By: Hanna Hajjar
ASSYRIAN GENOCIDE, “SEYFO-1915” CRASH COURSE
Having talked about the shortcomings of the church booklet and the lack of knowledge of its authors/writers now is time to educate! And I bet that the writers of the Church booklet can learn something from the material below.
The following pages, plus the attached photos that will follow, will allow the reader to learn much more about the Seyfo Genocide than what the whole 21 page church booklet. It is a “Crash Course” in Assyrian Genocide, offering the basic minimum amount of information to make a person familiar with the genocide and ethnic cleansing that the Assyrian people went through during Seyfo-1915!
For more information about Seyfo, there is a link at the end of the article to the “Seyfo Center”, which is the official website of the Assyrian genocide.
I tried to make this article very simple and in layman terms so that the average person can understand and relate to. It is in a "Question & Answer" format which highlight specific points and addressing them.
Disclaimer: By no means does this article cover everything about the Assyrian Genocide, however it offers the bare minimum information that every Assyrian should be aware off. It is intended as an educational tool, because Assyrians never had schools that addressed this issue, so each individual ended up in forming his own ideas based on what his grandparents narrated to him. Hence this article established a common denominator for all Assyrians to have a correct answer and a correct explanation when asked about the Assyrian Genocide.
What is “Seyfo”?
• “Seyfo” is the nickname of the “Assyrian Genocide”.
Why was it called “Seyfo”?
• In the Syriac language “Seyfo” means “Sword”.
• The “Assyrian Genocide” was nicknamed “Seyfo” because most of the victims were killed by the sword.
• It is also referred to as “Shato D’Seyfo” in Syriac, meaning “Year of the Sword”.
• It is also known as “Qtol-Amo” in Syriac, meaning “Killing of People”.
• In Turkish it is known as “Süryani Soykırımı”.
• To get a visual image of how Assyrians were massacred by the sword, please view the ISIL beheading videos which are available on www.youtube.com and search for "ISIS beheadings".
When was the term “Genocide” coined?
• It was after the massacre of Assyrians in Simele in 1933, which was carried by the Iraqi army and irregular Kurdish tribes, where 5000 Assyrian men, women, and children, lost their lives, that Raphael Lemkin a Polish lawyer, coined the word Geno-Cide from Greek and Latin, where “Genos” means “Family”, “Tribe”, “Race” in Greek, and “Cide” means “Kill” in Latin.
• Although at the time of Seyfo in 1915, the term Genocide was not coined yet, now it has become an international term used for cases where a certain race of people or their culture are subjected to ethnic extermination.
• Hence now Assyrians use the term “Assyrian Genocide” to mean the massacres of Assyrians during WWI “Seyfo-1915”.
Were there precursors to Seyfo-1915?
• Yes, there were two major massacres that preceded Seyfo.
• In 1843 East Assyrians in Hakkari Mountains were subjected to massacres by the Kurds, known as the Baderkhan massacres.
• In 1895 West Assyrians in Tur-Abdin Mountains and western cities and villages were subjected to massacres by the Ottomans and Kurdish tribes.
How many Assyrians lost their lives during Seyfo-1915?
• It is estimated that 750,000 Assyrians were massacred during Seyfo-1915.
When did Seyfo-1915 take place?
• Technically speaking “Seyfo” took place during World War One (WWI), (i.e. from July 28th, 1914, to November 11th, 1918), however it stretched in certain regions till 1924.
• In 1915 it escalated into a systematic genocide, hence “Seyfo-1915” is used to highlight that year.
• Now in 2015 Assyrians around the world are commemorating its centennial (or 100 Years Memorial).
Where did Seyfo-1915 take place?
• Seyfo took place in southeast Anatolia, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Urmia.
• If you draw a line from the Iskenderun (on the Mediterranean Sea), all the way to Urmia (on Lake Urmia), that would give the southern extent of the Assyrian Genocide.
• If you draw a line though Kharput (modern Elazig, on the Euphrates River), through Van (on Lake Van), that would give the northern extent of the Assyrian Genocide.
