Opinion Editorial
From Iraq to Syria: the Genocidal Ordeal of the Assyrians
By Joseph Yacoub

Assyrians fleeing from Urmia, Iran in 1918 to escape the genocide by Turks.
(AINA) -- The Assyrian-Chaldean community is facing dark times and a distressing situation. These criminal attacks, these innocent kidnappings (more than 250 people, young people, women and older people are taken into captivity), the forced exile of thousands of people (more than 3000 refugees in Hassake and Qamishli) those martyred (more than 10 already) are a terrible shock to a community that has endured in the past much suffering.

A new tragedy and collective extermination against the Assyrian-Chaldeans is once more unfolding before our eyes in pain and blood in Syria, since Monday February 23rd, following that of Iraq where the Nineveh province is still in mourning since its invasion by the terrorist groups of the so-called "Islamic State", one June the 10th and July the 17th of 2014.

With the destruction of historical monuments that date back more than 3000 years of history and the demolition of churches and sanctuaries by a band of nihilist obscurantists, the memory of a people and traces of a civilization, Mesopotamia, one of the cradles of humanity, that holds a tangible and intangible world heritage, is being erased.

These acts of vandalism have been vigorously denounced by the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova.

Early on the morning of Monday February 23rd, the ISIS terror befell the Assyrian villages of Khabur, with the first persecutions having begun in September, with the summing of removal of crosses from churches.

The irony is that these new victims, these worthy son of Hakkari, their ancestral home, are precisely the children of the deported from Iraq massacres of 1933, themselves survivors of the 1915 genocide in the Ottoman Empire.

Syria was the third country of refuge

They live in the northeast of Syria, since 1933, on the 2 banks of the Khabur River in 35 villages between the towns of Hassake (which is my hometown) and Ras al-Ain. It is with joy that I spent my childhood and youth between Hassake and the Assyrian villages where I fed on the love of the Assyrian country and learned the pride of belonging to this people.

Who are the Assyrians?

The documents of the League of Nations (SDN), which is the UN between the wars, claim that the Assyrians were "driven from their mountains by Turkish forces" in 1915 and "took refuge in Urmia, Persia, that was, at the time, in the hands of Russian troops."

After 1915, a new tragedy occurred, the exodus of the Assyrian-Chaldeans of Persia to Iraq on the 31st of July 1918. This terrible exodus is described in these terms: "After traveling in the stampede 300 miles (480 km) towards the south-east, with their families, their livestock and their property, the Assyrians finally reached Hamadan, decimated by perpetual attacks of the Turks, Kurds and Persians on all sides. Burned by the heat of the summer, ravaged by typhus, dysentery, smallpox and cholera, the old and young, exhausted by fatigue and fever, were abandoned on the roadside, and the dead and dying marked the path to retreat. In the end, after losing 20,000 of them, the survivors reached Hamadan and made contact with the British troops."

Fifteen years after arriving in Iraq (1918-1933), they were again victims of massacres that were at the time largely reflected by the international press, namely French.

Yet when Iraq gained independence and was admitted to the League of Nations on October 30th 1932, commitments were made to establish the Assyrians, who originated in Hakkari, as a homogeneous ethnic unity and compact group. However, the word "unit" was in the plural, thus maintaining the dispersion of the people. At the time, three key ideas summarized their demands homogeneous institution, administrative autonomy and right to collect taxes.

All efforts to establish the Assyrian unity had failed due to the resistance of the Iraqi authorities. Therefore, it was before such a state of dispersion, disunity and sloshing that the situation was becoming more and more critical.

Massacres took place in the village of Simmele and other localities in northern Iraq in August of 1933, committed by the now independent Iraqi state.

They made state of 3000 victims killed in atrocious conditions. It was then that a number of Assyrian mountaineers once again took the road on a forced exile to Syria, where they were greeted and seated in the Khabur region by the French authorities who then had the Mandate of Syria, entrusted by the League.

Villages cited as model

They built villages and developed agricultural land that lay fallow. They were cited as a model of success and loyalty to Syria.

We can mention with pride the list of major Assyrian villages built with their labor, estimated at 35, which is a microcosm and a reproduction that reminded them of the Hakkari:

Um Gargan Arbouch Tal Tal Hormuz Damshesh Tal Tal Tal Tal Maghada, Kharita, Alkeif Um, Um Waqfa Abu Tina, Qabr Shamiyeh, Baloaa Tal Tal Goran Shamiram Tal Tal Jazirah, Talaa Tal Tal Najme, Hefian Tal Tal Nasri, Baz Tal Tal Jumaa, Maghas Tal Tal Masas, Jadaya Tal Tal Tawil, Tamer Tal Tal Kepchi, Faidat Tal Tal Ahmar Tal Ruman Tahtani Tal Ruman Fokani, Brej Tal Tal Sakra, Wardiate Tal Tal Shamyeh.

The Khabur, a miniature of the Hakkari

What is extraordinary, from an anthropological and sociological point of view, is that when they arrived in the Khabur, Assyrians reproduced the structures of tribal organization, clan, family and religion prevailing since ancient times in Hakkari.

Thus, Tal Damshesh was occupied by the people of Konak, called Qotchesnaye, a village which was until 1915 the Patriarchal Headquarter of March Shimoun , the Baznaye inTal Baz and Tal Ruman Tahtani, the Talnaye in Tal Tal, the Djeloaye in Qabr Shamiye, the Tchalnaye in Tal Brej, the Gounouknaye in Tal Sakra and Qabr Shamyeh, the Mazernaye in Tal Wardiate, the Deznaye in Tal Baloaa, the Gavarnaye in Tal Goran and Tal Maghas, the Marbouchnaye in Tal Shamiram, the Halemnaye in Tal Jumaa, the Barwarnaye in Tal Masas, the Ilynnaye in Tal Jadaya, the Tiaraye in Tal Tamer, the Akernaye in Tal Kepchi the Mazernaye in Tal Ruman Fokani ....

The defense of their identity, ethnic, cultural and religious

This story is transmitted, since, as an intangible heritage through songs, illustrated by folklore, perpetuated by many poems and literary productions.

Belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East, formerly called Nestorian, grouped around their Patriarch (who lived in exile) and their leaders (the Maleks), they built churches whose names recall their saints, those they worshiped the country, as Saint Shalita, Saint Zaya, Saint Petion, Saint Guiwarguis, Saint Sarguis, Saint Bichou ...and every village is composed mainly of the tribe and clan to which they belonged.

A knowingly planned strategy and a crime against humanity

Since the 23rd of February the situation has been extremely worrying, with several villages like Tal Tamer, Tal Shamiram, Tal Tawil and Tal Hormuz attacked by ultra radical Islamists, equipped with heavy artillery.

Misfortune has befallen this peaceful community that asks for nothing more than its share of life and the right to dignity and respect.

Fed by a political ideology of hate, this is a strategy concerted and carefully prepared for the goal of emptying the region of its Christian population, destabilizing, sowing fear and spreading terror.

Faced with these cruel and barbaric acts, it is urgent to respond by taking concrete measures to break this passivity and inconsistency in which the international community delights.

How did we reach this situation? What contempt of the human being and what decline of civilization.

This address was delivered at the event for the Assyrians Khabur (Syria), in Sarcelles, Sunday 1 March 2015.

Translated from French by Maguy Chiha.

Joseph Yacoub is Honorary Professor (Political Science) from the Catholic University of Lyon.


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