The Forgotten Genocide of Christians
The world is rightly commemorating the Turkish slaughter of Armenians. It should also remember the Greek and Assyrian victims.
“Within six months, [Young Turks] succeeded in doing what the Old Turks were unable to accomplish in six centuries. Thousands of Nestorians and Syrians [Assyrians] have vanished from the face of the earth.”1
That statement was printed in Atlantic Monthly in November 1916, in reference to the genocide against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks.
April 15, 2015 marked the 100-year anniversary of the first genocide of the 20th century, an event that stamped a black mark on our world history. To mankind’s discredit, very little was done to stop or even minimize the brutal bloodshed. In order to fully understand the ideology behind these bloody events, we must first explore the genesis of the Ottoman Empire and its motivation for systematic attacks against those who stood as obstacles in the Pan-Turkish nationalistic dreams to unify the Turkic people.
Called by the Turks “Osmanlıs” after the name of the dynasty’s founder, Osman I (Ar., ʿUthmān), the Ottomans were Oghuz (Tk., Oğuz) Turks who came out of Central Asia. They created a vast state that eventually encompassed all of southeastern Europe to the northern frontiers of Hungary, Anatolia, and the Middle East, and to the borders of Iran and the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, almost to the Atlantic Ocean. The empire’s history, which spans more than 600 years, has been marked by conquest; its people found strength in centralization, a powerful military, a religion-run state (Islam) united by the Islamic ideology and code (jihad), and the brutal punishment of those who rose against their ideology.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire had become home to ethnic groups such as Armenians, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks, Kurds, Arabs and others who had to submit to Islamic law. These minority groups, “Millet,” were given limited religious and cultural freedoms, but all of this came to a halt in the 19th century. In 1876, Abdulhamid II — the “defender of Islam” — inherited the sultanate and ruled with absolute power for more than 30 years. Through repeated massacres, he reinforced Pan-Islamism (the Ottoman Empire’s central ideology), which united neighboring Islamic countries that had non-Muslim subjects living under Islamic law. This effort led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Assyrians living in the region.
The jihad against the Assyrians officially began in October 1895 in Diyarbakir, a city in southeastern Turkey. By the end of the Islamic military’s massacre, 119 villages in Diyarbakir had been destroyed and 30,000 Christians had been killed. That same year, Assyrian Christians and Armenians faced the wrath of the Islamic sword through murderous acts committed by the Hamidiey, an armed group comprised of Sunni Kurds, Turks and Arabs who operated in the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire and who had been given the freedom to act against Christians in the region by the sultan himself. By the end of 1896, more than 55,000 Assyrians had lost their lives and countless women and children had been forced into Kurdish and Turkish harems.
Genocide scholar Dr. Anahit Khosroyeva wrote, in her paper titled “The Assyrian Genocide in the Ottoman Turkey (Late 19th early 20th century),” “Thus a real genocide toward the Assyrians was implemented according to the criteria of international law. With the criminal connivance of the Great Powers and taking the opportunity presented by the martial law, Turkey committed the gravest crime against humanity – genocide.”
All of this would pale in comparison to what was to befall the Assyrian nation at the hands of yet another bloody group that inflicted horror on the defenseless Christian community.
In 1913, the ultranationalist “Young Turks,” organized as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), successfully staged a coup against the sultan and established a military dictatorship prior to World War I. Their ideology foreshadowed the Nazi desire for a homogenous nation state created through the forced removal of all minorities. Through this methodology, the Young Turks ruthlessly began their genocidal jihad, waging a holy war against Assyrians, Armenians and Pontic Greeks. Once again, Christian minorities faced systemic massacres, rapes, the destruction of 1,000-year-old churches, cultural desecrations and forced deportation to foreign lands.
The Ottoman Empire had become so emboldened that, during a 1909 interview with a German embassy employee, Turkish Minister of Interior Talaat Pasha referred to Christians as the “internal enemies” and spoke of destroying them without fearing any foreign intervention.
Scholars believe that the “success” of the Turkish genocide inspired Adolf Hitler in his inception and execution of the Holocaust. In “Middle East Quarterly,” Hannibal Travis wrote:
It is well known by genocide scholars that, in 1939, Adolf Hitler urged his generals to exterminate members of the Polish race. “Who speaks today of the extermination of the Armenians?” Hitler asked, just a week before the Sept. 1, 1939 invasion of Poland…. [T]he massacre of the Ottoman Armenians helped persuade the Nazis that national minorities posed a threat to empires dominated by an ethnic group such as the Germans or the Turks. Furthermore, these minorities could be exterminated to the benefit of the perpetrator with little risk. Indeed, it was German officials who had smuggled out of the Ottoman Empire the leaders of the Young Turk regime, culpable for the deaths of over a million Armenians and a million or more other Christian minorities such as the Assyrians and Greeks.
Many Assyrians fled to Russia, seeking to rebuild their lives and mend their broken hearts. But the images of babies’ skulls crushed by stones, monks and priests skinned alive, women raped and forced into harems, and men beheaded were hard to forget.
The Islamic State (ISIS) has subscribed to this same type of brutality since its founding, and continues to wage jihad against the vulnerable Assyrian Christian community in the Middle East. It is obeying 100 years of previous Islamic practice in the region.
The Assyrian “genocide” famously referred to as “Seyfo” (“Sword” in Aramaic) was officially recognized by the International Association of Genocide Scholars in 2007 and by the Swedish Parliament in 2010. This article originally appeared at The Philos Project, and is reprinted by permission.