- persecution, exile and genocide has plagued the Syriac-Christian community since
the Islamic conquests of the 7th
century - into the “forgotten genocide” of the 20th century and the present
genocides under a new wave of Islamic fanaticism.
The genocide of 1914-1920 referred
to by the Syriac Christians as “Sayfo” (the sword) was the massacre and deportation
of the non-Muslim population of Turkey carried out by organized bands of
Turkish militia known as “killing squads” – Kurds and Arab brigands. The killings were carried out by firing
squads, decapitation, drownings, thrown off cliffs, fire and buried alive. Surviving
women, children and elderly were put to flight forced outside Turkish borders. Along
the way many were subjected to sexual abuse and kidnappings while others died
from exposure, disease and starvation. The
countryside was littered with Christian corpses.
Estimates on the overall death
toll have varied between of 275,000 - 300,000, about half of the population.
The exact numbers are unknown however Tur Abdin’s once vital Syriac
Christian population of about 80,000 before 1914 today holds on to under 3,000.
The genocide of the Syriac-Christian
community has never ended yet continues in the form of the Turkish authority’s refusal
to acknowledge the genocide while simultaneously criminalizing anyone contradicting
the denial. Other attempts of destroying
the lingering community have continued from forbidding repairs of Syriac religious
and cultural structures, outlawing teaching of the language (a law only
recently lifted since Turkey’s attempts to enter EU), and an unbalanced justice
system. The dwindling Syriac-Christian community continues to flee their Tur
Abdin homeland out of fear while those who remain survive quietly, peacefully, and
always on guard.