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March 3, 2011

The Ottomans' Other Victims

The Assyrian Genocide 1914 - 1920.

"We have cleansed the Armenians and Syriac from Azerbaijan, and we will do the same in Van." Jevdet Pasha

Suldouze, Iran; General Agha Petros leads his ragtag band of 1500 horse mounted soldiers to swiftly attack and defeat a force of 8000 Ottoman soldiers. This battle would be one of the many feathers in his cap. However it would also be one of the last successes in his campaign to free his Assyrian comrades from the routine attacks the Ottomans had submitted them to.

As the war between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies dragged on the support for the Assyrians crumbled. Russian forces were quickly called up to take positions against the Germans so as to keep the Prussians pinned down in trench warfare. British needed to do the same toward the end of World War One. And thus the forces of the Ottoman Empire amped up their relentless attacks.

To the North of Iran General Petros's battlefields in Iran were thousands of Turkish Assyrians. And in what is now modern-day Turkey the Assyrians were particularly vulnerable.

Although the Northern Assyrians had attempted to fight back against the pogroms they had already been submitted to they would never had been prepared for what would come next. The attacks on Assyrians in Turkey and Mesopotamia were stepped up at the beginning of the World War. By the time attacks on Assyrians in modern-day Iran began in earnest the Assyrians to the North were already almost completely gone.

In 1915 the "Butchers' Battalion", Kasap Taburu in Turkish, entered the Van Province with the soul mission to destroy the Assyrian villages in that region. With 8,000 soldiers the Ottomans slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Assyrian civilians. By the end of their attacks some 30 villages had been razed. (These numbers do not take into account any armed Assyrians that may have offered some resistance.)

By the end of this attack in Turkey the Ottomans had realized that the Russians had fled modern-day Iran. This allowed the Ottomans to thus move their 36Th and 37Th battalions into the Northwestern region of Iran. It was there that the Ottomans in 1915 at the village of Urmia captured 61 leading Assyrian leaders (religious and political). Demanding their ransom the Ottomans waited till the village could produce money to fund the Ottoman army's campaign against the Assyrians. When the village paid the Ottomans the Turks decided to let 20 of the captives live. The rest had their heads cut off and piked at the stairs of the Charbachsh Gate. Among the severed heads was the head of the Bishop Mar Denkha (an Assyrian church Bishop).

After the slaughter of Assyrian leaders in Urmia, the Turks moved deeper into Iranian lands. On February 25Th of 1915 the Ottoman forces invaded the Iranian villages of Gulpashan and Salamas. In Gulpashan the invaders moved so quickly that nearly the entire population of the village was massacred, leaving around 2,500 people dead. In Salamas the invaders suddenly found that the entire Assyrian population was nowhere to be found. The Persians in Salamas had hidden them in their own homes.

Breaking down the doors of every home in Salamas the Ottomans found their unarmed victims. Roping the men together, the Turks led their captives out into the fields between Khusrawa and Haftevan. It was there that the Young Turks slaughtered their Assyrian victims in a number of ways... the Turks claimed however that they were all shot in the head.

"Many Moslems tried to save their Christian neighbours and offered them shelter in their houses, but the Turkish authorities were implacable." A British Field Report from 1915.

During the winter of 1915 an estimated 4,000 Assyrians died from exposure, disease, and starvation in and around the village of Urmia. The Ottomans there refused the Assyrians the "right to society" (or the common human rights). An additional 1,000 were directly killed by Young Turk soldiers.

In early 1918 the Ottomans allowed an estimated 3,500 Assyrians to leave Turkey and reside in Khoi, Iran. Upon arrival the Young Turks in Persia had a sudden change of heart. Once the unarmed civilians were encamped the Turkish forces fell upon them in droves. The orgy of violence that followed was documented by one of the handful of survivors.

"You have undoubtedly heard of the Assyrian massacre of Khoi, but I am certain you do not know the details..." Reverend John Eshoo, a survivor, began he recollection.

He would go on to tell of how the Assyrians were rounded up and brought into small enclosures where they would be shot with rifles and revolvers. The "slaughter house" was so small that each group of new victims would have to stand upon the dead bodies of their fellow Assyrians before being shot themselves. This ritual of death would continue for hours as groups of 10 to 20 Assyrians were executed at a time.

John told of how those found in the outer areas of the village were rounded up into courtyards and kept for around eight days before being taken to slaughter. They were starved and yet remained silent even when being marched to their deaths... John states that the only words they spoke was this... "L-rd, into thy hands we commit our spirits."

For these Assyrians death would come not by the rifle but by the sword. They were taken to courtyards or fields that had been prepared for their slaughter. Like "lambs" they were slain. First the Young Turks would cut off their fingers and then their hands. Then they would stretch their victims out upon the ground and force them to look up as they cut their throats in such a manner as to prolong their deaths. The Assyrian victims were made to bleed out slowly as they gasped for air and choked on their own blood. Most were beaten while they struggled to take their next breath. Some were tossed into mass graves while still bleeding out.

As with most cases of genocide, the young women and little girls captured in this attack were forced into sexual slavery. A group of them were even raped to death at the moment of their captivity. All would be killed within days from either brutal butchering or continual gang rapes.

If it had not been for Reverend John Eshoo nobody would have ever known of the Young Turks' bloody butchering of Khoi. We would be led to believe the long held Turkish lie that this, like they claim about the Armenian Genocide, was simply a military conflict. And once again genocide would be hidden by the "fog of war".

By the end of the Assyrian Genocide a known 495,780 Assyrians were dead. A population of just over one million were suddenly no more than 250,000, many say only 100,000. So it is more likely that just around 750,000 Assyrians were killed by the Ottomans. In any case the once large minority in the region is now a very important minority in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.

This minority in the Middle East has suffered in Iraq every since the British deported them from Iran at the end of the Genocide. In 1933 thousands of them were killed in a mass pogrom at Simele, Iran. During the unrest in 1961 the Assyrians would suffer in Iraq. And under Saddam Hussein the Assyrian community would suffer thousands more of deaths during the dictator's Al Anfal Campaign.

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