• If you draw a vertical (or north-south) line through Adana, and a vertical line through Urmia, that would respectively give the western and eastern extents of the Assyrian Genocide.
• This above rectangle roughly covers the region where the Seyfo-1915 Assyrian Genocide took place.
• In other words these are the provinces in which the Assyrian Genocide took place (listed East to West): 1- Adana, 2- Osmaniye, 3- Hatay, 4- Maras, 5- Aitab, 6- Kilis, 7- Urfa, 8- Adiyaman, 9- Malatya, 10- Mardin, 11- Diyarbakir, 12- Elazig, 13- Sirnak, 14- Siirt, 15- Bitlis, 16- Hakkari, 17- Van, (in Turkey), and 18- West Azerbaijan, (in Iran/Persia). (Note: The Ottoman army chased the Assyrians of Hikkari to Urmia in Iran, and massacred them there).
Who were the victims during Seyfo-1915?
• Members of the Syrian Orthodox Church, (A.K.A. Jacobites, Suryani Kadim, Assyrian Orthodox, Asori Orthodox)
• Members of the Syriac Catholic Church
• Members of the Assyrian Protestant Church (A.K.A. Evangelical, Injili)
• Members of the Church of the East, (A.K.A. Nestorians, Assyrian Church of the East)
• Members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, (A.K.A. Keldani)
• Members of the Assyrian Presbyterian Church
• Note: Greeks and Armenians were victims too, but this article is about Assyrians only.
Who were the perpetrators?
• The Ottomans and their allies the Kurds.
Was there a reason why Assyrians were massacred in WWI?
• Ironically there was no reason whatsoever as to why Assyrians were targeted and massacred in WWI.
• Assyrians had no conflict with the Ottoman government or Turkish people; they didn’t revolt, they didn’t carry arms, they didn’t collaborate with foreigners, they had no territorial claims, they didn’t seek succession, and they were not armed. They were living peacefully in their cities and villages minding their own business, in their homes, shops, fields, and schools, and all of a sudden, and out of the blues, all hell broke loose, and they found themselves being attacked from all directions, and massacred for no reason whatsoever!
• What happened was that a conflict that started between Armenians and Ottomans spiraled out of control when Ottoman nationalist leaders turned their wrath against all Christians in the Ottoman Empire, even those who were not involved in that conflict such as Assyrians. Yet they paid the price of someone else’s conflict by being massacred on the hands of the Ottomans and irregular Kurdish tribes.
What did Assyrian civilians face during Seyfo 1915?
• It was the Ottoman Hamidiye Cavalry, followed by Kurdish tribes that descended over the unarmed peaceful Assyrian villages, indiscriminately massacring men, ravishing women and children, leaving a trail of blood and death as they moved through, the survivors ended up ethnically cleansed, where they were deported outside their ancestral homeland, in death marches, where many died on the road of exhaustion especially children and seniors, and those who survived the marches had to face the elements and many more died of starvation and/or diseases.
• As a result, children were orphaned, women widowed, and parents lost their children, families separated.
Why were Assyrians targeted in the massacres?
• As mentioned earlier, Assyrians weren’t part of any revolt, or conspiracy; they were peaceful people living in peace and minding their own business. The conflict started between Ottomans and Armenians, (and with all due respect to all fallen victims, irrespective of their ethnicities), the Assyrians ended up paying the price of that conflict, especially that many Assyrians were mistakes to be Armenians. To fully understand what happened, we need to back a little in history to clear that.
• During the time of the Crusaders, the Armenians sided with the Crusaders, while Assyrians sided with the Turks and Arabs, hence when the Crusaders conquered the regions of Cilicia, and Edessa, they bestowed on the Armenians many privileges including political power, while denying it from Assyrians, and their action helped expand Armenian influence and language in the regions of Cilicia, Edessa, and central Anatolia. Consequently, many Assyrians who lived in that region and namely cities like: Diyarbakir, Kharput, Malatya, Adiyaman, Urfa, Severak, Adana, Aintab, etc. found themselves that they had to learn and speak Armenian in addition to the Turkish language in order to survive in that society. And after the Crusaders were pushed out, the influence of the Armenian language remained. So when the conflict between the Turks and Armenians erupted, many Armenian-speaking Assyrians in those cities got attacked and massacred by Ottoman soldiers because they mistakenly thought that they were Armenians. Example: The Assyrian victims in Diyarbakir were more than the Armenian victims.
