Assyrian Genocide

The Assyrian Genocide, 1914 to 1923 and 1933 up to the present

The Assyrian people have been repeatedly victimized by genocidal assaults over the past century. They first suffered, along Ottoman Greeks and Armenians, from Turkey’s simultaneous genocides during and immediately after World War I. Soon after, the Armenians of northern Iraq were brutally massacred by the newly established Iraqi state. Persecution continued during the reign of the Ba’ath Party and Saddam Hussein, and sectarian violence unleashed during the recent Iraq War has left Assyrians vulnerable in their historic homeland. As a result of these successive tragedies, an Assyrian diaspora stretches across the world.

Synopsis
Paintings and Photos
Websites
Primary Sources: Western Press Reports
Other Primary Sources
Secondary Sources


Map courtesy of "The Assyrian State" at atour.com

Synopsis

The Assyrian people have deep autochthonous roots in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, going back well before the 3rd millennium BCE. Christianity came early to the Assyrians, at least since the third century CE. With subsequent Arab, Mongolian, and Ottoman conquests of Mesopotamia, the Assyrians and their Christian brethren were subordinated to minority status. The millet system of the Ottoman Empire ensured a certain degree of cultural and religious autonomy, at least until the crises of the 19th century. By then, geopolitical forces and the rise of nationalism threatened the multiethnic status of the Ottoman Empire, which subsequently directed its ire against its Christian subjects. Along with the Armenians, the Ottoman Assyrians suffered grave depredations towards the end of the 19th century, when the Ottoman Sultan organized an irregular cavalry force of Kurdish tribesmen called the Hamidiye. This was the awful prelude of what was to follow in the coming decades.

The status of Ottoman Christians became even more precarious after the ultranationalist "Young Turks" emerged as a dominant political force in the Empire. Organized as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the "Young Turks" staged a successful coup in 1913, thereby establishing a military dictatorship on the eve of World War I. They initiated a national project of "Turkey for the Turks," whereby they sought to forge a homogenous nation state through the deliberate removal of all minorities. Soon after the Ottoman Empire entered World War I in November 1914, the CUP ruthlessly began its genocidal project. Waging more or less simultaneous genocides against Assyrians, Armenians, and Greeks, the CUP essentially followed the same pattern of group destruction. Massacres, rapes, plundering, cultural desecrations, and forced deportations were all endemic. Around 750,000 Assyrians died during the genocide, amounting to nearly three quarters of its prewar population. The rest were dispersed elsewhere, mostly in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the persecution of Assyrians did not end with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. From August 8-11, 1933, in the newly established state of Iraq, Assyrian villagers in the northern Iraqi town of Simele were brutally murdered. Some 3,000 men, women, and children were killed by Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish irregulars. The massacre was covered by Western media sources, and it inspired the intellectual development of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish jurist who would go on to coin the word "genocide."

There remains a vulnerable Assyrian population in Iraq. They suffered along with their former Kurdish tormentors from Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist party's "Arabization" program that culminated in the bloody al-Anfal campaign in 1988. As of the invasion of Iraq in spring 2003, there still remained a substantial minority of nearly 1.5 million Assyrians, roughly 8 percent of the total Iraqi population. However, the recent Iraq War has been devastating for the Assyrians, as they have been caught in the midst of vicious sectarian violence. Presently, the Assyrian diaspora stretches across the world, from the Middle East to Central Asia, as well as Western Europe, North America, and Australia. While they continue to celebrate their rich cultural heritage, their modern legacy as victims of genocide has yet to be fully recognized.

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Paintings and Photos

 
 

Flag, Photos courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
Photo, bottom row, courtesy of Assyrian International News Agency

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Websites

The Assyrian International News Agency offers up to date news on current threats to the Assyrian community in the Middle East as well as plenty of historiographical material, including a page on the Assyrian genocide.

The Assyrian Holocaust contains innumerable links to historical resources

The Seyfo Center deals with contemporary Assyrian history, politics, and society. While much of the website is in Turkish, there is some English-language material.

The Assyrian Aid Society promotes Assyrian culture and heritage.

The Assyrian Democratic Organization is a political and democratic movement in the interests of the Assyrian people, aiming to realize its national aspirations in its historic homeland.

Bahra includes many Assyrian cultural resources.

Frederick A. Aprim is an Iraqi Assyrian author and poet whose site includes many of his publications.

Rosie Malek-Yonan is an Assyrian actress, director, author of The Crimson Field and human rights activist. This site compliments her novel, The Crimson Field, and includes her recent Congressional testimony on behalf of the ongoing persecution of Assyrians in war-torn Iraq.

