SYRIACS, a Middle Eastern ethnic and religious minority, have launched a campaign demanding the European Parliament officially recognises the 1915 Sayfo genocide, in which at least 500,000 men, women and children were killed under Ottoman rule.
The European Syriac Union (ESU) wants the European Union to “side with historical truth and justice” by commemorating June 15 as Sayfo (“sword” in the Syriac language) Martyrs Day in recognition of the atrocities committed more than a century ago.
The body hopes to show the international community that there is sufficient popular support for them to take the issue seriously; so far the Swedish, German, Dutch, Austrian, Syrian and Armenian parliaments have officially recognised the genocide.
According to the ESU the Sayfo genocide began in 1914, with the predominantly Christian Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian and Aramean communities subjected to mass killings, deportations and forced conversions to Islam. Hundreds of churches, monasteries and other holy places were desecrated by Ottoman forces that plundered cultural, social and economic assets.
Community leaders and intellectuals were among the first to be targeted, with atrocities carried out in Turabdin, Hakkari and Van, along with Urmia in modern-day Iran and the Adiyaman region.
In 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) agreed that the “Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.”
The ESU is pressing for the massacre to be recognised as a separate event to the more widely known Armenian genocide, which took place at the same time.
Ottoman soldiers were brutal in their treatment of Assyrians. Beheadings, drowning, shooting and stonings were common, and homes were destroyed to prevent their occupants’ return. Local officials who carried out the killings are reported to have kept collections of body parts, such as ears, noses and “female body parts.”
The genocide is seen as the responsibility of Turkey and the precursors of today’s Kemalist Republican People’s Party. But as with the Armenian genocide, the Turkish state denies the massacre.