• Prior to 1915, Armenians were well established in Istanbul, even the head of the Ottoman central bank was Armenian, they had high ranking officers in the Ottoman government and military, unlike Assyrians who had negligible presence in Istanbul, since Assyrians mainly lived in central to southern Anatolia. Since the Ottoman Government was located in Istanbul, and Assyrians occasionally needed to reach out to the Ottoman government to run their affairs, an informal agreement was struck, where the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul would represent Assyrian affairs there, by processing issues that deal with the Ottoman government. Even though both groups had independent churches with their own Patriarchs, yet when the conflict between the Ottomans and Armenians started, the Ottomans must have have lumped the Assyrian under the Armenian label because of this protocol where the Armenian Patriarchal represented Assyrian affairs in Istanbul, and consequently many Assyrians lost their lives because of that (i.e. they were mistakenly thought of to be Armenians).
• Hence many Assyrians victims perished because of mistake in identity, where the perpetrators thought that they were Armenians, and their numbers were lumped with Armenian victims. Consequently that affected the count of Assyrian victims because they were not counted as Assyrians.
• Assyrians are divided into several religious denominations, namely: Syrian Orthodox (A.K.A. Suryani Kadim, Jacobites, or Assyrian Orthodox), Syriac Catholics, Church of the East, (A.K.A. Nestorians, Nestori, Assyrian Church of the East), Chaldean Catholics (A.K.A. Keldani), and Assyrian Protestants. So counting them was a problem for those who were not familiar that they are the same people. That is why they were not grouped as one, but rather lumped under different broader sects name such as Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestant. Or under specific denominational name as: Suryani, Keldani, and Nestori. Or even under Armenian. Example: In an Ottoman document of Baghdad, Suryani and Roum were lumped together (i.e. they were grouped together since both were Orthodox even though they are ethnically and religiously different). In other document Suryani and Keldani are categorized separately even though they are ethnically the same but religiously different.
• During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Ottomans were facing losses in their territories in the Balkans, and as a result of that population shifts took place, where Balkan Turks who were evicted from the Balkans were moved to central Anatolia. Later during WWI, many Balkan Turks were involved in seeking revenge from local Christians in Anatolia in return to what they went through in the Balkans on the hands of Europeans, and as a result of that, many Assyrians were indirectly killed, (i.e. many Assyrians were indirectly killed in consequence to Balkan countries seeking independence, something which they had nothing to do with).
• Sure there were many Armenian victims, and Balkan-Turk victims, but Assyrians were not involved in the Ottoman-Armenian conflict, not the Balkan conflict, yet the Assyrians ended up paying with their lives for something that they didn’t initiate! Even though Assyrians were not claiming any territory.
• Another reason why Assyrians were targeted was Kurdish greed, who exploited the situation to their advantage, by turning the Ottoman vs. Armenian conflict, to become a Moslems vs. Christian conflict. Hence evoking Jihad to help them pillage the peaceful unarmed Assyrians villages, ransack them, killing the men and taking the women, their homes and properties. In fact replacing the whole Assyrian population in many locations, hence changing the demographics of the region. There was a famous Kurdish saying at the time which translates to: There is no difference between red and white onions, all is onion (meaning that all are Christians, and consequently they can get rid of them).
