Apigian-Kessel: Forgotten Genocide: Let’s Remember Perished Assyrians and Pontics, Too

Today July 25, 2010 I am unable to attend the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s annual picnic celebration of the Khanasor Expedition, the revenge for the massacre of Armenian Fedayees near the Monastery of St. Bartholomew in 1896. Three hundred Dashnaks, Hunchaks, and Armenakans banded together to form the expedition to fight the Mazrig Kurd tribe responsible for the massacre. The Fedayees led by Ishkhan of Van, Vartan of Khanasor, and Nigol Duman, destroyed the Kurdish tribe killing 800 Kurds.

I will try to vindicate myself by concentrating on my benign neglect of including the Assyrian and Pontic Greeks in my tirade against the post-Ottoman Turks for denying the Genocide of 1915-1923.

It is reported that 750,000 Assyrians and thousands of Greeks were massacred in Turkey at that time too. My question is if we know the Turks were bent on destroying the Christian minority, why do we not include them in the large numbers killed? Why have all of us not joined forces as one voice in protest this situation?

Quite a while ago I promised Sabri Atman—an Assyrian author, academic and activist whose Seyfo Center has its headquarters in the Netherlands—that I would address the Assyrian and Pontic Greek genocide of 1915 in my column.

There are three Assyrian words used for the Assyrian Genocide of 1914-1918. The Seyfo, Ferman, and Kafle. Sayfo means sword. The sword of Islam and the way people got killed by the Turkish army and Kurdish troops. Ferman means order. Order of the government. And Kafle means deportation. Armenians can apply these words to their own situation at that time.

I had an Assyrian sister-in-law Esther Esaak when I was very young and I regret never being aware of their plight. I would have interviewed her survivor mother Warda Esaak and uncle Davit had it not been a case of unaware youthfulness.

Coincidentally while reading more about that genocide I came upon a mountain of information that before now I was unaware of and all of us should know that at least 750,000 Assyrians were slaughtered along with thousands of Pontic Greeks in that time period. It is safe to say the Turks murderous rampage destroyed the lives of over three and half million innocent souls in the quest to make Turkey for Turks. Convert or perish. One flag, one belief, one nation and one language. That’s a lot of bloodshed even by Turkey’s standards. If nothing else, the Assyrians and Greeks should be considered our brothers and sisters in the war against Turkish denial. Strength in numbers.

I am not aware of one event in which all of us were organized under one banner to voice protest against the Turks in our demand for justice on a local or national level. The Assyrians and Pontic Greeks deserve justice just as much as Armenians.

There are many Assyrian and Greek organizations fighting the same cause as we. It is the responsibility of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek leadership to join forces for the purpose of strength and recognition against the 70 million denying Turks and lobbyists who continually stymie genocide recognition. What are we waiting for, another 95 years?

I also discovered Sabri Atman is presently on a lecture tour of cities with large Assyrian populations such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Detroit to raise awareness. Why has he not been invited to address the Armenian community at large? The Assyrians wonder why the Armenians concentrate only on their plight in the 1915 genocide.

Sabri Atman says, “Nobody who has researched the genocide who is genuine and sincere, can deny and ignore the fact that we all: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks shared the same terrible fate.”

August 7 is designated as the day the Assyrians commemorate their genocide. Seyfo 1915 is considered one of the most important years in the history of the Assyrian Nation when during the First World War hundreds of thousands of Christian Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire were murdered during the rule of the extremist Young Turks.

The Seyfo Center states, “We the Assyrians, demand attention for all the sufferings our people have undergone, and demand that the world, including Turkey, also recognize the events that occurred during the First World War. Their excuses against the recognition of the genocide should prevent Turkey to become a full menber of the European Union.”

The Assyrians have been successful in having genocide monuments erected in various cities such as Cardiff, Wales, and Sydney, Australia.

More on this next week.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”


  1.   Your point is valid and  well taken. I believe that there are two adjustments in our public policy that will increase the effectiveness of our position. First the Armenians, as well as other victims of genocide, should be vocal advocates for what is happening in Darfur. In addition to the moral correctness of this stance, we need to be viewed as ” world players” who are interested in making this a better society. Let’s face it, some important people in this world simply don’t care if we gain justice for a crime commited during the first world war. But we may get the attention of these people on a current genocide and through this, gain impact for our cause. Who better understands the plight of the people of Darfur than the Armenians?
                 The second adjustment is in the area that you have discussed. The Turkish policy was to remove all non-Turkish Christian population. The numbers are staggering, but aligning our campaigns with the Greeks and Assyrians lead great credence to the pre-meditation of the event. It illustrates a serial pattern so horrific that will assist even a casual observer to the intent. Today, some third parties dilute our message with the need for reconciliation and healing. They are more interested in telling the victim to “move on” so today’s world can benefit. Moving on and healing is good once the crime is acknowledged and paid for. Bringing others in will help to expose the denial campaign.
    You raise important issues.

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