The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians

"Numerous articles in the American press documented the genocide of Assyrians by the Turks and their Kurdish allies. By 1918, the Los Angeles Times carried the story of a Syrian, or most likely an Assyrian, merchant from Urmia who stated that his city was completely wiped out, the inhabitants massacred, 200 surrounding villages ravaged, 200,000 of his people dead, and hundreds of thousands of more starving to death in exile from their agricultural lands.

"In an article entitled ‘Native Christians Massacred,’ the Associated Press correspondent reported that in the vicinity of Urmia, ‘‘Turkish regular troops and Kurds are persecuting and massacring Assyrian Christians.’’ Close to 800 were confirmed dead in Urmia, and another 2,000 had perished from disease. Two hundred Assyrians had been burned to death inside a church, and the Russians had discovered more than 700 bodies of massacre victims in the village of Hafdewan outside Urmia, ‘mostly naked and mutilated,’ some with gunshot wounds, others decapitated, and still others carved to pieces.

"British and American newspapers corroborated these accounts of the Assyrian genocide. The New York Times reported on 11 October that 12,000 Persian Christians had died of massacre, hunger, or disease; thousands of girls as young as seven had been raped or forcibly converted to Islam; Christian villages had been destroyed, and three-fourths of these Christian villages were burned to the ground. The Times of London was perhaps the first widely respected publication to document the fact that 250,000 Assyrians and Chaldeans eventually died in the Ottoman genocide of Christians.

"The Ottoman Empire’s widespread persecution of Assyrian civilians during World War I constituted a form of genocide, the present-day term for an attempt to destroy a national, ethnic, or religious group, in whole or in part.  Ottoman soldiers and their Kurdish and Persian militia partners subjected hundred of thousands of Assyrians to a deliberate and systematic campaign of massacre, torture, abduction, deportation, impoverishment, and cultural and ethnic destruction.  Established principles of international law outlawed this war of extermination against Ottoman Christian civilians before it was embarked upon, and ample evidence of genocidal intent has surfaced in the form of admissions by Ottoman officials.  Nevertheless, the international community has been hesitant to recognize the Assyrian experience as a form of genocide.  The Assyrian genocide is indistinguishable in principle from its Armenian counterpart, however, and its recognition by scholars and the international community may assist in the resettlement and relief of the Assyrian remnant, currently fleeing by the thousands from its homelands in Iraq."

The author concludes further, "These findings may contribute to indentifying and preventing other cases of genocide against Christian minorities living in majority Muslim states, such as Sudan and Nigeria, in which religiously motivated massacres are becoming more common."

Hannibal Travis

Source 1: Excerpted from Travis, Hannibal (December 2006).  "Native Christians massacred": The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians during World War I. Genocide Studies and Prevention 1, 3, 327-371. 

Source 2:

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