The Assyrian speech in Athens International Conference of Genocides in 1914-1918

The background of the Genocide,
Its consequences and the world’s conscience

This was the speech of the Assyrian researcher and activist, Ashur Giwargis In the international conference about the genocides in the Ottoman Empire against Assyrians, Greeks, and Armenians during WW1

Greek Parliament
19/Sep/2010

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Conference Organizing Committee and participants.

Before presenting my speech, I would like to comment on some statements made my some of the distinguished speakers.

First point, we are simply Assyrians, not Chaldeans neither Syriacs nor Syrians, because Chaldeans are Catholic Assyrians, and Syrians or so-called Syriacs, are Orthodox Assyrians, so, It would be better to say “Assyrians” because it’s our ethnic national identity, and in this case we would be talking about all the Assyrian sects. We can’t say “Arabs and Sunna” because there are Sunni and Shiite Arabs.

Second point, I’ve heard many times mentioning of kurds as a persecuted people, we understand this, but also we should not forget that kurds. This is how we should deal with this matter when we talk history, but if you want to politicize the genocide, this would be another case.

Third point, I ask the Assyrian Union in Greece to not be a part of any occasion or joint statement mentioning the term “Kurdistan” because this term is an insult to the Assyrian nation, and I ask our Armenian and Greek brothers to be aware of this, for Assyrians it’s a matter of principles and can’t be politically compromised. When we say we are Assyrians this means we are from Assyria, and if the Assyrian highlands and the north of today’s Iraq are “kurdstan”, then where is Assyria ? Did we come from the moon ?

Fourth point, I’ve heard many times “Ethnic Cleansing against Christians”, this is a contradiction, Ethnic cleansing is against ethnicities, but Christianity is a religion, we must chose 1 of 2: “Ethnic cleansing against Assyrian, Arminians, Greeks” or “Religious cleansing against Christians”, but I say we can use the both because the Genocides were religious and ethnic at the same time, and this why I want to talk about the background of the genocides.

Thank you.

We are gathering in this conference as a minimal duty towards our ancestors who sacrificed themselves for our religious and national existence during the darkest of circumstances where human values were lost, thus exposing the political, social, religious, and moral degeneration surrounding the Christians of the East in general and the Greeks, Arminians and Assyrians in particular. I, as an Assyrian participant in this conference, feel comfortable because I am able to express some of my nation’s concerns and torment throughout history before people who very well understand the meaning of humanity because they are the descendants of one of the greatest civilizations which built the foundations of science, politics, and philosophy.

And my speech will be about: The background of the Genocide, Its consequences and the world’s conscience

The Assyrian genocide will be taken as an example in my speech. And I will present first a brief historical narration because I’m more than sure that many of the attendees have no much idea about the historical facts of the Assyrian genocide.

The human history looks like a chain of interrelated episodes, and these episodes are man-made since people decide their fate through victories and defeats which contain abuses against humanity in order to build a collective structure whether be it economic, social, political or cultural, some based on civilized foundation supported by historical and logical rights while others are based on massacres and supported by the power of degeneration and zeal to shed blood for the sake of ideologies created to fight against humanity, and whomever wants to continue in this historic chain in its ugliness and beauty, has to realize the chain of the past so as to learn from it in building the chain of the present, and based on this, he can build the chain of the future … This is very briefly, the rule of nations continuity.

Thus, we can say that the WW1 was based on economical interests, Europe wanted to expand its market after its industrial revolution and Russia wanted to open a new gate through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelle strait.

The massacres of World War I against the Greeks Armenians and Assyrians, did not come from void, but rather it was an ugly link in the chain of human history which must be known to the world and always remembered, because it had cultural and religious backgrounds based on ideology contradictions within a society which was dominated by the Ottomans for hundreds of years.

Since the days of Sultan Osman the 1st in the 14th century, his son Orkhan Ghazi, and Murad the 3rd, Assyrians, Arminians and Greeks were pursued as the Ottomans occupied Constantinople and the Byzantine culture was destroyed and forcibly replaced by Islam, and over centuries the Christians who are the indigenous people of what is today known as Turkey were subjected to oppression, killing and Islamization according to a “legislation by God” as the occupiers believed and still believe.

