Mr. Hermiz Shahen was born in 1953 in Kirkuk-Iraq. His parents moved to the city of Mosul (Nineveh Province) when he was one year old. He completed his bachelor degree in Science, majoring in Physics in 1974, and left Iraq in 1981 against his will after facing interrogation and harassment from Ba’ath Intelligence agents.
Mr Shahen joined the Assyrian Universal Alliance in 1983, and in 1994; he was elected to the position of Chairman of the Australia Branch. He was appointed Chapter Secretary in 1997. Mr. Shahen has taken part in a number of projects, such as the successful effort to have the Assyrian genocide recognized by the New South Wales Local Government Association at their conference in 2002; Lodgment of a successful petition during 2005 that was tabled in Federal Parliament by the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, asking for a ‘protected administrative area” for the Assyrians in Iraq, and the establishment of Assyria Parliamentary Friendship Group in the State Parliament of New South Wales in 2009.
Mr. Shahen has attended many AUA worldwide congresses and conferences in different countries, in July 2000, he was a member of an AUA delegation that participated in the Human Rights Commission conference on Indigenous Populations in the United Nations/Geneva; He attended the General Assembly meeting of the Unrepresented Nation & Peoples Organization (UNPO) in Taipei –Taiwan from 26-29 October 2006; He attended the Syriac Universal Alliance Conference in Beirut, Lebanon in May 2000, and the Conference of Assyrian Political Organizations in Holland during May 2003 and March 2004.
What inspired you to get involved with the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA)?
Since my childhood, I have been dreaming that one day our Assyrian nation will be liberated from oppression and live freely in our ancestral Homeland. Since then, I have written stories about the future of our people and poems calling for the liberation of Assyria. When I left my homeland – Iraq against my will in 1981, I was under a lot of stress trying to do something to help my people back home and to tell the story of injustice they are facing by the fascist regime of Iraq .I started looking for any platform that can serve my purpose. After interaction with different Assyrian political parties, which lasted almost two years, I chose to work with the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) for the following reasons:
I found that most of our political parties are formed to represent a specific segment of our people. They have their own internal political structure where not all the people can participate in the selection of these parties leadership, their party members are established to serve our national interest within the frame of their own group or countries such as; Iraq, Syria and Turkey, committed to the political ideology of their own party and will only promote their own aims, their only accountability is to their political Leadership and not the nation at large, and many other factors. However, being living in the west, I found that AUA can be a powerful and effective voice for the Assyrians globally and that working within the Alliance is strictly voluntary and through existing and established organizations and institutions, which represent majority of our people in a given country. Considering this framework and structure of AUA, I found that I could work more freely without being subject to pressures. That is why I joined the AUA for the last 30 years and with pride.
Why is the Genocide issue important for you and your organization?
I have grown up in a family who have suffered deeply in the genocide during WW1, and the cruelty of the governments that ruled over our homeland in the regions; South East Turkey, North West of Iran and northern Iraq. I used to hear the sad stories from my late father who was only five years old when both his parents were killed during the Assyrian genocide in WW1, by the Ottomans in Turkey. He also lost his younger brother, who went missing during this genocide. As a result, he was sent to Mosul, along with a group of orphans. The same stories I used to hear from my grandmother who fled from Uremia in Iran to Russia and then to exile in Siberia. These stories have left deep marks in my mind and heart. I personally was looking for any opportunity to bring the genocide issue to surface. This became possible when AUA- Australian Chapter received an invitation to attend an International conference “portraits of Christian Asia minor conference on the indigenous Christian peoples of Asia minor” (Hellenes, Armenians and Assyrians), at Macquarie University, in Sydney –Australia, between 18 to 19 September 1999. AUA worked hard with the Assyrian Australian Academic Society to make that conference a great success. The Turkish Government tried hard to close this conference but the University did not agree, they insisted that they will send a Turkish National residing in London to speak in denials of the genocide on behalf of the Turkish Government, the Turkish councilor and representative of other Turkish organizations attended that conference. Since then, AUA in Australia advocated the Assyrian genocide issue and seeks the governmental recognition.
Could you please tell us about your activities regarding this important issue in Australia?
In June 2002 the Assyrian Universal Alliance had written to Fairfield City, requesting their support for AUA submission for the recognition of the Assyrian Genocide by the New South Wales Council Association (which represented 176 councils at that time in the State of NSW). The recognition was intended to help us to apply for erecting a genocide monument on Council public land. We were very pleased that the matter was discussed at the Local Government Association Executive meeting on 16 August 2002, which later resolved unanimously to support the recognition of the genocide perpetrated against the Assyrian people in the period 1914-1918. It was also resolved that information about the matter be placed on the Lgov NSW web site, that the matter be raised at the National General Assembly of Local Government, and that the Premier of NSW and the Prime Minister be asked to support the recognition of the Assyrian Genocide. Since then we started regularly working on the genocide issue by inviting scholars to Sydney to present to our Assyrian people and to our parliamentarians facts about the genocide. Aiming to be able to get the genocide recognised on governmental level. Never the less, continued work on the genocide issue led us to erect with pride and dignity, the Assyrian genocide monument in the centre of Fairfield district despite all the obstacles.