• Additionally, there were many western missionaries, and according to Ottoman laws they could not convert Moslems, (converting a Moslem is punishable by death). So the job of those western missionaries was only to convert Orthodox Christians to Catholic or Protestant denominations. The Ottoman allowed this at the beginning because it would fragment the Greek, Assyrian, and Armenian Orthodox Churches into Catholic and Protestant branches, hence weaken them. However none of the Orthodox churches liked that, but they could do nothing, since the missionaries had the green light from the Ottomans. As WWI erupted, the Ottomans started looking at those missionaries as spies, and consequently their followers, hence distrust and accusations of treason followed, and eventually massacres. Even the Orthodox who were against the missionaries were not spared.
Why were the massacres that occurred during WWI labeled as Armenian?
• The main reason was that the conflict between the Ottomans and Armenians triggered the massacres, so the media, embassies and missionaries reported it as Armenian.
• The Armenians had the largest number of victims.
• The Armenians kept the memory of their massacres alive by commemorating the even on yearly basis, and lobbying for its recognition in the countries that they relocated to after WWI.
• Assyrians on the other hand faced new persecutions in the countries that they ended up in after WWI, where they faced three more massacres: in Simele, and Soria in Iraq, and in Amuda in Syria. Let alone the discrimination carried by Arab nationalist regimes in both Syria and Iraq. Later Assyrian farmers had their lands nationalized when Syria and Egypt united. Hence Assyrians moved from one problem to another, and didn’t have a chance to catch their breath, to have a chance to lobby for their genocide, until recently two decades ago.
• Both Assyrians and Pontian-Greeks look at this as an unfair. In fact the Bishop Mar Afram Barsom notes this in his memo to the League of Nations in Paris in 1920, stating that Armenians were not the only ones massacred but rather all Christians in the Ottoman Empire.
Who was the first Assyrian executed by the Ottomans during Seyfo-1915?
• The first people that the Ottomans targeted were the intellectuals, and hence Professor Ashur Yusuf (A.K.A. Yousouf) of Kharput was the first Assyrian victim, he was a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
• Ashur Yusuf was a professor at the Euphrates College in Aintab, and the founder of the “Murshid Athuriyun” meaning “Assyrian Director” magazine, he is considered as the founder of Assyrian nationalism.
• Ashur Yusuf was also the teacher of Malfono Naoum Fayeq, who followed on his footsteps as an Assyrian nationalist writer, poet, and journalist.
What date do Assyrians commemorate Seyfo-1915?
• It has been established that the executions and massacres were officially initiated on April 24th 1915, and hence that date is considered to be the date of the genocides that took place during WWI.
Who represented the Syrian Orthodox at to the League of Nations?
• An Assyrian delegation attended the League of Nation’s Peace Conference in Paris in 1919-1920, and all the Assyrians sent their representatives to attend.
• It was Patriarch Elias Shaker of the Syrian Orthodox Church, who sent Bishop Mor Severius Afram Barsom (who later became the Patriarch) to that Peace Conference.
How can the Assyrian victims be labeled?
• Technically speaking, since Assyrians were not part of the original conflict in the Ottoman Empire during WWI, then we can say that Assyrians ended up being “Collateral Damage”.
• To understand the meaning of collateral damage: imagine an Assyrian in his store conducting his business, then all of a suddenly two speeding cars have a collision, one car driven by an Ottoman and a Kurd and the other car driven by an Armenian, the two cars hit each other and swirl out of control running over the Assyrian and his store. As you see the Assyrian was not involved in causing the accident, but was a bystander victim.
• Nevertheless Assyrians were targeted and massacred by the Ottomans and their allies the Kurds, where both subjected the Assyrians to a genocide, because what started as “Collateral Damage” escalated to a full-fledge genocide.
Who had recognized the Assyrian Genocide so far?
• Only in the last two decade the Assyrians started seeking international recognition
• Sweden and Australia had recognized the Assyrian Genocide collectively with the Armenian, and Pontian-Greek Genocides.
• Just today 24th March 2015 the state of Armenia recognized the Assyrian and Pontian- Greek genocides.
• Now the ball is in the court of the Greek Government to do the same.
• Noting that so far international recognition means nothing when the country in which the genocides occurred doesn’t recognize the genocides, since those recognitions are not binding on Turkey.
Whose responsibility is it to make this right?
