Yesterday (May 2, 2016), the German parliament voted – nearly unanimously – to declare acts perpetrated in 1915 against Armenians by the government and people of Turkey to have constituted genocide. Armenians in the visitors gallery held up signs saying “danke,” German for “thank-you.”
While justice demands the commemoration of the Armenian genocide and the honoring of those Christian martyrs, we should also commemorate the other genocide perpetrated against Christians by the Ottoman Empire. The genocide against the Assyrian people – remembered by descendants of the victims as “Sayfo” or “the year of the sword” – generally coincided with the Armenian genocide. “Assyrian” is a term which encompasses a number of closely related ethnic communities, all Christian, including members of the Assyrian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Assyrian Apostolic (Orthodox) Churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East.
The current map of Near Eastern Christianity is drawn in the blood of these martyrs. The Christians of modern-day Iraq and Syria, in particular, are largely descendants of those who fled the Ottoman atrocities or were forcibly deported. And as though caught in some gruesomely repetitious video loop of history, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the victims of the Turkish genocides are now themselves targets of yet another genocide, another campaign of extermination at the hands of radical Islamic militias.
Most of the Christians who fled Mosul and the Nineveh plain in Iraq ahead of the advancing Islamic State in 2014 are members of the Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox Churches. They have mostly fled into the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where the Chaldean Catholic Church is the predominant indigenous Christian church, and is now providing assistance to the refugees. The Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, Joseph Younan, has 15 parishes in exile in Kurdistan, 120 religious, and 50,000 laity. There were 14 churches of the Syriac Orthodox faith abandoned to Islamic State, but SPC has not yet compiled a census of the number of displaced faithful.
The Armenian genocide – which is a matter of historic fact – needs to be acknowledged by the international community, as Germany did yesterday. So does the virtually unknown (at least in the West) Assyrian genocide.