We used to hear the weak and useless Turkish argument about our collaboration with Russia before the WW1. But history tells us that the Turks themselves were the ones who first allowed foreigners in, through the Treaty of the Capitulations in 1535 between the French King Francis the 1st and Sultan Suleiman the 1st (Suleiman the magnificent); according to this treaty the French enjoyed the right to protect Christians living in the Ottoman territories, this is how a part of the Armenians became Roman Catholics, and a part of the Assyrians became Roman Catholics under the Ottoman starvation policy and the Vatican exploitation, the Catholic Assyrians have been called “Chaldeans” by the Vatican in 1552. Hence, based on this historical fact, the Ottoman Empire is the one who collaborated with the foreigners and consented to their presence in that territory.

After allowing the Roman Catholic missions to enter Assyria and Armenia, the British Anglican missions were also allowed in, then these missions contributed to inciting the Kurds to slaughter the Assyrian people between 1843 – 1847 in order to shatter the independence of the Assyrian mountainous tribes in the south-east of what is today known as “Turkey”, to allow the penetration of these missionaries within the Assyrian society when previously they were incapable of doing that since the five large Assyrian tribes were not subjects of the Ottoman Sultan and these were: Tiari tribe, Tkhouma, Baz, Jeelo and Dez.

Despite all this, the Christians within the Ottoman occupation (Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians) were always considered as the last citizens and when Sultan Selim the 1st brought in the 16th century the Kurdish tribes from Isfahan and settled them in the Assyrian highlands on the Iranian borders to fight the Shiite Safavids, the Ottoman Empire began using these tribes over the centuries in the killing of Assyrians and Armenians because of their religion which forced them to ask for help from their neighbouring Christian countries especially the strongest, Russia, to save them from the Islamic persecution in the region after the Ottomans neglected their pleas repeatedly.

Frederick Engels gave an example of that in one of his letters to Karl Marx when he said: “As long as the Christians continue to be persecuted by the Ottomans, it’s certain that they will look up to the Orthodox Church and its leader of 60 million Orthodox whoever he is, as their liberator and protector “.

What affirms Engels’s statement is a letter from the Patriarch Mar Rouil Shimon on May 14th, 1868 to the Russian king Michael. In this letter the Patriarch states:”… We are a poor nation, my people have no enough grain to provide themselves with bread … The Kurds have forcibly taken many of our Churches and convents, they constantly abduct our virgins, brides , and women, forcing them to turn Moslems … The Turks are worse, they do not protect us, demand military taxes, poll tax, also the Kurds take our money for they consider us as “Zirr Kurr” (slaves – being Christians .. .)… Now, such being our condition, we beseech your mightiness, for the sake of Jesus, His Baptism, and cross. Either to free us from such a state or to procure us a remedy … May God preserve you, Amin”

This was the religious background of the hatred against Assyrians, but the greatest scandal took place as the Turkish nationalism was introduced to the Ottoman Sultanate in 1908 – 1909, when loud calls from Turkish officials demanded the ethnic cleansing of all nationalities, in order to preserve the Turkish nationality, one of those was Dr. Nazim Manzar, one of Young Turks Movement leaders who had said: “If it wasn’t for foreign diplomatic intervention, we would have unified all nationalities within the Turkish one creating one culture because we want the Turkish component to live on this land without any other”. Indeed, this opportunity presented itself in 1914 when chaos took over and WWI began.

At the beginning of WWI in the summer of 1914, the Kurdish tribes which were settled in Assyria and Armenia and which formed a cavalry force in the Ottoman army known as the “Hamidian Cavalry” named after Sultan Abdulhamid the 2nd, backed by other Turkish battalions they headed to the Assyrian plain villages in the east of what’s today known as “Turkey” as well as the Assyrian villages in Tur Abdin in the south-east and the Salamas plain in western Iran, where they killed thousands, burned cities, towns, villages, ancient monasteries and churches and kidnapped women and girls under the banner of “Jihad”.

On March 05th 1915, the Baku Newspaper reported that 20 Assyrian villages were completely destroyed while the bodies of women and children laid in the streets with marks of daggers and cleavers on them, and on March 15th 1915, the Tbilisi Newspaper described the Kurdish tribes’ attacks lead by Turkish officers as being barbaric, that was a little of what the newspapers had mentioned then, All this was taking place while the Assyrians had not joined the war. But as the massacres continued against them, adding all this religious, national and social degeneration surrounding the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, Assyrians were obliged to seek help from those who shared their religious beliefs as they did not have any other recourse since their killers and looters were either the ruling authorities or their gangs.