• Assyrians were citizens of the Ottoman Empire, and as citizens of the Ottoman Empire known as “Vatan Dash” in Turkish, then it was the responsibility of the Ottoman government back then to protect its innocent citizens from any harm, especially since Assyrians were unarmed and not involved in any revolt, uprising, secession, or betrayal, and didn’t carry arms or plot against the Ottoman Empire.
• But unfortunately the Ottoman government and its officials looked the other way when Assyrians were massacred, and in fact gave the orders and/or encouraged massacring them.
• Additionally it was the Ottomans who gave their allies the Kurds the green light to massacre Assyrians. Since the Kurds would not have dared to touch the Assyrians if the Ottomans didn’t approve that.
• Hence to make it right, the main responsibility falls on the shoulders of the present Turkish Government since they are the successors of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has to power to fix this overdue pending issue, in fact it is in their own interest to resolve this issue and move on.
• The Kurds are responsible as well for their atrocities against Assyrians. Their excuse that they were following Ottoman orders is rejected the same way the excuses of Nazis at the Nuremburg trials claiming that they were following the orders of their superiors were rejected.
How does the Assyrian Genocide differ than the Armenian & Pontian-Greek Genocides?
• Sure there were civilians killed of all groups, and every single human life is precious, and may they all rest in peace and nothing justifies taking away life!
• In the case of Assyrians, they didn’t raise an army to fight the Ottomans. And this is a key factor, because Turkey has been arguing that the Armenians and Greeks fought with armies, and in that war atrocities were carried by all sides. But on the other hand the Turks can’t have that excuse against Assyrians, simply because Assyrian victims were all civilians, and they were killed in their own villages, and not while invading some other regions, furthermore those Assyrians who survived were on the run trying to escape with their lives.
• Another reason is that Armenians and Greeks claim their genocide on the Turks as the perpetrators, but in the case of Assyrians, they were massacred by both Ottomans and Kurds. Kurds within the Hamidiye Cavalry under Ottoman leadership, as well as irregular Kurdish tribes.
Who was the Ottoman Sultan during WWI?
• Sultan Abel-Hamid II.
Who were the Ottoman leaders/officers who issued the orders that consequently led to the Assyrian Genocide?
• They were the three Pashas, namely: Mehmet Talaat Pasha, Ismail Enver Pasha, Ahmet Jamal Pasha.
• The “Young Turks”, or “Genç Türkler” (in Turkish), was established as a national reform party in the early 20th Century, seeking a constitutional monarchy instead of an absolute one. Later it became to be known as Committee of Union and Progress” (CPU), or “İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti” (in Turkish). The party splintered and eventually internal struggle ended when in 1913 the Freedom and Accord seized power, And the CPU was controlled by three men: The Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, and working with him were war minister Enver Pasha and naval minister Jamal Pasha. These "Three Pashas", as they came to be known, exercised absolute control over the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1918.
Who did the killing of Assyrians?
• The Hamidiye Cavalry, and Kurdish irregulars.
How were most Assyrians killed?
• Although guns were available, yet the sword was the weapon of choice of the Hamidiye Cavalry and the Kurdish irregulars, because the Assyrian victims were unarmed civilians. Men were beheaded similar to the way practiced by ISIL as shown in numerous videos on www.youtube.com
• In certain cases Assyrians were burnt alive inside their churches, where they seek refuge, assuming that the perpetrators won’t attack places of worship.
• Many Assyrian victims were drowned in the Tigris or Euphrates Rivers.
• Women who were spared were raped and taken away as sex slaves, or later killed.
Who were the Hamidiye Cavalry?
• The “Hamidiye Corps”, literally meaning "belonging to Hamid" (the Sultan Abdel Hamid II, at that time). Their full official name “Hamidiye Hafif Süvari Alayları”, meaning “Hamidiye Light Cavalry Regiments”.
• They wore blue uniforms, and in addition to being well-armed (with guns of the time), they carried their trademark sword, which they used in slaughtering their victims; there are even photos of officers posing with severed heads.
