By Sadik Aslan – 8.7.2012 – (AINA) — In 1918, when the Turkish genocide of Assyrians that is known as Seyfo (sword) culminated, the Turks rewarded the Kurdish warlord Seyid Riza with the title “General and liberator of Dersim (Erzincan).” Among the Christian prisoners Riza’s forces had gathered for deportation and murder was also his Armenian friend Bogas Pasha, who turned to Riza, saying “My dear friend, I want to tell you something: you made a mistake. What you are doing to us today will tomorrow be upon you Kurds. Remember these words! Your turn will come also.”
So writes a Kurd from the village Shtrako in Turabdin, Turkey, at the website politikART. His name is Sadik Aslan and he is in jail in the city of Burdur in Turkey, probably for political reasons. The Kurds played an active part in the genocide Seyfo for both religious and economic reasons, Sadik Aslan writes. Under the heading Seyfo’nun laneti (Seyfo’s curse), he describes the killing of the Assyrians in Turabdin and to some extent the Armenians in eastern Anatolia. The essence of his article is that when the Turks were finished with the Christians, they turned their weapons against their Kurdish allies. And the bloodshed did not end with the Seyfo, he writes and also links to confiscation of St. Gabriel Monastery’s land. Journalist Augin Kurt Haninke has translated Sadik Aslan’s article.
The village Arnas is eight kilometers from my home village. In early July 1915 Assyrians in the neighboring village of Saleh were murdered in their own homes by Turkish soldiers and Kurdish villagers. The 70 Assyrian families in Arnas learned what happened to Saleh. They could also hear the gunfire in Midyat. They took what little they could and began to flee. Those who could not flee were killed by the village’s Kurds. The Kurdish Agha Nedjo, had in his youth grown up among the Assyrians and they had raised him as a son. When Seyfo broke out, he attacked the Assyrian family who had taken care of him first. The lady of the house asked, “Nedjo, my son, don’t you recognize us?” He replied coldly, “That was yesterday, today is another day.” While the husbands, fathers and brothers were killed in Fero Caves outside Arnas, the women were forced into slave labor or were murdered.
The 20 Assyrian families who lived in my own home village Shtrako were murdered at the same time by their Kurdish neighbors. Only 12 youngsters managed to flee and escape death. There was also a church of St. Aday [Thaddeus] from the first century which is now a mosque. It took time before I understood why this mosque is unlike other mosques. Neither did I know what had happened in the neighboring village of Zaz. To me it was the village where I got raisins and almonds from friendly ladies who patted me on the head while clamped down in my mother’s skirts, when as a child I went with her to Zaz. There lived 200 Assyrian families there. When the Kurdish clans from my home village and other neighboring villages surrounded Zaz, the Assyrians took refuge in the church of St. Dimot, which had high walls. They held out for 20 days before hunger and thirst gained the upper hand. 366 people gave up when they believed the Kurds’ vow not to harm them. But all were murdered outside the village. Only a few pretty girls were spared. A Turkish officer who had come from Midyat intervened when he heard about the barbarism and rescued the ones remaining in the church. They left the village but most still died of hunger, disease and attacks on the roads. When the genocide was over, a few went back to their homes in Zaz. These women whom gave me raisins and almonds were the remnants of the survivors.
Another Assyrian neighboring village was Hah, with the church St. Mary. It was the village where I got the best tasting orange in my life from the nun Sedoke, who had a shining face in her black dress. She has also fled to Europe. I do not know if she’s still alive. The villagers of Hah resisted for 45 days inside that church where the nun handed me the orange. Only three or four villages could resist like Hah. The other surrounding villages suffered from barbarism: Arbaye, Bote, Chelik, Deiro du Slibo, Habses, Kafarbe, Kafro Elayto, Kerboran, Sheherkan, Yerdo, Kfarze and others. In all these villages Assyrians were murdered by the Kurds who lived in the same village.
For some years I studied in the town of Midyat. Among my classmates were Assyrian youth Tuma [Thomas], Musa, Salari, Gabriel, Ishak and others. In the winter, when we squeezed ourselves in the cold desks, I did not know that there was a time when the Assyrians were burned at Midyat’s streets and beheaded. None of my classmates told me. Even in the days of joy there was a sadness in their eyes, like the Mona Lisa. Much later I understood this deep sorrow. They had inherited it from their parents and grandparents. But they hid it inside. They were burdened with grief. It was one of “the effects of the sword” — shyness, worry, chronic anxiety and docility.
