ESU Co-Chair Fehmi Vergili on the 15th June remembrance of the Sayfo Genocide of 1915 during the coronavirus pandemic, Syriac identity, and recognition

BRUSSELS – Annually, on the 15th of June, Syriacs commemorate the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Sayfo Genocide of 1915.  A terrible fate the martyred Syriacs share with the 1.5 million Armenians, whose fates are commemorated annually on the 24th of April, and the more than 300,000 Pontic Greeks commemorated on the 19th of May. In Syriac, “Sayfo” is the word for sword – the primary weapon employed by the Ottomans and allied Kurdish tribes throughout the genocide – and has come to be used to describe the 1915 genocide, or “Year of the Sword”.

One of the tragedies of the Sayfo is that commemoration of the genocide was only able to acquire a place within the Syriac identity and cultural life following the mass Syriac emigration from their homeland. Only after Syriacs left behind their homelands of Tur Abdin, Nohadra, Ankawa, Hakkari, Nineveh Plains, Gozarto, Khabur, Aleppo, Homs, Sadat, Wadi al-Nasara, Lebanon, and Israel, were they able to start their struggle for internalizing and institutionalizing the recognition of the 1915 massacres. First, on the 24th of April in the shadows of the Armenian memorials, but in recent years, in an emancipatory awareness which happened only after the applied weight and effort of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch and the Syriac Catholic Patriarch, who now officially commemorate the Sayfo in Syriac churches and include the day on the Church calendar, remembrance now occurs on the 15th of June.

According to European Syriac Union (ESU) Co-Chair Fehmi Vergili, the institutionalization of the Remembrance Day of the Sayfo Genocide of 1915 came about only after decades of struggle for justice and internal and external recognition. In an interview with SuroyoTV, Vergili said that only through the many Sayfo demonstrations, hunger strikes, awareness campaigns, lectures, petitions, and conferences of the last decades organized in the diaspora by many Syriac cultural organizations and political parties did Syriacs shrug off their fears and silence.

But in this year of pandemic, the number of commemorations and gatherings will be small, said Mr. Vergili. Commemorations by ESU, a Syriac representative body advocating Syriac rights in their homelands and in the diaspora, will take place in smaller and more private settings this year. Vergili made a special request this year for every Syriac to stay home and light a candle inside or outside their home on the 15th of June.

Also Read: Greek MEP: “The EU should recognise the killings of Pontic Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians as genocide”

Although large commemorations will not happen, the ESU’s message was clear that diplomatic and political efforts to secure international recognition of the Sayfo will continue. In May, the ESU started an online petition calling for the European Parliament to recognize the Sayfo and aims to collect at least 5,000 signatures. The petition will then be presented to the European Parliament in a bid for recognition of the genocide. Mr. Vergili stressed the importance for Syriacs to work together towards the goal of recognition. He said that every single signature determines the success of the petition to bring recognition of the genocide to international platforms and public institutions. Greece, Cyprus, France (2001), Sweden (2010), Armenia (2015), Netherlands (2015), Austria (2015), USA (2019), Germany (2016), Czech Republic (2017) and Italy (2019) preceded the European Parliament in recognizing the Armenian, Greek, Syriac genocides of 1915.

According to Vergili, the European Syriac Union has also prepared a statement that will be send to the governments of the U.S. and Russia and to the United Nations and the European Union in the pursuit for further recognition and to help secure constitutional and cultural rights for the Syriac (Aramean-Assyrian-Chaldean) people in their homelands in the Middle East.