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Martyrs’ Day

August 7th 2010 was in every respect a historical day for the Assyrian Community of not only Australia but the entire world, in no small part due to the unveiling of the Assyrian Genocide Memorial. In conjunction with this, however Australia also was host, for the better part of August to Mr Sabri Atman and Mr Ninos Aho – Assyrian Delegates from Sweden and America respectively.  They came to Australia with information and refreshing ideas –  lecturing, mentoring and generally purveying their workings  towards recognition of the Assyrian Genocide – Seyfo but also their vision for the way forward. I had the pleasure of attending a number of these informational gatherings and the opportunity to speak with Mr Atman and Mr Aho on a number of occasions, experiences that were unequivocally eye opening as they continually challenged my perception of the state of Assyrian affairs globally, but this is something that will come up in this article at a later point. 

The Unveiling

This was a relatively loaded affair, burdened with the weight of a host of official dignitaries and the ever looming possibility of indiscretions by some elements of the Turkish community that have set up opposite the memorial. Fortunately, the day went relatively smoothly though somewhat drawn out by the many official speakers.

The Statue itself, remains to be a 4.5 metre depiction of “the Martyr’s Hand, Holding the Globe” designed by resident artist Mr Lewis Batros. Though constructed for the better part out of concrete, this towering memorial was funded by moneys raised by the Assyrian Universal Alliance in Australia – a sum we’re told is in the vicinity of $70 000 – not including work undertaken by volunteers.

The Memorial, at the time of completion bore two plaques containing the information about the Genocide the foremost plaque reading:

May this remembrance be a blessing to the world by increasing awareness to fight the evils of genocide in a brotherly spirit and by initiating international awareness of the Assyrian nation’s rights to existence among the nations of the world.”

This message was officially approved by the Local Council which authorized this work to be undertaken. There was in addition to this, in contravention with Council approval, a secondary plaque that contained a “brief history”, which was forcibly removed from the statue for containing unauthorized information –

“Brief History: Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, the heartland of Assyria lies in present day northern Iraq and expands into southern Iraq, east to Lake Urmia in Iran, north to the Turkish mountains of Hakkari and west to Syria. Assyrian language is Classical Syriac, an offshoot of Aramaic (the language of Jesus Christ). Assyrians are descendents of the mighty rulers of the Ancient Assyrian Empire. During WW1 (1914-1918) they were exposed to the worst kind of extermination and genocide by the Ottoman Turks. More than 750,000 Assyrian souls perished, and many more were uprooted from the region. Soon late in 1933 the Assyrians were again massacred at Simele and surrounding Assyrian villages in northern Iraq by the Iraqi armed forces. The Assyrian genocide was given the name “SEYFO”, which means “the sword” and August 7 was established by the Assyrian Universal Alliance to commemorate the Assyrian Martyrs Day worldwide.”

Unfortunately, due to the sensationalized local media (who are known to thrive on conflict) majority of what was reported in the media revolved around this transgression and the affect it had on the Turkish Community in Australia.[i] This means that instead of any positive mention of the Assyrians efforts here in Fairfield, domestic media focused on the surreptitious act of placing the additional plaque on the back of the Memorial, something which has ensured the Assyrian Genocide, despite the plaque, is in the eyes of Australians at large: a patently foreign issue and not in any way an Australian responsibility.

Fortunately, resident scholar Dr Panayiotis Diamadis[ii], did not forget the crucial role the Australians had during the period of 1914-1918 in providing aid and financial support to the orphans, the injured and the displaced Assyrians of Anatolia. Dr Diamadis reminds everyone of the Australian reports on the Assyrian’s plight during the days of Seyfo and that it is, from the outset of these atrocities not only an Australian issue, but a world issue to recognize the Assyrian Genocide Seyfo and to prevent the recurrence of genocide. In much the same way the unveiling was reminiscent of people from all facets of Australian society solemnly remembering the impact and the horrors of Seyfo.

The Assyrian Societies and Organisations

As a testament to the poor communication qualities of Assyrians in Australia and their tendency to grow apart, rather than come together there was a record number of Assyrian Organisations, Churches and Institutes that came to pay their respects to the fallen on Assyrian Martyrs Day. The statue’s unveiling was an occasion for almost All Assyrian institutions to reflect how reverent they are to the tragic past of their people.  Such organizations, naturally included the AAA, AAALF, AANF, ACEC, ANC, AUA, BCA – as but a few.

This throws into sharp relief a principal problem that plagues not only the Assyrians in Australia, but Assyrians in many different jurisdictions, that is a patent inability to work together for a common cause. Whether it is in memoriam of Seyfo – a genocide that unequivocally wiped out two out of every three Assyrians on the face of the Earth or celebrating Kha Bnissanu which is Assyrian New Year,  these sons of Ashur have displayed, more than ever, their inability to move beyond the differences to work towards a common goal. If there is to be any modicum of recognition for the atrocities that were served upon our ancestors, or any reparations whatsoever given in acknowledgement of this crime against humanity – it is my opinion that it will never come from disunity and selfish ambitions but through a united and concerted attempt at achieving justice for our people.

Ninos Aho

One person who I’ve had the pleasure of hearing speak over a number of occasions, was the esteemed Miaghra Ninos Aho – Poet in both Western and Eastern Assyrian Dialects and pathological Assyrian Patriot.  The reason I mention Mr Aho here, is because we’ve established the fact that there is a Genocide Memorial now in Australia and that this has done little to nothing to cure the unequivocal boundaries there still is between the communities – Mr Aho is a proponent of a unified Name and a populace that embraces and celebrates minor differences in utter unity.

