Tragedy, loss and prejudice are only a few words we can use to describe what the Assyrian and Armenian Christians suffered at the hands of the Turkish Government. Only now, ninety-one years after these murders, violations and acts of inhumanity took place, has this dark period in history come to light.
The Genocide of the Assyrian people has been given the cutting name ‘SEYFO’, which translates to mean ‘sword’. This name was given to represent the brutalities the Assyrians suffered as a result of refusing to accept the policies of the ruling government which was seeking to ‘Turkify’ the Christian people of the land. The self-proclaimed aim of the Empire was to create a Pan-Turkish state, or perhaps more importantly, a state where the only religion was Islam. To achieve this ideal, the Turkish Government created laws with the sole intention to make life for the Christians as difficult as possible. By law, Christians could not take part in any political issues, Assyrians could not speak their inherited language and taxes for the non-Muslims were more than ten times higher than those who were Turks and Muslims. Those too scared to stay in the villages they were born in, fled to safety by foot to neighboring countries (most of which died on their journey from exhaustion and hunger). Assyrians refusing to leave their homes and deny their faith became targets for the Turkish Government, which led to the most horrific event in Assyrian history: The Slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Assyrians and the forced deportations of many more.
Assyrians and Armenians have taken it upon themselves to educate people of this Genocide which is often referred to as the ‘the lost page in history’. Firodil Institute has been spreading the word of SEYFO with the help of Government MP’s and by organizing ‘Genocide’ events. The most recent and successful event took place on 10th May 2006 at SOAS University (School of Oriental and African Studies) and proved to be a powerful learning experience for those who attended. Mr. Lamassu of Firodil Institute, who is an Assyrian himself, spoke of the disturbing effect that the Genocide aftermath had on him:
“I grew up listening to stories of an uncle who had to watch his six-month-old child be thrown into a burning clay oven. Juxtapose the tragic tales I grew up with, with what normal children of normal environments grow up to; and you will realize why the crimes of 1915 must be recognized as genocide ... I am an Assyrian, I am the genocide and the genocide is me: to deny it you are killing me twice!”
Guest speakers at this event included academic researcher, Sabri Atman and winner of the ‘Golden Palm’ award, Swedish-Assyrian Journalist Nuri Kino. Not only did both speakers shed some light on the Assyrian and Armenian Genocide historically, but they also spoke of these prejudices still living on in Turkey today. Mr. Kino explained how Assyrian Christians are still referred to as ‘pigs’, and how the slaughtering of Assyrians are discussed with a sense of achievement. Turkey’s attitude towards the Christian People has raised a question mark over whether Turkey should be allowed to join the European Union (EU). This proposal has sparked a fear of history repeating itself for the Assyrian and Armenian people, as many fled their homeland to escape the Genocide Turkey subjected them to. Nuri Kino gave his opinions on this matter:
“Turkey claims, yes, Armenians, Assyrians have been killed in ‘war’. I have evidence it was a plot, a plan to rid Turkey of Christians, non-Muslims…Turkey must face up to the Genocide towards the Assyrians and apologize.”
Mr. Kino himself lost various members of his family during the Genocide with his grandmother being the sole survivor from a tribe consisting of over three hundred people. His documentary ‘Assyriska a National Team without a Nation’ was the winner of the prestigious ‘Golden palm’ award (awarded for the first time for a non-American and a non-fictional film). It was however, Kino’s first documentary ‘A Cry Unheard’ that set him on the road to success, as he followed the Genocide road, interviewing survivors and performing extensive research. This experience he claims was both stressful and upsetting which even took a toll on his health.
Ninety-one years later, news of this haunting Genocide is finally being spoken of, not with fear, but with sheer will and determination to force the Turkish Government to admit and apologize for what happened to the Christians in their country. After almost a century of lost lives, tragedy and grief, the Assyrians feel they deserve recognition and an apology, not for the sake of a “lost” nation, but for the justice of a nation that was stolen.
For more information on upcoming events or on any issues raised contact Rebecca at Rebecca_john84@hotmail.co.uk or Firodil Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.