Awake, son of Assyria,
Awake and see the world how enlightened.
The chance is fleeing from us
And time is running out
Awake son of Assyria, Awake!
In vengeance you will take refuge.
Rise up and band together to strengthen.
And if one does not awake we have lost our chance
Without a purpose, misfortune will befall our land’ .
Naum Faiq wrote ‘Awake, son of Assyria’ in the aftermath years of the Seyfo in America. He had survived the massacres in Omid (today’s Diyarbakir) in 1895 and understood already in 1912 that it is better to flee to a save heaven: he joined his friends who were already in America. His call for awakening has been heard: today the Assyrians dare to ask for justice in the society they live in.
On Saturday 23rd April 2005 Assyrians from world wide gathered to commemorate the ancestors that were killed during the genocide of 1915 in Turkey. Two thousand people walked first their demonstration through Brussels to the Ambriorix Square in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. The people who gathered there are the grandchildren of the Seyfo, the genocide committed by the Ottoman Turkish government. And they still feel: there is still no justice in this case. The grandchildren of the survivors and those that did not survive the genocide gathered and felt the pain: young and old, members of different churches of our people. Bishop Julius Jesuh who is leading the Syriac Orthodox congregation of Middle Europe, preceeded in the commemoration. Together with the Chorbishop Abdo and the priest Sabri from Belgium, they started with a prayer for the lost souls.
Ablahhad Stayfo from Belgium hosted the programme for the day. Bishop Julius Jesuh started the first speech to the big crowd and mentioned first that the Cynod of the Syriac Orthodox church had decided in 1998 to commemorate the martyrs of our people of 1915 each year from now on. ‘Ninety years after 1915 we have gathered here to commemorate our people that became martyrs for Jesus Christ’, he said. They had to die because they were Christians. When the bishop mentioned this, his tears came down. The tears of a leader that felt sorry for the lost souls: ‘these souls were not guilty but thrown into the rivers, the wells and killed with swords’ he said with a broken voice.
Malham Ishak said in his speech that although only his grandfather in his family had survived the genocide, and although all the villages in mount Judi have been wiped out by the Turkish authorities, he would like to see a Turkey that wants to develop a democracy in the future. And if Turkey is not prepared to do that, including admitting the genocide it had committed, then our wish is that the European Union does not allow Turkey as a future member of the EU. ’If Turkey does not want us and accept our requests, then we do not want Turkey either’, he said. After all, does the European want to accept a member state that denies its past and the requests of its citizens?
Sabri Atman, expressed in his speech that on 23rd April 1923 the Young Turks celebrate the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. For them it symbolises a day of happiness, one day before the start of genocide on the Christians. Naturally, one could not observe a nation celebrating the start of the genocide annually and at the same time eager to become a future member of the European Union. Mr. Atman spoke part of his speech in Turkish. He said: ‘The Turkish media are here, and since they do not understand our language, and are not interested in learning it, I will have to talk their language to make them understand my story’. He did this courageously. After that black balloons were thrown into the air. They looked like the black grapes in our parents’ vineyards, cut from their plants and lost in search of their soul. They went high and remained dark, while the crowd shouted with one voice: ‘We will not forget the Seyfo, martyrs do not die’! Next year I want to see balloons that will not express the sadness in my people’s hearts any more. I want to see balloons which our future children will like; colours that humanity likes. Mr. Atman ended his speech with the story of an Assyrian mother whose family members were all killed and she was sent with her four years old daughter on a death march. This march into exile ended sad for her too: her last family member, her daughter, was taken from her and kidnapped by Ahmed Pasha to become his future wife. The Assyrian mother did not see her girl after that any more. Sabri Atman ended his speech saying: ‘the question of the Seyfo is the question of all our people; we all suffer and therefore it is not the question of a few individuals only. This year, the bishop is here with us. Next year I want our Patriarch and many more of our priests to preceede in the commemoration of genocide victims’.
August Thiry from Belgium read a short story from the Armenian William Saroyan’s book ‘Seventy Thousand Assyrians’, which he wrote in 1923. It is the story of the Assyrian Badal who ends up in Los Angeles and works as a barber after having escaped the genocide. The author Saroyan, who assumes that the Assyrian is an Armenian finds out later that he is not, but that their story is similar: both their people are decimated to a degree that Turkey can deny today that there are and there were Assyrians or any other people except Turks in Turkey. The sad tone in which the barber tells his story to the Armenian author is striking: ‘once my people were a great people and had a great civilization in Mesopotamia, and today I am just a barber in Los Angeles’.
The young singer Ninorta Coban from Germany sang two songs in which she expressed love and unity. The first song she sang was Gabriel Assad’s song‘Moth Beth Nahrin , lo nethe lech hdamo lmauto’ (Mesopotamia my motherland, I will never forget yout). The bishop and the people were impressed by the performance of the eleven years old girl.
Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers hold a speech in three languages. One of the elements he mentioned was that the names of the Assyrian victims need to be inscribed on a black wall in the city of Brussels where the European Union is based.
Elias Hanna from America represented the Assyrian American National Federation and expressed their support to the stand of their people in Europe regarding the Seyfo in Turkey.
George Farag (also known by his artists name Holo Melke) poet, actor and director of plays and films, read from his poem ‘On the Night of 1st April I saw a dream’. In his dream he saw the atrocities committed to the Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire. He ended his poem questioning why the Mesopotamian heroes had not come to save his people.
Today, seventeen organizations and churches of our people from all over the world gathered to commemorate the victims of the genocide. It got attention from different media, such as two Belgian TV channels, Ashur TV and Beth Nahrin Tv. Beautiful, colourful souls shared with each other the sorrows of the last ninety years which they had brought with them in the diaspora. The media recorded their requests: Turkey should recognize the genocide it committed in WW I and allow the rights of our people from today. The Assyrian eyewitnesses that survived this genocide could not be with their grandchildren on this day in Brussels. They stayed home to spare their energy and to keep the memories alive, until justice is done to them and to humanity.