A 71-year-old Assyrian Christian man, Hurmuz Diril, who lived in a village in southeast Turkey, has been missing since he and his wife Simoni were kidnapped on January 11 (AINA 2020-05-21).
The decaying remains of Simoni (age 65) were found by one of her sons, Bedri Diril, in a river near their home in the village of Mehr, Kovankaya in Turkey's province of Şırnak on March 20, two months after the abduction.
Their other son, Father Adday Remzi Diril, is a priest based in Istanbul. He is known internationally for his pastoral care of around 7,000 Iraqi Christian refugees displaced in Turkey.
An investigation concerning the fate of the couple is underway. However, the prosecutor's office in Şırnak issued a gag order regarding the matter. Many have criticized the Turkish government for failing to fully investigate the disappearance and hold those responsible to account.
The victim's nephew, George Diril, said in an interview with Bianet News Agency that Simoni's body no longer had bodily integrity.
"The streamside where her dead body was found is ten minutes from the houses in the village," Diril was quoted as saying. "She might have been found alive if the search had been sincerely conducted."
"A real search was not carried out; weather conditions were used as an excuse. Drones hovered in the air twice, that was all," he added. "We constantly asked state authorities for help. But they were not sincere. A confidentiality order was imposed on the investigation file."
"On the day when this order was issued, authorities came to the village. It was an utter production. They circled the house, took pictures and left. Then, (the) news was reported that (the) 'search was carried out despite harsh weather conditions.' But no search was done, our voice was not heard. No one cared."
The couple's village is a historically Assyrian village located in Turkey's southeast near the border with Iraq. It was evacuated in 1989 and 1994 because of the conflict between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK. The conflict included targeted kidnappings and disappearances.
Ten years ago, despite the dangers, the Diril couple returned. They hoped to rebuild their village and set an example for their fellow Assyrians in the diaspora of returning to their ancient towns and villages in southeast Turkey, historically referenced as Tur Abdin in Assyrian.
Assyrians are an indigenous people of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran who have inhabited those lands since antiquity. They are one of the first nations that converted to Christianity.
"The Assyrian homeland is in northern Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, where the ancient cities of Assur and Nineveh were built" wrote Professor Hannibal Travis, "For 300 years, Assyrian kings ruled the largest empire the world had yet known. The Assyrian Church of the East records that the Apostle Thomas himself converted the Assyrians to Christianity within a generation after the death of Christ. Christianity was 'well established and organized' in Mesopotamia by the third century CE."
The population balance of the region, however, has been largely altered as a result of severe persecution against Assyrians and other Christians by Muslims for centuries. A major crime targeting Assyrian civilians was the genocide in Ottoman Turkey from 1914 to 1925, during which approximately 250,000 to 300,000 Assyrians lost their lives.
"The evidence is overwhelming that Turks and their Kurdish allies massacred tens, and more likely hundreds, of thousands of Assyrians in order to exterminate the Christian population," added Professor Travis. "(They) raped and enslaved hundreds, and more likely thousands, of Assyrian women in a systematic fashion; and deported the Assyrians en masse from their ancestral lands under conditions that led to famine and widespread death."
Decades after the genocide, the persecution of Assyrians in the region is ongoing. Historian Frederick Aprim wrote that "since the creation of the modern Middle Eastern states after the partition of the Ottoman Empire post-WWI, the Assyrians have faced and continue to face systematic Arabization, Turkification, and Kurdification policies by Pan-Arab governments, Pan-Turkish governments, and by Kurdish political parties."
"The Assyrians have been suffering genocide and massacre on two ends: first for being a Christian minority in a Muslim world and secondly for being ethnically Assyrian in a dominant Arab/Kurdish/Turkish region," added Aprim.
Ayşe Günaysu, a prominent human rights advocate and member of the Commission Against Racism and Discrimination of Turkey's Human Rights Association (IHD), has visited Tur Abdin in southeast Turkey and prepared reports since 2017 on the plight of Assyrians in the region. These reports demonstrate the persecution, harassment, and pressures that the remaining Assyrians are still subjected to at the hands of Kurds and the Turkish government. The property and lands of Assyrians are still illegally seized by some Kurds in the region, Günaysu reported.
Meanwhile, the Diril family is still asking the government authorities to find their missing father.
"The tragedy has devasted the children of the Diril couple and has left them permanently traumatized," said Juliana Taimoorazy, founding president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. She has remained in close contact with the Diril family. "What is even more heartbreaking is that they still do not have answers to their many questions."
"The Diril family has told me that the government authorities have not sent anybody to look for the father's body in the river where the mother was found. Nobody asks the family any questions, and nobody reports to them anything. They are the ones always going to the authorities and asking them questions. Around June 10, they went to the governor of Şırnak again and asked for help with the search for the father. The governor said once the water of the river recedes, they would search, but they have not done that yet, although the water has receded. There is still no search activity for the father," Taimoorazy said.
"All those who know the story of the Diril couple genuinely ask how the family will ever heal after this tragedy. The Assyrians in the West feel helpless, far away, and at times, desperate for answers."
"Wanting to safely live on our lands is a basic human right, but this right has been stripped away from us," Taimoorazy added. "The only thing Simoni and Hurmuz wanted was to rebuild their lives in their village. But we are continually denied our human rights in our ancestral lands."
She continued, "When an individual is murdered for his or her faith or ethnicity, the entire religious and ethnic community is struck at the heart, which leaves a lasting impact on the entire nation. And now the Diril couple have joined the millions of Assyrians who have been unjustly murdered on their own land for their Christian faith and Assyrian ethnicity."