed the
houses despite the fact that Iranians lived in them, and roped all the men
together in large groups and forced them to march in the fields between Khusrawa
and Haftevan. The men were shot or killed in other ways. The protection of
Christians by local Persian/Iranian civilians is also confirmed in the 1915
British report: "Many Moslems tried to save their Christian neighbours and
offered them shelter in their houses, but the Turkish authorities were
implacable." During the winter of
1915, 4,000 Assyrians died from disease, hunger, and exposure, and about 1000
were killed in the villages of Urmia.
By mid-1918, the British army had convinced the Ottomans to let them have access to about 30,000 Assyrians from various parts of Persia. The British decided to deport all 30,000 from Persia to Baquba, Iraq. The transferring took just 25 days, but at least 7,000 of them had died during the trip.Some died of exposure, hunger or disease, other civilians fell prey to attacks from armed bands of Kurds and Arabs. At Baquba, Assyrians were forced to defend themselves from further Arab raids.
A memorandum from American Presbyterian Missionaries at Urmia During the Great War 16 to British Minister Sir Percy Cox had this to say:
Capt. Gracey doubtless talked rather big in the hopes of putting heart into the Syrians and holding up this front against the Turks. [Consequently,] We have met all the orders issued by the late Dr. Shedd which have been presented to us and a very large number of Assyrian refugees are being maintained at Baquba, chiefly at H.M.G.'s expense.
In 1920, the British decided to close down the Baquba camps. The majority of Assyrians of the camp decided to go back to the Hakkari mountains, while the rest were dispersed throughout Iraq, where there was already an ancient Assyrian community established over 5000 years. In 1933 a massacre of thousands of unarmed Assyrians took place at Simele and other areas in Iraq at the hands of the Iraqi Army and Kurdish irregulars. In 1961 many Assyrian villages were razed in Iraq, and further widespread destruction was wrought during the Al Anfal Campaign by Saddam Hussein in 1988. To this day Assyrians in Iraq make up an important Iraqi minority group.
Scholars have summarized events as follows: specific massacres included 25,000 Assyrians in Midyat, 21,000 in Jezira-ibn-Omar, 7,000 in Nisibis, 7,000 in Urfa, 7,000 in the Qudshanis region, 6,000 in Mardin, 5,000 in Diyarbekir, 4,000 in Adana, 4,000 in Brahimie, and 3,500 in Harput. In its December 4, 1922, memorandum, the Assyro-Chaldean National Council stated that the total death toll was unknown. It estimated that about 275,000 "Assyro-Chaldeans" died between 1914 and 1918. The population of the Assyrians of the Ottoman Empire and Persia was about 650,000 before the genocide, and was reduced by 250,000, with very few survivors in 1930s Turkey or Iran
Massacres in the late Ottoman Empire
The Assyrians were not going to be an easy group to deport, as they had always been armed and were as ferocious as their Kurdish neighbors.
In April 1915, after a number of failed Kurdish attempts, Ottoman Troops invaded Gawar, a region of Hakkari, and massacred the entire population. Prior to this, in October 1914, 71 Assyrian men of Gawar were arrested and taken to the local government center in Bashkala and killed.