• The bulk of the Hamidiye Cavalry was mainly irregular Sunni Kurdish, but they also had Turkish, Turkmen, and Yörük, also Arab cavalry formations that operated in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire.
• The Hamidiye Cavalry was established by Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1891, and named after him.
• The Hamidiye Cavalry was modeled after the Russian Cossacks and was supposedly tasked to patrol the Russo-Ottoman frontier. But they were redirected and used by the Ottoman authorities to attack Assyrians and other Christians.
How were the Kurds involved in massacring the Assyrians during Seyfo-1915?
• The Kurds constituted the bulk force of the Hamidiye Cavalry, (see list with their tribal affiliation). In other words the main perpetrators of the Assyrian Genocide were the Kurds but under Ottoman command.
• The Hamidiye Cavalry were supported and followed by irregular Kurdish tribes who finished the job of massacring the survivors, looting, and occupying the houses of the victims. This can be visible in all the cities and villages that Assyrians once occupied, and were massacred in, since the massacres were followed by the ethnic cleansing of the survivors, and their homes and belongings were taken over.
• Since the original conflict was between the Ottomans and the Armenians, the Assyrians had nothing to do with that, but the Kurds took advantage of the chaos during WWI to their advantage by attacking Assyrians for the sole purpose of looting and taking over their homes and processions. And this lead to a demographical change in south east Anatolia.
• In other words the Assyrians were innocent victims who paid the price for someone else’s conflict, and the greed of the Kurds, who ironically are currently being rewarded for their atrocities, by claiming the homeland of their Assyrian victims.
What is Turkey’s main excuse for not recognizing the Genocides that took place during WWI?
• Turkey main excuse is that during WWI, The Ottomans were in the middle of war, and an internal conflict occurred, where casualties fell on both warring sides, and atrocities were carried by both sides in certain cases. But here is the problem with their argument: this excuse does not in the case of Assyrians.
• In the case of Assyrians all the victims were one sided, (i.e. all the victims were Assyrians, and no victims on the Ottomans side).
What happened as an aftermath to Seyfo?
• There were three massacres that Assyrians were subjected to following Seyfo.
• In Simele Iraq, in 1933, by the Iraqi Arab Army and the Kurdish tribes.
• In Soria in Iraq by the Iraqi army.
• In Amuda in Syria by the Syrian army.
• Additionally, the foreign missionaries Catholics and Protestants scavenged on the helpless survivors, by trying to convert them to their own denominations. Through supplying humanitarian air, and/or establishing orphanages to collect the children who lost their parents.
• Armenians were better organized than Assyrians, especially through the international publicity from being named as the Armenian genocide. Hence we find many Assyrian families ending as becoming Armenians Catholics, and those can be identified by their last name which still carries Assyrian traces, names such as: Barsomian, Najjarian, etc. which are Assyrian names with an added “–ian” suffix. Those were mainly Assyrians from the region of Mardin, who didn’t speak Armenian at all.
Where to get more information about the Assyrian Genocide?
• The Seyfo Center official website at: http://www.seyfocenter.com/index.php?sid=2&aID=558
Other good references are the following books:
• The Seyfo Articles, by Dr. Sabri Atman.
• The Assyrian Genocide, by Dr. Gabriele Younan.
• Shall This Nation Die, by Rev. Joseph Naayam, and eye witness book.
• Seyfo: The Assyrian Genocide in International Law, by Ninos Warda.
• Assyrian Case in the United Nation, by Dr. Joseph Yacoub.
• Assyrian Genocide, by Dr. David Gaunt.
• Massacres & Deportation of Assyrians in Northern Mesopotamia, Ethnic Cleansings by Turkey, by Racho Donef
• The British historian Arnold Toynbee had written about the Armenian massacres where he included a section about the Assyrian massacres. Ironically the Armenian Haygazian University in Beirut Lebanon when they reprinted his book, they had removed some 100 pages that talked about the Assyrians Genocide, so the reader needs to find Toynbee’s original book to make sure he has access the Assyrian section.