Why Syriacs need a national Institute for Sayfo and Genocide Studies

By Hul Ema

Holocaust is an established term and refers to the genocide of European Jews by the Nazis during World War II. Millions of Jews were systematically killed. Annually around January 27, the United Nations commemorates this genocide on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and pays “tribute to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and reaffirms its unwavering commitment to counter antisemitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance that may lead to group-targeted violence.”

The genocide of the Armenians is also a well-known systematically and premeditated mass murder. The Armenian Genocide was carried out by Ottoman Turks in 1915 and subsequent years. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler is even believed to have referred to the Armenian Genocide as he planned and committed his evil acts against humanity, “Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?” or “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Jews and Armenians have worked diligently to put their genocides on the world map, rightly so, and both have received official recognition from many parliaments and governments around the world. A salient detail is that the Knesset and the State of Israel have not yet officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. One victim of Holocaust has not officially recognized another victim of Medz Yeghern. Unwanted competition where Armenia currently has too little to offer the people of Israel economically, strategically and geopolitically?

On April 24, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden did recognize the Armenian Genocide in a speech on Armenian Genocide Remebrance Day. The first American President to publicly do so. By recognizing the Armenian Genocide, Biden delivered on his election promise and Turkey now had to accept that American recognition and speaking out had to come one day. But was Turkey able to convince Biden not to mention the other victims by name? Or was it a conscious balancing of interests by the U.S.? Because Biden did not mention the Pontic Greeks and he did not mention the Syriacs, who were also victims of the ruthless Ottoman sword and the genocidal mentality of the Young Turks and local Kurdish tribal leaders in the days of decline and crumbling of the Ottoman Empire and the nascence of the Republic of Turkey. This despite the fact that in December 2019, the U.S. Senate mentioned the Syriacs and Greeks by name as victims of the genocide. Senate Resolution 150 was unanimously adopted and recognizes and condemns the Genocide of 1915 and “the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, and providing relief to the survivors of the campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.”

If and when the Syriac people fully realize the depth of this (geo)political interacting and balancing act of interests between sovereign states, the Syriacs must ask themselves the important question: who speaks today of the near-total annihilation of the Christian Syriacs at the hands of Ottoman Turks and Kurds during those last days of the Ottoman Empire, after which the Syriac people, after a decades-long downward spiral of trauma, denial, repression, and fear, were pushed into the diaspora, far from their homeland? Why are the Holocaust and Medz Yeghern known and recognized worldwide, and why are the Sayfo Genocide of 1915 and the Kafno largely ignored? A self-respecting Syriac nation must ask itself these critical questions. Any answer will have to include to what extent the Syriac individual and people have set themselves free and have cast off their fears, to what degree they have matured in national consciousness, social cohesiveness, zeal, self-sacrifice, and how far the nation has matured in its international relations and lobbying, in centralizing internal economic resources and how they are spent, and how far it has progressed in its combative and political organization.

A modern state requires institutions. Syriacs have educational, cultural, political, and religious institutions and organizations – the Syriac churches are among the oldest continuous institutions in the world – but despite previous efforts, Syriacs do not have their own national Institute for Sayfo and Genocide Studies. The little academic and historical research and archival work that is done on the Sayfo and Kafno Genocide, is either in the hands of non-Syriac state actors and universities or is mostly done by Syriac individuals at non-Syriac institutions.

Any mature Syriac nation must embed in its being the strongest sense about the most dramatic event in its recent history. Sayfo and Kafno are fundamental for national awareness, unity, belonging and identity of the Syriac people and nation. Any mature Syriac nation which wants to secure a place in the international constellation of nation-states, will have to internalize expertise and produce its own academic research and publications about the Sayfo and Kafno. This is the importance of having your own national Institute for Sayfo and Genocide Studies.

In 2015, the Syriac people took a major step in liberating themselves and in national self-awareness by establishing their own Sayfo Genocide Remembrance Day, annually on June 15. They stepped out of the shadows of others. Syriacs themselves determined from an independent and internal free will what was important to them as a people and nation and how they collectively attached value to such a national day of remembrance.

A logical next step is to have our own national Sayfo Institute. All established states have such research institutes, universities, centers of expertise, forums and museums for academic research into genocides, wars, and violent conflicts. It is high time for the Syriac nation to establish an Institute for Sayfo and Genocide Studies. The Syriac people have all monetary and intellectual necessities in house, in the homelands and in the diaspora, but they must be brought together. Furthermore, such an Institute for Sayfo and Genocide Studies should transcend all Syriac religious denominations, historical affiliations, and geography. The Ottoman Turks and Kurds of that time did not ask if you were Syriac Catholic, Orthodox, Maronite, Roum, Chaldean, Aramean or Assyrian before they started to kill, starve or deport. Only united can such an institution gain momentum and status and only united can Syriacs rise up in the ranks of nations. If the Syriacs think another people is going to do it for them, think again.

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.