The city of Midyat was besieged by Kurdish clans on July 19, 1915. The Assyrians were invited by the authorities along with the Kurdish and Mhallami (Assyrian converts to Islam) clans to surrender. But their leaders Hanne Safar and Isa Zatte refused. After ten days, on July 29, the Assyrian resistance collapsed. The Assyrians had taken shelter in the church of St. Sharbel and in the residence of the Adokas family. Now there was a slaughter. The Assyrian leader Hanne Safar was captured and beheaded with his own sword, which he had received from the Sultan. His head was spiked on a pole and was paraded around Midyat’s streets. An entire district was set on fire. Those who tried to escape were killed on the spot. Holes were opened in rooftops and fire thrown in so that all indoor choked to death. Women and children had gathered in two districts. All were murdered by death squads. Most people who tried to escape through various tunnels were murdered. Young men were thrown headlong from high rooftops and killed. Hundreds of young boys were lined down to the ground and their heads were trampled by horses’ hooves. What was left of Midyat was a smoke-filled pile of debris.
Even after the genocide had ended, nearly 7000 Assyrians were killed in various parts of Turabdin. In a few villages, Ahlah (Halakh), Bokesyono, Deir Qubbe, Marbobo and Znaver, Assyrians had been protected by some Kurds. How much of this action will reduce the size of our sins is difficult to know.
As a child I used to hear different “hero stories” from the time of the “Decree on the Christians annihilation (in Kurdish Fermana Fellaha). But I found it difficult to place events in time and space. My thinking could go a few years back. The rest was a dark and distant time, when dark allegations flourished fresh round about my slender young at heart. There were statements such as: He who kills seven godless [non-Muslims] would go to paradise or the killer’s palm would be converted to a rainbow and he will enter paradise. Then an Assyrian bride was kidnapped by one of my relatives who already had three wives. Hanne from Hah complained, crying in front of my grandfather and said, “Why are you doing this to us? We are the orphans under your protection.”
Then, when we as children ran around in the dusty streets and disturbed environment, usually the adults admonished us with epithets like Arnawit (Albanian), Yezidi, Ermeni or Serfillah (Christian skull). The latter marked the most derogatory epithet.
When you become aware of the reality of the poor women in Zaz, the angelic nun in Hah, my classmates in Midyat, then your happy memories become clouded and disappear into thin air. This feeling keeps you hooked like a lasso, pushes you hard and puts a big lump in your throat. Then you will catch the eyes of a trapped Assyrian who cannot even draw his last load to defend himself. You will understand the vision’s message. A glance that the words of Jesus on the cross says, “Forgive them, my Lord!”
We usually hear or say that genocide was committed by the government and the terrorist groups that it had organized. The role of people, i.e ordinary people, was reduced to a minimum. Unfortunately it is not true with the historical facts that have emerged, particularly in Turabdin. Of course, the same applies for the killings of Armenians in some areas. Regarding the killing of Turabdin’s Assyrians the central authorities did not always know what was happening. The attacks were organized usually on a local level. The attacks became reality through people’s participation. The reason was religious and economic. The local Assyrians were farmers with large farming lands, living in large villages.
A hate propaganda was launched, culminating in a rarely seen barbarism from Kurdish neighbors, who were Muslims, but who for centuries had lived with the Assyrians. The Kurds wre excited to seize Assyrian lands, homes, valuables and women. Few questioned the genocide. Those who went with the flow and gave tacit approval are not without guilt. They also carry some of the blame for the killings.
In 1918, when Erzincan was “liberated”, the Kurdish warlord Seyid Riza was awarded with the title “General of Dersim (Erzincan)” by the Turkish General Kazim Karabekir. Among the Christian prisoners Riza’s forces had gathered for deportation and murder was also his Armenian friend Bogas Pasha, who turned to Riza, saying: “My dear friend, I want to tell you something: you made a mistake. What you are doing to us today will tomorrow be upon you Kurds. Remember these words! Your turn will also come.”
In 1915 when the Armenians were driven from Erzincan in death marches, an Armenian women was shouting to the marauding and murderous Muslims: “These lands will not be yours, you will not enjoy them in freedom.”At the same time, when the Assyrians in Hakkari were expelled and murdered, a Nestorian-Assyrian woman turned about to see her home for the last time. Crying, she said in Kurdish: ne bi xatirê we birano — “I hope you are not left in peace, brothers.”Maybe it’s their prophecies that have been fulfilled and their prayers heard, because the killings have not stopped in these parts after their departure. But we have not yet done what we need to remove the curse that hangs over us or to do penance for our sins. Therefore, today a monastery [St. Gabriel] in Turabdin is bleeding.