America Welcomes Sabri Atman

sabriatman_rosiemalekyonan.jpgby Rosie Malek-Yonan
Like an umbilical chord still connected to its bitter past, the Assyrians cannot detach from the events perpetrated against their nation by the Ottoman Turks, Kurds and Persians in the shadows of WWI. The past looms unsettled. The past waits patiently and stubbornly to be made right so that the Assyrian nation can finally be at peace. The Assyrian nation has been mourning its dead for 92 years. It is time to lay them to rest with honor. It is our human right.

Assyrian nationalists and educators such as Mr. Sabri Atman are doing their part to educate and create worldwide awareness of the recognition of the Assyrian Genocide.

This week, Assyrians of America welcome Mr. Atman in their midst. His arrival in the U.S. is indeed a bittersweet encounter for the Assyrians of this region. We are reminded of the importance of remaining vigilant today in safe guarding our history and our past to ensure our nation’s future so that it may be free from oppression and persecution.

Mr. Sabri Atman, founder and director of the Assyrian Seyfo Center in Europe, is presenting a lecture on the topic of the Assyrian Genocide entitled “Genocide, Denial, and the Right of Recognition.” The five-city American tour that began in Los Angeles on November 9th at the Assyrian American Association of Southern California, will continue on to San Jose (November 10th), Turlock (November 11th), Detroit (November 16th), and end in Chicago (November 17th) before he heads for Armenia with the same powerful message.

I had the honor of attending Mr. Atman’s lecture in Los Angeles. He presented the facts clearly and succinctly. But what was most striking about his presentation was his unshakable conviction to demand justice for his Assyrian nation from the Turkish government.

“Today we are not blaming every Turk or Kurd for the past events. But this was done to us in their name,” said Mr. Atman.

Indeed, the silence of the majority and the opposition of many today to recognize the Genocide of the Assyrians, Armenian and Greeks, only emphasizes the support of the denial of these Genocides.

Mr. Atman carried with him a palm size reddish stone from his homeland in Southeast Turkey where he is banned from ever visiting. The stone is a constant reminder of the bitter memories of not just his family’s past but also the past of the Assyrian nation that is perpetually battling 92 years of defiance by the Turks.

Like most Assyrian families, the death of his grand parents at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, is a memory that follows him daily. “The Assyrian nation has inherited incredible scars.”

“We Assyrians live in many different countries, but our existence is not recognized. Our fundamental rights are not recognized,” said Mr. Atman. According to him, the year 1915 was one of the dirtiest pages of Turkish history and consequently, “the Assyrian people did not just suffer a tragedy. They suffered a genocide!”

It is true that as children, we Assyrians grew up learning and hearing about the atrocities committed against our nation during WWI. “We shed tears of blood,” resonated Mr. Atman. A statement I know only too well when I remember the eyes of my own grandmother, who was a survivor of the Assyrian Genocide. She was one of the lucky ones, unlike the rest of her family.

“We are the grandchildren of the Genocide. They owe us an apology.”

An apology that is long overdue.

© 2007 Rosie Malek-Yonan. All Rights Reserved.

Rosie Malek-Yonan is the author of The Crimson Field [] and serves on the Board of Advisors of Seyfo Center.