Skip to main content

Syriacs commemorate their massacre

While the world prepares to commemorate what has become known as the Armenian genocide, the Syriacs are still struggling for international recognition of the massacre of members of their community in 1915.
Syriac Christian monks attend a service at the ancient monastery of Mor Gabriel, 15 km (9 miles) away from the town of Midyat, in Mardin province of southeast Turkey January 13, 2009. Tucked amid rugged hills where mosques and minarets are silhouetted in the distance, the fifth century Mor Gabriel monastery stands out as a relic of another era when hundreds of thousands of Syriac Christians lived and worshipped in Turkey. But a land dispute between Mor Gabriel and neighbouring villages is threatening the mo

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the plateau of Tur Abdin in southeastern Anatolia, the ancient Syriac village of Aynwardo commands an excellent defensive position. In its heavily fortified fourth-century church, a clutch of desperate Syriacs held out against Ottoman troops and Kurdish irregulars for 60 days in the summer of 1915, while the Syriac population throughout the region was being put to the sword. Although many of the defenders were shot after the siege ended, the resistance mounted in Aynwardo is proudly remembered by Syriacs as a glimmer of light in the darkness of their near annihilation. It is therefore to Aynwardo that local and diaspora Syriacs will march from the market town of Midyat this summer in what local organizers call the “first public commemoration of the Syriac genocide” in their homeland of Tur Abdin.

The Syriacs, also known as Assyrians or Arameans, are an ancient Mesopotamian people who were among the first to adopt Christianity and are perhaps best known today for retaining their Aramaic language, a variant of which was the language of Jesus Christ. Never very populous, they were decimated by about half in the massacres of Anatolian Christians that began in 1915. Although these killings officially targeted Armenians, neither Ottoman authorities nor local Kurds made a distinction between the Christian peoples in southeastern Anatolia, famously arguing that “an onion is an onion, no matter what its color.” Scholars estimate that up to 300,000 Syriacs were killed. Emigration of the survivors from the region continued for the rest of the century. The vast majority are dispersed around the globe today with the events of 1915 seared into their collective memory as the Year of the Seyfo, or Year of the Sword.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.