Out of the Ashes

This piece was republished from a blog called Diaspora Diaries, authored by Canadian-Assyrian Samantha Kakoz.

“Suffering and joy teach us, if we allow them, how to make the leap of empathy, which transports us into the soul and heart of another person. In those transparent moments we know other people’s joys and sorrows, and we care about their concerns as if they were our own.” -Fritz Williams.

Early Assyrians celebrated a tradition where they would bury a bottle of wine upon the birth of a son. The bottle would be nestled safely in the confines of the earth till their child was to be married. On their child’s wedding day, the bottle would subsequently be dug up, with the wine served to those in attendance of the event.

Years after the Assyrian genocide of 1915, a road was being constructed in Lower Tyari, an ancient Assyrian tribe. Now it is known as Çukurca, in the province of Hakkari, Turkey. As this road was being constructed, this is what was recounted:

“The bulldozers broke hundreds of wine jars that were buried under ground, and all along the valley was the smell of wine. My heart started to bleed when I saw this, because the guests, brides and grooms who were to drink that wine were slaughtered long ago.”

Sometimes the happiest people have experienced the most sorrow. It’s hard to tell what someone has gone through in life, unless you take it upon yourself to find out. If you’ve ever been to an Assyrian gathering, or felt the warmth of Assyrian hospitality as a guest in their home, you can feel the compassion and joy that practically radiates off of them. They’re a happy people, despite the atrocities they’ve faced. Life is constantly testing us, some more than others.

If I were to compile a list of events into a timeline of Assyrian persecution, this piece would turn into a novel. Assyrians have faced atrocities against them as far back as 612 BC, when the Assyrian empire fell against the forces of the Medes, Scythians and Babylonians. It is unknown how many soldiers died in this battle, but the toll is said to have been significant.

Assyrian martyrs form the core of their history, and their selflessness serve as examples of sacrifice for diaspora Assyrians, to preserve their identity the same way that Assyrian martyrs died and fought for it.

  • 448 A.D, the brutal massacre of 153,000 Assyrians and Armenians was carried out by the Persian King Yasdegerd II. It’s said that the blood of the martyrs stained the gravel of Kirkuk, making it appear red.

  • 1842 A.D, Badr Khan Bey, a Hakkari Kurdish Amir, led a force of men to exterminate Assyrians from the mountains. 50,000 Assyrians were butchered or sold into slavery, and bestowed as “gifts” to influential Muslims.

  • 1680 A.D, 11,000 were murdered. 1895 A.D, 13,000 were murdered.

One particular massacre will always be remembered by Assyrians.

Seyfo. The Year of the Sword.

Also known as the Armenian genocide, Assyrians in the hundreds of thousands were killed. It is the untold Holocaust. Assyrian losses were estimated to be around 750,000. A combination of Turkish and Kurdish forces wiped out 1.5 Million Armenians, and over 950,000 Pontic Greeks. The stories of those alive to tell them are worth listening to.

Nearly three quarters of the Assyrian pre-war population was wiped off the map, and the survivors went on to experience more sorrow. With the independence of Iraq in 1932, Assyrians experienced multiple forms of ethic cleansing including the Simele Massacre—which was used as a pretext for forming the definition of “genocide”. The advancement of ISIS was the most recent event in a long line of Assyrian persecution. As with previous attacks against Assyrians, those that were able to escape, were forced to flee to safety in the West.

Diaspora Assyrians have taken it upon themselves to turn sorrow into joy.

There are many stories of success that come out of the diaspora, one particular story emulates strength and resoluteness towards survival.

David Perley was an Assyrian genocide survivor who was forced to flee to America. He was born in 1901, and was the second youngest of six children. His father was among a number of leading Assyrians who were arrested by Turkish authorities in 1914, never to be seen or heard from again. David Perley is one of the founding fathers of the Assyrian National Federation, who strive to protest against the inhumane treatment of Assyrians. This organization works to fight for Assyrian rights, and the right to live in peace and freedom in diaspora countries.

The revitalization of the Assyrian community is emerging through the diaspora to preserve culture and memory. Assyrians are attracting interest from political leaders worldwide, as seen through achievements such as the establishment of Fédération Assyrienne de France, the Assyrian Federation of France. France joins Sweden, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, who have also established Assyrian federations.

Informing people about previous brutalities that Assyrians have faced is vital in not only the grieving process, but also in the path towards strength and stability. One example of how this can be implemented is through documentaries. Assyrian filmmaker, Aziz Said was aided by the Assyrian Federation of Sweden to produce a documentary called, “Seyfo 1915 – The Assyrian Genocide.” This documentary was screened all across Europe, to educate people about what Assyrians endured during the genocide, despite resistance from the Turkish embassy.

The forefathers of Assyria were children of persecution and oppression, and, as a result, diaspora Assyrians have fled to countries all over the world to create new lives. Everything they’ve ever known was left behind in hopes of a brighter, safer future. They’ve built strongholds all over the West to bring the diaspora community together. Men, women and children have used education and comradery to stand up against oppressors and colonialism, and have refused to give up our language, religion and culture. —SAMANTHA KAKOZ

“The martyrdom, my friends, goes on as we speak. If we are not for our brethren, then who will be?” –Juliana Taimoorazy