By Nora Vosbigian
Assyrian International News Agency
Sept 27 2005
British historian, Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute, London), was one of the main speakers at a recent commemoration of the Assyrian Genocide (or Seyfo) of 1915 (AINA, 9-22-2005). The event was at Aula Magna, Stockholm University on 24 September and was organised by the Assyrian Youth Federation in Sweden, who asked Sarafian to give a lecture on the 1916 British Parliamentary report, The Treatment of Armenian in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16.
One of the central questions in Sarafian's paper dealt with the relative absence of the destruction of Assyrian Christians in the British report. Was it an oversight or was the report prejudiced?
This question arose in more forceful terms at the conference, when a member of the audience suggested that there was a 200 page Assyrian section to the blue book which was stolen by Armenians and was never published as a consequence.
Sarafian pointed out that the British blue book covered the Assyrian issue within the context of what happened in North-West Persia, but it missed the core of the Assyrian experience because there were no key communicants and witnesses in the key Assyrian populated areas of Mardin-Midiyat in Ottoman Turkey. Elsewhere, the destruction of Assyrians was subsumed in descriptions of the destruction of the much more numerous Armenian communities.
This lack of information about Assyrians was mainly because the accounts informing the British about events in the Ottoman Empire were communicated by United States consuls and missionaries. Since there were no United States consulates near the main Assyrian regions of the Ottoman Empire, there were no ready channels of open to the outside world. Furthermore, the few American missionaries in Mardin and Diyarbekir who might also have reported on the destruction of Assyrians were expelled from these regions in the Spring of 1915.
Consequently, there was little information available about the destruction of Assyrian communities to the British in 1916, except from North-Western Persia, where American missionaries bore witness to the carnage that took place.
Sarafian related some accounts of the destruction of Assyrians he had read, such as the memoirs of Raphael de Nogales describing what he saw in Siirt, or the private letters of Dr. Floyd Smith in Diyarbekir describing Assyrian victims of a massacre at Karabash he treated in Diyarbekir in May 1915.
Sarafian pointed out that since 1915 there has been a lot of information about the Assyrian issue, but mainstream Armenian historians have generally ignored the destruction of Assyrians due to poor scholarship, chauvinism, or both. Consequently, many Armenians today remain ignorant of the destruction of Assyrian Christians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. This is clearly wrong and should be changed with education he argued.
However, it should be added that not all Armenian historians have avoided the destruction of Assyrian Christians in Ottoman Turkey.
Only three years ago, the French Armenian Revue d'histoire armenienne contemporaine published a special issue, “Mardin 1915: Anatomie pathologique d'une destruction” (edited by Yves Ternon).