The Assyrian Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimon (who was later martyred) declared that the Assyrians joined the war to Russia’s side in self-defense and for liberation from the Ottoman occupation and oppression. This decision was made during a meeting between the Patriarch and tribal leaders in the Diz area on June 10th 1915.

These facts are an answer to those who claim that Assyrians collaborated with Russians before the massacres, in addition, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Assyrians were massacred also in Tur Abdin area and its surroundings, knowing that they did not have any contact with any foreign state in the first place.

Even after the Assyrian tribesmen were armed, Turkey and its Kurdish recruits did not differentiate between a civilian and a military; genocides were repeated against the Assyrians in the Assyrian highlands known as the Hakkari Mountains, as well as in the vicinity of Urmia. One of the Assyrian death marches is described by the Russian thinker Victor Chklovski who lived through the massacres of 1918, mentioning in his memoirs that after Russia withdrew from the war following the Bolshevik revolution, a convoy of 230.000 Assyrians fled on foot in the summer of 1918 from the city of Urmia for a distance of 800 km towards the Iranian mountains and plains heading to Hamadan in the south where the British were settled, during that journey 85.000 Assyrian women and children were killed due to Turkish and Kurdish and Iranian attacks while 15.000 also on foot were killed as their convoy headed to the north, towards Russia and Georgia.

Thus, after fleeing Urmia and Hakkari, Assyrians were caught in the British trap, as Britain began inciting the Arabs in Iraq against the Assyrians causing the 1933 massacre in occupied Assyria, which claimed the lives of thousands of women, men and children.

The official records such as the Russian, British and even Turkish correspondence, confirm that between 1914 and 1922, Turkey had led its armies which invaded the unarmed Assyrian, Armenian and Greeks’ villages and towns and committed ethnic cleansing whereby about 600.000 Assyrians, the equivalent of two thirds of the Assyrian nation at the time were massacred.

This falls within the definition of “genocide” as adopted by the United Nations in 1948, since it covers ethnic cleansing in accordance with the following specifications of the United Nations:

1-Unjustified Mass murder.
2-Physical and spiritual damage to a group.
3-Mass starvation with the intent of social destruction.
4-Transferring children forcibly to other cultures and societies.

The human and political results of the Genocide against the Assyrian Nation were as follows:

1-Eradication of two-thirds of the Assyrian nation between the years 1915 – 1922.
2-Diseases and epidemics that killed 33.000 Assyrians in British detention centers in Iraq, which the British called “refugee camps”.
3-Abduction of thousands of women and children who were taken to the homes of Muslims (Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Iranians).
4-Considering the Assyrians in Iraq as British collaborators when Iraq itself was made in England, noting that King Faisal was a Saudi who was brought by Britain to rule Iraq.
5-Lack of understanding on the part of the Iraqi state regarding the Assyrians’ rights due to its Ottoman culture, which resulted in the massacre of 1933 against the Assyrian people in 6-villages in Occupied Assyria.
7-The exile of a large number of Assyrians to Syria after being accused of creating chaos despite the massacres against them.
8-The demise of the Assyrian language and culture in the Diaspora day after day due to mixing of the Assyrians with foreign cultures.

In addition to other negative effects which contributed significantly to the weakening of the Assyrian presence.

Hence, all the legal pretexts to hinder the recognition of Genocide are void, and the yielding of the international community to a law which was drafted by it, is a moral duty, and since the international community recognized the Genocide against the Jews, as well as in Sudan and Yugoslavia, it can also recognize the Genocide against the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks because the crimes against these peoples are not less than those committed against others whom we have mentioned.

The reality though seems to be different, because so far we have not faced any difficulties in considering the Turkish killings as “Genocide” except through illegal political hindrances, since parliaments which are the legislative power are recognizing the Genocide while governments or the executive authorities of a state are always the ones denying it. For example:
In Sweden and following the recognition of the Swedish Parliament that the Turkish organized killings against the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks were Genocides, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt expressed his regret at the Parliament’s decision and voiced his concern regarding Turkey’s position.

