Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Four Faces of the Turkish Genocide of Assyrians

Human Rights Without Frontiers International

On April 1, the Assyrians will celebrate their traditional New Year and remember the 1915-1918 Ottoman Genocide in which half a million of their forebearers lost their lives. This should remind us that the "Armenian genocide" also affected other Christian minorities such as the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and Greek Orthodox.

The title of this press service " Four Faces of the 1915-1918 Genocide " is a reference to the shared atrocities suffered by four Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire--the Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greek Orthodox--whose genocide at the hands of the rulers of war-time Turkey resulted in the annihilation of over two-thirds of their population.

The four stories which follow tell of mass shootings, torture, forced migration for the survivors and the suffering of a people displaced or destroyed simply for reasons of their faith.

Katherine Magarian saw her father and dozens of other family members brutally slain by the invading Turks in the Armenian massacres that began in 1915.

The Reverend John Eshoo and Kerime Cercis described the suffering of the Assyrians and Chaldeans at the hands of the Ottomans in details available only >from an eye-witness or a survivor. Maria Katsidou-Symeonidou told of the exodus >from her home village during Orthodox Easter of 1920.

As the last of the remaining survivors and now first and second-generation descendents of the victims of the 1915-1918 genocide remember and respect the memory of those lost, Human Rights Without Frontiers Int. welcomes the recognition of the "Armenian Genocide" by some countries and supports the collective campaign for further recognition to include the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greek Orthodox. Human Rights Without Frontiers Int. also encourages Turkey to sign and ratify the Framework Convention on National Minorities of the Council of Europe.

The Armenian Face: Katherine Magarian's Testimony

I saw my father killed when I was nine years old. We lived in Palou, in the mountains. My father was a businessman. He would go into the countryside, selling pots and pans, butter and dairy products. The Turks, they rode in one day and got all the men together, bringing them to a church. Every man came back outside, their hands tied behind them. Then they slaughtered them all, like sheep, with long knives.

They all died, 25 people in my family died. You can't walk, they kill you. You walk, they kill you. They did not care who they killed. My husband, who was a boy in my village but I did not know him then, saw his mother's head cut off. The Turks, they would see a pregnant woman and cut the baby out of her and hold it up on their knife to show those around.

My mother and I, we started running. They got one of my sisters and then one of my other sisters, she was four, but she ran away. My mother was hit by the Turks, she was bleeding as we went. We walked and walked, and I was saying "Ma, wait, I want to look for my little sister,"' but my mother slapped me, saying "No! Too dangerous, we keep walking." It got darker and darker, but we walked. Still, I did not know where. The Turks had taken over our city.

Two, three days we walked, with little to eat. Finally, we found my sister who had run away. Then we walked to Harput and I see the Turks and I want to run, but they are friendly Turks, my mother told me. She said, "You go live with them now, you'll be safe," and I was. I worked there, waiting on them, cleaning, but I was alive and safe. But I did not see my mother for five years. She was taken to the mountains to live, and she saw hundreds of dead Armenians, hundreds of them, who had been killed by the Turks, the bodies were all over.

Years later, my mother said to the Turks, "I want to see my child," and they let her come back. She came to the house at night. She did not know me, but I knew it was her. Her voice was the same as I remembered it. I told her who I was, and she said, "You are my daughter!" and we kissed, hugged, and cried and cried.

My mother later heard of an orphanage in Beirut for Armenians, and we went there after the Turks kicked us out of our country. I spent four years there, and again, I didn't see my mother until a priest got us together. In 1924, she came to this country to meet family who left before the genocide. Three times now, I have lost my mother.

Sometimes, near the anniversary of the slaughter, my mind goes back there. You know, when I was 14, maybe 15, I have a dream, Jesus comes to me and says "Give me your hand," and I want to get up and go with him but I cannot get up. Then I am in the mountains, where all the dead were that my mother would later tell me about, and I see flowers, every kind of flowers, no bodies, and it is beautiful. Then I see the ocean and a boat, the boat that would take me to Cuba years later. I think this was God saying to me that I would be fine. I was lucky to live, I guess. God made me lucky (1).

