“Who, after all, speaks, today, of the extermination of Armenians?” asked Adolf Hitler in 1939. But, then as now, even less speak of the genocide of the Assyrians – the torchbearers of the earliest civilisation – who fell victim to the same maniacal plan for the elimination of non-Muslims culminating in the massacre of hundred of thousands of Armenians and Greeks. The genocide of the Assyrians has yet to be officially recognised by any country, but the survivors have chosen this day – August 7th – to commemorate the tens of thousands of Assyrians systematically slaughtered by the Ottoman Turkish army during and after World War One because of their ethnicity and faith. Today also marks the beginning of the Simele Massacre in 1933, in which some 3000 Assyrians were brutally annihilated by the Iraqi Army only a year after Iraq declared its independence.
The Assyrians – whose roots date back to the mid-4th millennium B.C. – are the indigenous people of Upper Mesopotamia. Today that area straddles Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Not an easy place for a nationless Christian minority. At the conclusion of WW1, land had been promised by the British government in return for support from the legendary Assyrian fighters, but the game-playing imperialists never delivered. Instead, the British exploited ethnic and religious divisions in the region for their own gain – primarily oil fields and railways – and recommended Iraq be admitted to the League of Nations. After the establishment of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, the Assyrians refused to sign a declaration of loyalty to King Faisal. And so, in August of 1933, the new Iraqi government unleashed its army on the Assyrian communities. The largest massacre was in the village of Simele. In his eyewitness report, Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII the Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East recounted how “girls were raped and made to march naked before Iraqi commanders. Children were run over by military cars. Pregnant women were bayoneted. Children were flung in the air and pierced on to the points of bayonets. Holy books were used for the burning of the massacred.” Over the course of a 4-day killing spree, over 3000 Assyrians were targeted and massacred.
The Simele massacre might have been entirely forgotten had it not compelled Raphael Lemkin to write “The Crime of Barbarity” which he presented to the League of Nations just months after the massacre. Post WW2, Lemkin’s conclusions would evolve into the concept of “Genocide” as the world discovered the tragic truth about the Jewish Holocaust. But although the Simele massacre was the “inspiration” for the international laws against genocide, the international community has persistently failed to acknowledge the Assyrian genocide. For over one hundred years, Assyrian people have been repeatedly victimised by genocidal assaults. And the killings continue today. “What is happening in Iraq is, at the minimum, ethnic cleansing,” says Dr. Elmer Abbo – the executive director of the Assyrian American National Coalition. “Other people will say it is genocide, even if the numbers are not there, because the Assyrians are being killed in a deliberate and strategic way.”
What then is the point in the United Nations Convention of Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the International Criminal Court?
“What then is the point in the United Nations Convention of Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the International Criminal Court?”
Good question that relates to so many different massacres and acts of rape and genocide past and present. I suppose the idea is that UN is really there for the people and can do something. Yet, how many acts of genocide have occurred around the world since this convention was first introduced? The answer will tell us all a lot about the real use of the UN.
Excellent and post on an awful topic, it reminds me of the Rape of Nanking in description.
As a pre-teen during the Cold War in the 70s, I was not affected so much by that infamous state of affairs (when the world was about to end), as by the tales of genocide throughout history that I read about. It wasn’t easy for me, as a child who was coming to terms with the place where I had been dumped and where I was beginning my existence, and with my fellow beings – the human race. But most shocking of all for me since then was (and is) the continuous refusal to talk about these tales of horror everywhere. That’s what makes a blog like this so important for presenting the darkness of the human race, day in day out, in all of its gruesome glory. It’s as if most people would rather not be confronted by these uncomfortable truths about their own soul. Surely this can be the only way to learn about our inadequacies as humans and as potential killing beasts and how to prevent our governments from going down the same route and making the same mistakes again. What’s more, it’s the only way to become a person with integrity, with feelings, with a proper position in the world… not just a mere giggling puppet.
The fundamental problem is that that the UN
a) was never given the power to enforce conventions like UNCftP&PotCoG, and
b) is designed (“veto” power in the Security Council) to gridlock.
I still love the United Nations. I think of it as the closest thing to a secular “holy” thing in this world. But it was hobbled and hogtied from its beginning.
“the torchbearers of the earliest civilisation”
Let’s make that the torchbearers of one of the earliest known civilizations.
The Sumerians were there before the Assyrians.
And, for all we know (somehow the research just isn’t being done) there may have been earlier civilizations in Africa.