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Primary Sources: Western Press Reports (arranged chronologically)

“Native Christians Massacred; Frightful Atrocities in Persia.” Los Angeles Times (April 2, 1915): I1.

 “1,000 Urumiah Christians Killed by Turks.” The Washington Post (September 4, 1915): 2.

“Urumiah Massacres.” The Times (October 9, 1915).

Shimmon, Paul. “The Plight of Assyria.” New York Times (September 18, 1916): 12.

“The Sore Plight of Assyria in the War for Democracy.” The Sun (October 6, 1918): A6.

“For Aid to Assyrians.” New York Times (January 26, 1919): 14.

“Assyrians’ War Sufferings.” The Times (June 15, 1920).

“1,000 Assyrians Coming in Small Sailing Ships.” New York Times (August 6, 1921): 5.

“Misery in Near East Related in Churches.” The Sun (October 31, 1921): 16.

“Ask Permit for 1,500 Assyrians to Enter U.S.” Chicago Daily Tribune (December 18, 1921): 18.

Shimmon, Paul. “Assyrian Immigration.” New York Times (June 4, 1922): 105.

“War Refugees Number More Than Million.” Los Angeles Times (March 11, 1933): A5.

Edgar, Paul G. “Allies Are Blamed for Assyrians’ Fate.” New York Times (April 2, 1933): E5.

Steele, John. “60,000 Assyrian Exiles May Lose Chance for Home.” Chicago Daily Tribune (April 10, 1933): 16.

“Atrocity Claims Fly As Iraquians Fight Assyrians.” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 11, 1933): 28.

“Burning of Troops Laid to Assyrians.” The Washington Post (August 11, 1933): 2.

“500 Assyrians Killed.” Wall Street Journal (August 14, 1933): 6.

“Britain Is Anxious Over Iraq Fighting.” New York Times (August 16, 1933): 10.

Steele, John. “800 Assyrians Slain in Iraq.” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 17, 1933): 12.

“Britain to Take Up Massacres in Iraq.” New York Times (August 17, 1933): 1.

“Massacre of Assyrian Christians Reported.” The Sun (August 17, 1933): 2.

“300 Assyrians Killed in Iraq.” The Washington Post (August 17, 1933): 1.

“500 Assyrians Killed.” Wall Street Journal (August 17, 1933): 6.

Steele, John. “British Scandal Scented in Iraq over Assyrians.” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 18, 1933): 15.

“Iraq Massacre Upsets Britain.” Los Angeles Times (August 18, 1933): 3.

“Feisal Postpones Flight from Iraq.” New York Times (August 18, 1933): 8.

“King Kept at Home by Iraq Massacre.” The Sun (August 18, 1933): 11.

Steele, John. “Patriarch of Assyrians in Iraq Deported.” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 19, 1933): 4.

“Britain Seeks Peace in Iraq.” Los Angeles Times (August 19, 1933): 3.

“Assyrians’ Leader Deported by Iraq.” New York Times (August 19, 1933): 9.

“London Takes Hand in Iraq Trouble.” The Sun (August 19, 1933): 9.

“Britain Takes Hand in Iraq.” The Washington Post (August 19, 1933): 17.

Kuhn, Jr., Ferdinand. “British Concerned Greatly over Iraq.” New York Times (August 20, 1933): E3.

“Iraq Denies Massacre.” New York Times (August 23, 1933): 11.

“Assyrian Revolt Put Down.” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 24, 1933): 9.

Edgar, Paul G. “Assyrians’ Trouble Laid to Foreigners.” New York Times (September 3, 1933): E5.

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Other Primary Sources

Bey, Mundji. “The Regenerated Ottoman Empire.” The North American Review 188, no. 634 (1908): 395-403.

Bourdillon, B. H. “The Political Situation in Iraq.” Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs 3, no. 6 (1924): 273-287.

Dominian, Leon. “The Peoples of Central and Northern Asiatic Turkey.” Bulletin of the American Geological Society 47, no. 11 (1915): 832-871.

Griselle, Eugene. Syriens et Chaldéens: Leur Martyre, Leurs Espérances. Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1918.

Lord Mayor’s Fund. The Plight of Armenian and Assyrian Christians: Report of Public Meeting Organised by the Lord Mayor’s Fund, Held at Central Hall, Westminster, on December 4, 1918. London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne, 1918.

Malek, Yusuf. The British Betrayal of the Assyrians. Warren Point, NJ: Kimball Press, 1936.

Shahbaz, Yonan H. The Rage of Islam: An Account of the Massacre of Christians by the Turks in Persia. Reprint. Gorgias Press, 2006 [1918].