The Assyrian Face: Reverend John Eshoo's Testimony

You have undoubtedly heard of the Assyrian massacre of Khoi, but I am certain you do not know the details. A large part of our people had migrated here and one fourth of our refugees were stationed in Sardavar (Khoi). These Assyrians were assembled into one caravan and all shot to death by guns and revolvers. Blood literally flowed in little streams and the entire open space within the caravan became a pool of crimson liquid.

The place was too small to hold all the living victims for the work of execution. They were brought in groups, and each new group was compelled to stand up over the heap of the still bleeding bodies and shot to death in the same manner. The fearful place became literally a human slaughterhouse, receiving its speechless victims for execution in groups of ten and twenty at a time. At the same time, the Assyrians, who were residing in the suburb of the city, were brought together and driven into the spacious courtyard of a house. The Assyrian refugees were kept under guard for eight days, without anything to eat except a handful of popcorn served daily to each individual. This consideration was by no means intended as a humanitarian act but merely to keep the victims alive for the infliction upon them of the most revolting tortures at a convenient time set for their execution.

Finally they were removed from their place of confinement and taken to a spot prepared for their brutal killing. These helpless Assyrians marched like lambs to their slaughter, opening their mouths only to say "Lord, into thy hands we commit our spirits." The procession of the victims was led by two green turbaned Sayids [the highest religious order in Islam], one with an open book in his hand, reading aloud the passages pertaining to the holy war whilst the other carried a large-bladed knife, the emblem of execution.

When the procession arrived at the appointed place, the executioners began by cutting first the fingers of their victims, join by joint, till the two hands were entirely amputated. Then they were stretched on the ground, after the manner of the animals that are slain in the Fast, but these with their faces turned upward and their heads resting upon the stones or blocks of wood. Then their throats were half in cut so as to prolong their torture of dying and whilst struggling in the agony of death, the victims were kicked and clubbed by heavy poles. Many of them, still labouring under the pain of death, were thrown into ditches and buried before their souls had expired.

The young and able-bodied men were separated from among the very young and the old. They were taken some distance from the city and used as targets by the shooters. They all fell, a few not mortally wounded. One of the leaders went close to the heaps of the fallen and shouted aloud, swearing by the names of Islam's prophets that those who had not received mortal wounds should rise and depart, as they would not be harmed any more. A few, thus deceived, stood up but only to tall this time dead by another volley from the guns of the murderers. Some of the younger and beautiful women, together with a few little girls, who pleaded to be killed, were forced into the harems of Islam against their will. Others were subjected to such fiendish insults that I cannot possibly even describe. Death, however, came to their rescue and saved them from the vile passions of the demons. The Assyrian victims of this massacre totalled 2,770 men, women and children (2).

The Chaldean Face: Kerime Cercis's Testimony

I was thirteen years old when the massacre began. My father worked for the customs authorities in Siirt. I lived together with my parents, Cercis and Hane, my three brothers, Kerim, Yusuf and Latif, and my grandfather. Our house in the quarter of Ayn Saliba was raided in the spring of 1915 by twenty bandits. Within this raid, my father and my grandfather were stabbed to death. My mother, my brothers and I were taken to a strange village. After the city went through a big massacre, where all my relatives had been killed and thrown into a big hole, the Kurds brought me to the other Chaldean girls in the village of Zevida where I spent one year. Every night the Kurds abused me.

A year later I went back to Siirt in the company of a Muslim woman. This woman brought me to Abdul-Ferid, the new owner of our former home. She believed Abdul-Ferid would feel sorry for me and, therefore, help me but this was quite the contrary. He threw me out of the house. One Chaldean, who was serving as a nanny for a Turk, helped me. I should carry water for the family and care for the garden. One day when I wanted to take water from the source a soldier came my way.