In the United States, the Genocide against our Armenian brothers were used as a campaigning card for Barack Obama, whereby after the U.S. Congress adopted the decision to recognize the Genocide, Obama expressed his rejection and at the same time said that he did not regret using the term “Genocide” during his campaign, as was reported by Agence France Presse on April 25, 2009.

We find much worse situation in Greece as the Greek Parliament has refused recognizing the systematic crimes against Greeks, Armineans and Assyrians, as a Genocide, and I’m really shocked that until now the proposal have been presented 4 times to the Greek parliament and was rejected.

How can we ask others to recognize our genocides, when our own countries are still denying ? what was the feeling of Greece when Sweden recognized it’s people’s genocide before it.

It’s really a shame that this country who gave the basis of democracy is still putting the political interest above the national interest. If denying the Genocides by Turkey is for a political interest, than the dignity of the Greek martyrs is a national interest, and we the second generation of the genocides survivors, should consider Greece as the European key for Genocides recognition. And demonstrations, should take place in Athens in front of the Greek parliament where Assyrian, Greek and Armenians flags will be razed high, because the dignity of the Greek martyrs is our martyrs’ dignity; they all have been martyred for the same reasons, from the same background, and by the same criminals.

Thus, it is clear to us that our journey in the ocean of lies and international plots is long, hence, we have to establish our demands in an unshakable manner, that begins with countries directly concerned with the archived facts of the Genocide beginning with Greece, and other countries such as Russia, France, UK, Germany because these countries’ voice is heard in international forums, and it wouldn’t be enough for Turkey to reform its constitution and try to submit to the Copenhagen criteria, to deserve the membership of any international group, be it European Union or any other, because first, Turkey should prove its loyalty to the humanitarian norms, by correcting the mistakes of the past.

The international community’s neglect of this issue is like a second Genocide and disrespect for the concepts of humanity, and the most dangerous thing is that this silence is considered as an incitement for more expected Genocides against the weak people in the world, including the Assyrian people whom I present as an example.

And because of the Genocide against the Assyrian nation, also because of the European betrayal in general, and the English betrayal in particular, to the Assyrians, the Assyrian nation is still stateless, and that’s why it’s still facing a new genocide.

The Assyrian people are still living amongst the degenerate factions ruling Iraq, without any protection or international attention whereby more than 500.000 Assyrians migrated from Iraq within seven years since 2003, while only 300.000 had migrated during 35 years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, all this is taking place while the international community is watching and presenting some deadly solutions such as forcing the Assyrian Nation to migrate and flee its historical lands, obliterating its culture and dissolving it within the western societies under the banner of “Saving the Christians of Iraq”.

The same policy which was followed before and during the massacres of WWI, is practiced today against the Assyrians throughout Iraq and particularly under the Kurdish Occupation of Assyria, where the Kurdish tribes use the policy of polite persecution by giving fictitious religious rights while obliterating the national existence of the land and people through the culture of kurdification in the schools of the Kurdish Occupation zone, whereby the Assyrian generations and others are growing up according to the curriculum of Kurdification, in addition to the occupation of Assyrian lands and inventing impossible laws when legitimate owners ask for their lands, also throughout Iraq Islamization and forced displacement have reached an insolent state which confirms that there is a religious and ethnic cleansing against the Assyrians and all this is legislated within the Iraqi constitution which instigates the Islamization of Iraq and the Kurdification of its north while it is void of the equality principle in federalism, even though and according to international laws protecting the indigenous people, the right of equality is the least of what the Assyrians should get, being the indigenous people of Iraq and in danger of extinction.

Our presence here is not just to give long speeches because they have been given already by many scholars worldwide, and our intention is not the revenge, rather than guaranteeing a better future for the current generation of the survivors of the genocides.

Based on the narrative of events and their consequences, and based on the world moral obligation towards humanity, the Assyrian Nation is very interested in historically holding accountable those who committed crimes against humanity during World War I, according to the international legislation that’s why the organizers of this occasion must continue to strongly bind all parties concerned in order to raise our voice together to avoid the repetition of what happened, and in order to intercept the degenerate currents and societies so they would realize that there is no room for committing such crimes against humanity anywhere in the world again.

Thank You Very much for listening …

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