Mr Aho, Also presents a rather novel approach to propagating Assyrian interests into the future and ensuring longevity while preserving the culture and all the while pursuing justice that has been, so long denied our people. Mr Aho’s approach is through acknowledging the importance of youth and through inspiring and fostering a “new breed of Ashurayeh”[iii], this isn’t through genetics or selective breeding, Mr Aho as I understand it, wishes  to reach the Assyrian hiding within the shadows of all our beings, to encourage us to reach our potential – through modern service to the Assyrian Cause. Naturally, this threatens the status quo, as so long our people have been represented by a dated and relatively draconian system that involves succession through antiquity and the conservative musings of age old bureaucrats that lead their respective associations into oblivion – and by result our Assyrian nation into dispersion. Mr Aho, stated on many occasions, that there is a need for a new and modern push to reclaim and reinvigorate the Assyrian identity – moving in specie against said practices – a need for such born-again patriots, these new Soldiers of Ashur to find their feet, faster than ever and work to reverse the constant degradation of our Language, History and Identity.

Seyfo Centre and Sabri Atman

As an institution, I have a huge amount of respect for Seyfo Centre and the work they do, though it should be known that my respect for the human being, Sabri Atman is manifold. I will speak about Seyfo Centre first, it being the leading Assyrian Genocide Research Centre in the world. It has documented and recorded oral testimony from Seyfo Survivors, as well as led pioneering research into these atrocities that would otherwise be swept under the rug throughout history. Testament to this is the relatively weak position of Assyrians in the world today and the resulting, global silence on the issue of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Genocide.[iv]  With the assistance of resident academics like Professor David Gaunt the center is able to produce numerous publications and volumes of information on a topic that would otherwise remain forgotten – that is the plight of the Assyrian people.  All of these efforts, by Seyfo Centre culminated in the Swedish assent to recognition of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Genocide, in Ottoman Turkey during World War I, Sweden becoming the first nation ever to officially recognize that the Assyrians suffered under genocide. They have branches throughout the world, including Sweden, Russia and America – altogether with the noble aim of ensuring the proliferation of understanding, acceptance and knowledge of Seyfo.

Seyfo’s efforts remain, throughout the world to serve as an example of the concerted efforts of Assyrians and their friends and remain a beacon of hope that there may be international acceptance of the plight that befell our ancient race. They serve as an example, because of the dedication and the message that these people transmit right around the world, and an unrelenting compassion for the sufferings of their fellow human beings.

Now, when I first met Sabri Atman, he struck me as an extremely humble and unassuming person and time would prove that these preconceptions were true. But one must not mistake humility as a lack of fervor, for inasmuch as he is humble, it became evident, from the outset that he was equally passionate about the future of our people. I had the opportunity to listen to Sabri speak, on four or five occasions, and when I had a chance to sit down and speak with him in person the last time he was presenting at the NSW Babylon Cultural Association,  the simple utterance of ten or so words stayed with me until now –

“we (Seyfo Center) try to have good relations with all Assyrian organisations”.

How much do these simple words say about our people and how difficult we make this Assyrian condition upon ourselves? The one thing that never ceases to amaze me is the capacity for us to be able to divide amongst ourselves, how many associations alone were present at the unveiling of the Assyrian Genocide memorial? Is it truly necessary to have such an all consuming dispersion of people-power? For what good is it to have 300 Assyrian Associations and 3 people supporting each one?

These questions are not something new, but what provoked them in this instance, was the apparent, selfless devotion of the people at Seyfo to their cause, the capacity to put aside egotistic concerns and the utter dedication to the memory of the Assyrian name. It is in this, that recognition and the answer to the Assyrian problem comes full circle – for I’m convinced that if we had a unified front, Seyfo recognition and the homeland problem would be resolved in a matter of months.

We need to encourage the benevolent relationship between the current associations, instead of provoking and asserting the dominance of one over the other – at Seyfo, I understand there is no leadership, only devotees, how much is there to learn to apply from this group of individuals that have shaken the foundations of historical fact in the modern world?

If the commonality of the victims of Seyfo are not honoured and recognized by Assyrians themselves in an according manner, it may be that the end of the Assyrian race as we know it. This is the lesson that history has taught us and this is the opportunity that Seyfo has presented. The Assyrian people in Australia have shown a semblance of spirit and have reinvigorated the case for recognition in the Southern Hemisphere, however, it is  truly the “New Assyrians” that will carry this baton on into the future, that will be charged with building tomorrow’s legacy for future Assyrians to inherit. If Seyfo Center and the workings of these few individuals have showed us anything it begins with casting aside the differences and building upon what is common – working with pure intentions, free from conceitedness in pursuit of a single, benevolent, Assyrian purpose.

[i]  Frost, C . (August 10, 2010) ‘Assyrian Monument Unveiled in Controversy’, The Fairfield Advance, News Community Media
Curtin, J.  (August 13, 2010) ‘Note on Memorial, Irks Turks’, The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax Digital Media

[ii]  Dr Panayiotis Diamadis has completed a Doctorate in Genocide Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Education (Secondary) from The University of Sydney. He currently teaches History at St Andrew’s (Anglican) Cathedral School in Sydney, as well as Genocide Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has published in academic and teaching journals such as Genocide Perspectives, Modern Greek Studies and Teaching History on topics of Australian and Hellenic history, and genocide studies.

[iii]  Ninos Aho at the unveiling of the Assyrian Genocide Memorial Statue

[iv]  The Assyrian Genocide Research Center’s Homepage contains information and recent articles relating to the works and publications of Seyfo Center URL: http://www.seyfocenter.com/


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