Stafford, Ronald Sempill. The Tragedy of the Assyrians. Reprint. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006 [1935]. [provided by http://www.aina.org]

Wilson, Arnold. “The Middle East.” Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs 5, no. 2 (1926): 96-110.

Yohannan, Abraham. The Death of a Nation, or: The Ever Persecuted Nestorians or Assyrian Christians. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1916.

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Secondary Sources

Alichoran, Joseph. “Assyro-Chaldeans in the 20th Century: From Genocide to Diaspora.” Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society 8, no. 2 (1994): 30-55.

Aprim, Frederick A. Assyrians: The Continuous Saga. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2005.

–––. Assyrians: From Bedr Khan to Saddam Hussein. 2nd ed. Glendale, CA: Pearlida, 2007.

Baram, Amatzia. “A Case of Imported Identity: The Modernizing Secular Ruling Elites of Iraq and the Concept of Mesopotamian-Inspired Territorial Nationalism, 1922-1992.” Poetics Today 15, no. 2 (1994): 279-319.

BetBasoo, Peter. Incipient Genocide: The Ethnic Cleansing of the Assyrians of Iraq. Assyrian International News Agency, 2009.

Courtois, Sébastian de. The Forgotten Genocide: The Eastern Christians, the Last Arameans. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2004.

Gaunt, David. Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia during World War I. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006.

Gracey, G. F. “Enquiry into the Assyrian Situation.” Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society 22, no. 4 (1935): 646-654.

Husry, Khaldun S. “The Assyrian Affair of 1933 (I).” International Journal of Middle East Studies 5, no. 2 (1974): 161-176.

–––. “The Assyrian Affair of 1933 (II).” International Journal of Middle East Studies 5, no. 3 (1974): 344-360. [revisionist account]

Isaacs, Paul A. “The Urgent Reawakening of the Assyrian Question in an Emerging Iraqi Federalism: The Self-Determination of the Assyrian People.” Northern Illinois University Law Review 29, no. 1 (2008-2009): 209-243.

Joseph, John. “The Assyrian Affair: A Historical Perspective.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 6, no. 1 (1975): 115-117.

Khosroeva, Anahit. “The Assyrian genocide in the Ottoman Empire and Adjacent Territories.” In The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies. Ed. Richard Hovannisian, pp. 267-274.New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2007.

Levene, Mark. “A Moving Target, the Usual Suspects and (Maybe) a Smoking Gun: The Problem of Pinning Blame in Modern Genocide.” Middle Eastern Studies 33, no. 4 (1999): 3-24.

Lewis, Jonathan Eric. “Iraqi Assyrians: Barometers of Pluralism.” Middle East Quarterly 10, no. 3 (2003): 49-57.

Malek-Yonan, Rosie. The Crimson Field: A Historical Novel. Verdugo City, CA: Pearlida Publishing, 2005.

Nisan, Mordechai. Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1991.

Schechla, Joseph. “Ideological Roots of Population Transfer.” Third World Quarterly 14, no. 2 (1993): 239-275.

Sonyel, Salahi Ramadan. The Assyrians of Turkey: Victims of Major Power Policy. Ankara: Turkish Historical Society Printing House, 2001.

Stafford, R. S. “Iraq and the Problem of the Assyrians.” International Affairs 13, no. 2 (1934): 159-185.

Sykes, Percy. “A Summary of the History of the Assyrians in Iraq, 1918-1933.” Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society 21, no. 2 (1934): 255-268.

Travis, Hannibal. “’Native Christians Massacred’: The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians during World War I.” Genocide Studies and Prevention 1, no. 3 (2006): 327-371. [provided by http://www.aina.org]

Travis, Hannibal. Genocide in the Middle East: The Ottoman Empire, Iraq, and Sudan. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2010.

Waldeck, Countess. “The Great New Migration.” Foreign Affairs 15, no. 3 (1937): 537-546.
Wigram, W. A. (2002). The Assyrians and Their Neighbours. Reprint. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2002 [1929]. [provided by http://www.aina.org]

Yacoub, Joseph. The Assyrian Question. Chicago: Alpha Graphic, 1986.

Yonan, Gabriele. Ein vergassener Holocaust: Die Vernichtung der christlichen Assyrer in der Turkei. Gottingen: Gesellschaft fur bedrohte Volker, 1989.

English translation, Assyrian International News Agency, 1996.

Zubaida, Sami. “Contested Nations: Iraq and the Assyrians.” Nations & Nationalism 6, no. 3 (2000): 362-383. Back to Top of Page