Is there a relationship if any between the Armenian National Committee of Australia and AUA?
We have a very active and strong relationship with the ANC in Australia for the past 5-6 years, which is reflected through meetings between both committees, and collaboration in conducting meetings with members of Parliament both State and Federal. AUA – Young Assyrians also joined advocacy programs organised by the ANC in the Federal Parliament of Australia. We also attend regularly many functions and commemorations organised by them.
Where does AUA Chapter of Australia stand in pursuing the recognition of the Assyrian Genocide by the Australian parliament?
Going through what I have said before, you will see that AUA-Australian chapter have managed to build a foundation to obtain future recognition of the Assyrian genocide, which started by involving AUA in taking part and organising genocide conferences in the State Parliament of NSW. Every 7th August, we used to hold a big commemoration of the Assyrian Martyrs day, in collaboration with the Assyrian Church of the East, at the Church reception after the mass, which used to be packed by more than one thousand parishioners. The aim besides remembering and paying our respect to the souls and memory of the Assyrian Martyrs, was also intended to educate our people about this genocide and the necessity of obtaining recognition. We had invited scholars such as; Dr. Abdul Massih Saadi, Dr. Panayiotis Diamadis, Malfono Sabri Atman, the late Lena Yackobova, Dr. Anahit Khosroyeva, Dr. Racho Donef, Mr.Stavros T. Stavridis and many others to speak in genocide conferences and to our Youth so that we can have more facts on our hands when we seek this genocide recognition.
After a historical day of unveiling the beautiful memorial monument in Australia, and all that your organization has done for Seyfo, What is the next goal in regards to recognition of the Assyrian Genocide?
Erecting the Assyrian genocide monument in a public place at Bonnyrigg in south-west Sydney was an eye opener to the worldwide Assyrians, to the Turkish government and the Australian public in general. Its erection has angered Turkey and could jeopardise the relation between Turkey Australia and New Zealand. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been seeking discussions with the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve delays in visas for Australian archaeologists travelling to Turkey. Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal said; that Turkey condemned opening of a so-called “Assyrian Genocide” Monument in Fairfield region of Sydney on August 7, which “distorted history and accused Turkey”.”We express regret over participation of federal executives to this intentional activity which will not have any contribution to relations of the two countries,” Unal told a written statement.
The monument was erected for noble intention, to educate mankind the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history, to ensure that such crimes against humanity is not allowed to be repeated. This monument will stand against any attempt to use the passage of time and political influence to deny or distort the historical truth of the genocide of the Assyrians, Armenians and pontic Greeks. I am very pleased to say that two major achievements were made just this year. In April 2012, we traveled to Armenia to take part in the official unveiling of the Assyrian genocide monument in Yerevan organized by the Assyrian Universal Alliance –Armenian Chapter and in May 2012, we traveled to South Australia to attend the official unveiling of the a genocide monument dedicated for the first time, to the victims of the three nations- the Assyrians , Armenians and Greeks and was organised by the Assyrian Universal Alliance – Australian Chapter, the Pontian Brotherhood of South Australia, and the Armenian Cultural Association of South Australia.We will continue our efforts with our friends the Armenians and Greeks, in order for the Australian Federal Government, as well as other countries, to condemn these heinous acts committed against the three nations. We will urge all international humanitarian institutions to pressure Turkey to acknowledge and apologise for the atrocities its Ottoman leaders committed against their Assyrian, Armenian and Pontic Greek citizens during World War I.
Often we hear about AUA activities around the Genocide issue in Australia. Where and when can we expect to see similar activities in other Assyrian international communities?
The genocide recognition is very important to our nation, Assyrians should be encouraged worldwide to follow Australia’s efforts. During the genocide, Assyrians lost all their territories within the borders of modern Turkey. At least 750,000 Assyrians were exterminated in unbelievable horror scenes of massacres and deportations, and thousands of children and women were abducted and forced into Turkification, Kurdification and Islamisation. Therefore, we call upon our people everywhere to support Seyfo. As we can see in recent years, history is repeating itself for the Assyrian nation. Our people are being systematically driven out from our ancestral lands in Iraq and Syria. Assyrians have been subject to gross violations of their rights. Murder, rape, assault, and forced conversions to Islam have become commonplace as armed death squads attempt to force Assyrians out of their habitats. After almost a century of lost lives, tragedy and grief, Assyrians deserve recognition and an apology, not for the sake of an almost-annihilated nation, but for the justice owed to the fallen innocents whose cries for rectitude ring ever louder.
By Linda Abraham