This article appeared in the June 2020 special edition of Gazete Sabro on the Sayfo Genocide. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.
By Yawsef Beth Turo journalist, moderator at Suroyo TV and Sayfo activist
I will not discuss the role of Kurds in the 1915 Genocide in this article. They know their grave and destructive role very well. The usual excuses of “our fathers were used”, “they did this because of their ignorance and foolishness”, “we were not the ones who made the decision of genocide”, “we later understood the seriousness of the issue”, and similar cliché excuses no longer satisfy the Armenians and the Assyrians/Syriacs. Kurdish friends I have known for 25 years and worked with in the field of media know my approach in this regard. In my discussions with many of them, I always argued that nobody believes in this rhetoric and denialist approaches anymore, and that what is going on in practice is contradicting this.
Kurdish institutions, organizations, and political parties should know that the Armenians, Assyrians/Syriacs and Pontic Greeks – I am not blaming the Kurds for the Pontic Greek genocide – as the descendant of the victims of Sayfo, do not see such rhetoric and denialist approaches as credible. We expect the Kurds to approach the 1915 Genocide in a sincere manner. To break the silence on the topic while they take necessary steps. It is important not to block discussions in this direction. Of course, the Kurds were not involved in the decision-taking mechanism of the genocide. But they became active perpetrators of the genocide. As a result, the demographic change, the tens of thousands of people they killed, the thousands of women and children they kidnapped, and the economic “gains” they have achieved are obvious.
The fact that the Kurds cover up their destructive role in the Sayfo genocide and their refusal to see and recognize it, directly works in favor of the Turkish Republic. Unfortunately, with this approach, most of the Kurdish parties, organizations, and institutions are supporting Turkey in delaying the recognition of the Sayfo Genocide of 1915. A sincere confession and apology from the Kurds for the genocide would accelerate the recognition of Sayfo.
Let me make this more clear. If the Kurds were not involved in the genocide, in regions such as Diyarbakır, Adıyaman, Mardin, Şırnak, Siirt, Bitlis, Van, Hakkari where Assyrians/Syriacs lived intensely, the Committee for Union and Progress, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa and other gangs would not had the power to carry out this genocide. It is necessary to sincerely formulate it: if the Kurds had not been involved in the genocide of 1915, this genocide would not have happened in such a dimension and brutality!
In fact, as a result of the genocide, the Kurds today use or occupy the lands, houses, companies, property and other assets of Assyrian/Syriacs who lived in hundreds of villages in the region mentioned above. Thousands of people whose mothers or grandmothers are of Assyrian/Syriac origin clearly see and know this reality. But they remain silent. Some of them go even further, acting with the logic of “the best defense is an attack” to cover up their own realities and behaving as if it had never happened. Articles written against statements made by Fırat Aydınkaya are the most concrete examples of this.
As said, the Kurd’s approach in denying their role in the genocide delays the recognition of the genocide by the Republic of Turkey, which was established on the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. I see that the vast majority of Kurdish politicians and intellectuals have a distorted and inconsistent approach to this issue. As Kurds, they argue that they are the main founding members of Turkey, but claim that they have no direct involvement or responsibility for the 1915 Genocide. Is it not that the Turkish Republic had been founded on the basis and remnants of the genocide? They need to put an end to their twisted approach. If the Kurds claim to be the main founding elements of the Republic of Turkey, then they are main perpetrators of the 1915 events as well. At this point, the Kurds should make their position very clear.
In this sense, the steps to be taken regarding past events and future approaches will be valuable. However, it is necessary to point to an important difference. There exists a self-critical approach in the Kurdish segment, which comes from the tradition of the Kurdish national struggle. I realized this more strongly between the party members and patriots I encountered during the time when I worked at MedTV and RojTV between 1996 and 2003. However, the necessary steps are not taken to solve this approach with a clearer vocal and historical confrontation; also, this discussion does not reach broader segments of the society.
Let me give you a concrete example. The territory of the Mor Evgin Monastery in Nusaybin is unfortunately occupied by Kurdish families known today as “patriotic”. Despite all attempts and efforts, it has not been returned to the monastery. The 2,150-acres of land are still occupied by the “patriotic” Kurds living in the villages of Tılminare-Tepeüstü and Marine-Eskihisar. But on the other hand, there are also others, like the Atman family, who have returned some occupied land. This family, also known as the Haci Bahri family and living in the Kubde-Kutbi Dagiçi today, returned the 500-acres land they occupied after Sayfo to the Mor Evgin Foundation. Likewise, Berzan Boti from the Batman region showed the same sincerity and returned the lands that were not his own to Seyfo Center.
At this point, it is important to underline the fact that Alike Batte, Haçoye Xortik, Saruxano and a few other Kurdish leaders and tribes did not take an active role in the Sayfo; this helped thousands of Assyrians/Syriacs continue their resistance and survive. However, if dozens of other Kurdish tribes also exhibited this attitude, our geography, country and state would certainly not be like this. I cannot proceed without mentioning Çelebi Ağa. One of the first actions of Çelebi Ağa after being released from the prison in Harput (Elazığ) was to ensure that Assyrian/Syriacs, who had homes and lands prior to Sayfo, could return to their villages.
By giving an example from the North-East Syria region, I want to connect the past with present situation and continue. If there was no struggle for resistance against ISIS led by the YPG in Syria, we would have witnessed a new genocide in the region of Gozarto (Al Jazira) today, similar to the one in 1915. However, under the roof of the Syrian Democratic Forces, YPG, Al-Sanadid, and the Syriac Military Council (MFS) they have fostered the foundation of a common structure today with the struggle and resistance they have shown.
I expect a sincere and brave approach from the Kurds. Yes! Today’s Kurds and Turks are not guilty of the 1915 Genocide. But they must see their responsibilities and fulfill them. They must face their own history and return to the humanity, which they have sacrificed during the genocide. But if they continue to deny, they will be guilty like their ancestors. Now it is necessary to stop this delaying in order to look at each other’s face without shame, hesitation, and in a sincere way. Because this confession, I say it again, will accelerate the official recognition of Sayfo by Turkey.
State responsibility does not replace individual responsibility and individual responsibility does not exonerate the state. Mr. Ahmet Türk, a prominent Kurdish politician, apologized for the 1915 Genocide, but this did not absolve the Turkish state.
I would like to conclude my article by quoting Yasar Kemal, a Kurdish writer of Assyrian/Syriac descent.
“İsmail Ağa’s mother advises him: My son, if you go to that town, don’t accept those Armenian houses and fields. Other birds can not shelter in the nest whose owner has fled. The destroyer of the nest has no nest. The persecution ends in the persecution field. ” (Yasar Kemal, Yağmurcuk kuşu, p.95)
Yawsef Beth Turo is a journalist, moderator at Suroyo TV and Sayfo activist. You can follow him @bethturo