His name was Abdullah and was carrying water for the hospital of Siirt. He kidnapped and brought me to his mother, Fatum Hanum. She showed me the hole where all the killed Christians been thrown in and said: "The same will happen to you if you don't follow our rules!" It was a terrible sight, all the bones and the hair of people lying down there. When we returned to the house she told me: "Did you get what I told you, little heretic?" I was so frightened that I even could not answer.

Abdullah was abusing me sexually and in many other ways. For three years I had to undergo this terrible treatment, I served for the old witch and followed everything she ordered. Then the famine began to reign in the village and everyone was suffering from hunger except the slave driver Abdulriza. His depot was full of food which he had stolen from the Christian's houses. Abdullah could not look after his family any longer. Therefore, he told his mother to take his children and go begging for money but she had decided for the voyage to Istanbul. The voyage lasted three months and what Fatum and the children did to me in the meantime is too unbelievable to even describe. When we reached Istanbul she sold me to a Muslim woman, who knew one of my relatives. I begged her to bring me there and finally she did. Now I am living in my relative's house, which called Zeki Hirize and works as a shoemaker.

These are the names of my killed relatives: My parents Cercis and Hane, my brothers Latif, Yusuf, Kerim (killed by Abdul-Ferid who inhabits our former house), my grandparents on both sides, my uncles Pitiyon, Tevfik, Bulos and my aunts Hatun and Helena. All of our possessions, the house, furniture, gold, jewels, everything belongs now to Abdul-Ferid, who has taken everything (3).

The Hellenic Face: Maria Katsidou-Symeonidou's Testimony

I was born in Mourasoul village, Sevasteia/Sivas district, on 15 August 1914. I remember the deportations well. In 1918, I was about four years old, when one day I saw my father in the village square. I ran to him and asked him for the pie he brought me every day from the family-owned mill. He replied: "Oh, my child! The Turks are going to kill me and you will not see me again." He told me to tell my mother to prepare his clothes and some food for him. That was the last time we saw him. They killed him along with another ten men.

I remember another time when a Turk warned our village, saying that all the young men should leave. This because the next day, Topal Osman, would be coming. Indeed, those that left, were saved. They still killed fifteen men, including the teacher, the village president and the priest. Topal Osman had caught three hundred and fifty men from neighbouring villages. He had them bound, murdered and thrown into the river that ran through our village. I still remember the echo of the shots. They were hauling the bodies by ox-cart for nine days to bury them. Most of them were unrecognisable, as their heads had been cut off.

In 1920, around Easter, the Turkish Army came and told us to take with us everything we could. We loaded up the animals, but the saddle-bags tore open and most of us were left without food. On the deportation march, the Turkish guards would rape the women, one of whom became pregnant. In the Teloukta area, about half our group was lost in a snow storm. From there, they took us to a place without water, Sous-Yiazousou, where many died of thirst. Soon afterwards, as we passed a river, all of us threw ourselves at the water, people fell over each other in the rush and many drowned. We reached Phiratrima, which was a Kurdish area and they left us at a village near a bridge. It was here that the pregnant girl gave birth to twins. The Turks cut the new-borns in two and tossed them in the river. On the riverbank, they killed many more of the group.

The killings ended only with the agreement for the Exchange of Populations (1923). This is how we were saved. I came to Hellas in 1923. As I was an orphan, I arrived with the American Mission, at Volos (Thessaly). From there, we went to Aedipsos, to Larissa and finally to Aetorrahi village, Elassona district, where I settled (4).

(1) Katherine Magarian's story was originally published in the Boston Globe on 19 April 1998.
(2) Excerpted from The Flickering Light of Asia, Reverend Joel Werda, Chicago, 1990, P. 156-58.
(3) Kerime Cercis was interviewed in 1918 in Istanbul.
(4) Maria Katsidou-Symeonidou died in November 1997.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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