Assyrian genocide
A famous painting by Leonardo de Mango, showing the stoning of the Christian population of Siirt in 1915. Wikipedia

You may have heard of the Armenian genocide. You've probably heard of Stalin's starvation of the Ukrainians, and the atrocities committed by the European empires in Africa. You've definitely heard of the Holocaust.

Yet chances are you've never heard of the Assyrian genocide, even though this was just as brutal and costly. It was perpetrated alongside the Armenian massacre, yet only one of the twin programmes has lived on in infamy.

The Assyrian genocide occurred 100 years ago, and decimated a people whose territory stretched from the areas now known as Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Egypt. Today, this very same area is the world's fiercest conflict zone, the wounds which opened a century ago showing no sign of healing.

Which makes it all the more important that we remember the horrors inflicted on the Assyrians all those years ago.

Ethnic cleansing

Historians today describe the Assyrian Genocide as a programme of extermination carried out by the Ottoman Empire upon the Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian populations. All three peoples were Christian, and the Ottomans attempted to wipe them out during a wider ethnic cleansing campaign, which also included the Armenian and Greek genocides.

The Assyrian extermination campaign actually lasted from 1914 to 1923, Turkey's rulers carrying on the killing long after their empire had been dismantled. The death toll varies depending which historical scholar or record you consult.

"Estimates on the overall death toll vary, with some contemporary reports placing the figure at 270,000, and estimates range to as many as 750,000," reported Dr. Israel W. Charny, the editor of two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide and executive director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide.

Charny groups the Assyrian Genocide together with the massacre of Greeks and Armenians in a "Christian Holocaust", which he claims was "the precursor to the Jewish Holocaust in WWII."

"To this day, the Turkish government ostensibly denies having committed this genocide" Charny adds.

Ottoman Jihad against native Christian populations

Sabri Atman, who is also one of the most well-known lecturers on the Assyrian Genocide, said in an interview with the Armenian Weekly this year that the Ottoman Empire was bent on "ethnically annihilating all non-Muslim citizens living under the Ottoman occupation, with the objective of homogenising Turkey in accordance with their goal to create a nation of 'One Religion'.

"Their motto was 'One Nation, One Religion.' To achieve their goal, jihad (or holy war) was declared on Nov. 14, 1914 in all of the Ottoman mosques... The main plot was to get rid of all the Christian minorities of Turkey,."

Atman added that "Denial is a form of continuation of the genocide. It is to be killed twice."

Hannibal Travis, a Professor of Law at Florida International University, wrote an article on the Assyrian Genocide in 2006, suggesting that "the Ottoman Empire's widespread persecution of Assyrian civilians during World War I constituted a form of genocide... a deliberate and systematic campaign of massacre, torture, abduction, deportation, impoverishment, and cultural and ethnic destruction.

"Established principles of international law outlawed this war of extermination against Ottoman Christian civilians before it was embarked upon, and ample evidence of genocidal intent has surfaced in the form of admissions by Ottoman officials.

"Nevertheless, the international community has been hesitant to recognize the Assyrian experience as a form of genocide."

Assyrian genocide
The Assyrian Genocide still causes controversy today. Here Turks in Australia protest their state parliament's adoption of a motion recognising the genocide. Reuters

Finally, a monument

An Assyrian genocide monument, in memory of the Assyrian victims of the Christian genocide of the Ottoman Empire during World War One, was erected on 19 October in Athens. The monument's opening was attended by Kyriakos Betsaras, the president of the Assyrian Union of Greece, as well as the current and former Mayors of Athens.

Sabri Atman spoke at the ceremony, called on "Turkey and all nations around the world to recognise this historical reality," adding: "In recent years, Assyrians have been working diligently towards greater public awareness and worldwide recognition of the Assyrian Genocide.

"The ethnic extermination of hundreds of thousands of our people and the destruction of our lands forever changed the demographics of the area we called home for thousands of years. We Assyrians standing here today are the children of a nation which was almost completely eliminated from the face of the earth," he said.

"I'm also proud to stand in front of you today knowing that over 20 countries have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. It is my hope that in the future, countries will continue to follow in this pattern, and will also include the recognition of Assyrians and Greeks as victims of the same Genocide."

Monuments commemorating the victims of the Assyrian genocide have also been erected in Sweden, Belgium, France, Armenia, Australia, Wales and the United States. Whether Turkey follows suit, however, remains to be seen.