Andrea Riccardi recalls Seyfo, massacre of Christians forgotten




The speech by Andrea Riccardi at the conference "Seyfo: A Christian history forgotten," held at the conference room of the Community of Sant'Egidio on 19 and 20 June 2015, to remember, 100 years later, the massacre of the Syrians, Orthodox and Catholics, Chaldeans and Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire.


Andrea Riccardi, riccardi andrea, Assyrian Genocide (Event), Mass Murder (Disaster Type), Seyfo, massacre of Christians, massacre of Syrian, Syriac Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Chaldeans, Assyrians, massacre of the Chaldeans, massacre of the Assyrians, Ottoman Empire, genocide, stingy
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[Andrea Riccardi]: "We are here to remember the massacre of a hundred years ago, especially in the most forgotten corner of this story, Seyfo: the massacre of Syrian Orthodox and Catholics, Chaldeans and Assyrians. Not a detail; It is a historical reality that makes the difference, because by studying Seyfo we understand that in 1915 and subsequent years has not occurred only the massacre of the Armenians, but there has been a massacre of Christians. The misunderstanding was at the beginning: forget the other Christians. And instill It was comfortable, because they ended up reducing the massacre at a national event. After the first World War, the Syriac Patriarch Elijah III wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury (The Anglican church was one of the few International relationships of Syriac patriarchy), wrote: «All Christians have had the same painful fate». It is not competitiveness among victims, it would be absurd; moreover, the Syrian were a church forgotten by the other Christians, a church poor, remained faithful to the faith and to a rich spiritual tradition, in a farming community, alongside its monasteries, as in Tur Abdin. The great historian Fernand Braudel speaks of these highlands as a place of protection: the Maronites in Mount Lebanon and, for example, the Waldenses in the mountains of the Alps. The question Syriac/Assyrian did not become a problem after World War. There was the Armenian question, at the peace conference, because the story of the Armenians had become a great national question, like those of the nineteenth century Greek, Italian, those from the nationality of the Habsburg Empire. Not so for other Christians. Yet these Christians They knew massacres, cruelties, painful marches of the death, separation of families, expropriation of property, destruction of churches, forced conversions, abductions of children and girls. His Holiness said good: «For them there was a great silence», a great silence. Not only the silence of denial of Turkish republic, which is a fact, that was the result of an ideology, but also the result of the fact that part of the ruling class of the Republic of Atatürk was made by young Turks, that is by those who had did the massacre. But there was a silence of churches, you could not talk because a part of the Christians continued to live in turkish territory. These Christians were defined, with a Turkish vulgar expression, as "the remains of the sword", the remains of the sword. In 1986 I began to meet in Tur Abdin or Mardin, only in the intimacy they made some mention in that preserved drama of family memories, for the rest in huge silence. Yet, those who lived the tragic events in 1915 and subsequent years had the feeling that what had happened was all over human scale, was beyond any human measure. It was too, too much even compared to the waves of violence that Christian minorities were accustomed to in the Middle East, too much; Something unspeakable. That's the reason why so many witnesses wrote about it, as knows Professor Ternon. Only in the case of Mardin, many stared at the memory of those events on the paper, locals and French; but for tens of years their texts remained buried in the archives. Not interested by no one, silence. The memorial of the Dominican French father Rhétoré, perhaps more effective about the story of Martin and the region, was published in 2000 by Marco Impagliazzo, in 2000, that is, after so many decades. Yves Ternon, passionate student of these problems, note the peculiarity of the fact: 80 years of silence. The martyrs were left without memory, there were no processes of beatification. Only John Paul II, in 2001, beatified the first martyr, the Armenian-Catholic archbishop of Mardin, Maloyan, prominent figure of Catholic Christianity consists of Armenian-Catholics, Syrian-Catholics, Chaldeans. The same year, 2001, when John Paul II speaks of Armenian genocide, but only of the Armenian genocide. For John Paul II is not a political problem, but the recognition of martyrdom of Christians, as a duty of a mother to the fallen children. It was not a political issue. John Paul II wanted the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, entrusted to Sant'Egidio, was Remembrance the new martyrs, because the martyrs had be remembered. Indeed, said John Paul II, in martyrdom Christians are already united. Modestly, the passion with which Sant'Egidio organized this conference, has thirty/forty years of history. I remember very well one day in Damascus, in 1984, at the patriarchate, when the late Patriarch Zhakka welcomed me, with Monsignor Paglia, Claudio Betti, accompanied from Mar Gregorios of Aleppo, patriarchy, Patriarch Zhakka, he showed me a picture depicting the monastery of Deir al Zafaran saying sadly: «We come from there, but of us there is almost nothing». I had a profound desire to know those places, and in '86, a pilgrimage of Sant'Egidio, of more than a hundred people, it visited them, Noting a sense of end. After that trip, there came the story of a rich group of Iraqi Christians who have fled Iraq because of the war, and they arrived there, They were housed in Rome and helped to go to America. It is since 80's we hear a deep bond with the Syriac Christianity, made of esteem for a humble people made of martyrs. But without knowing the martyrdrom, how to understand the Syriac? And their martyrdom is common to that of the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Catholics. And here we see how there is a religious memory of martyrs and how there is a historical memory. That historic, as regards Seyfo, has known, how said His Holiness, in recent years, a great development and now with the centenary. But as we know centenarians pass. It should be remembered as cultivate the historical memory means telling the human reality of pain. People want to know the stories of men and women. It can not be forgotten. Stalin said crudely: «the death of a man and a tragedy, the death of millions a statistic». You have to tell the death of 1, 2, 3 men up to one million. But also this has a connection with the present, in the Middle East, almost in the same areas, involving, today, Christians, Yazidis, Muslims. But there is also a religious memory of the Martyrs, a model was that of the early centuries. For the twentieth century, the century of martyrdom, there has been little capacity of the churches to do memory. Remembering, for a church, means welcome memory in worship and in teaching; it means to be provoked by the prophecy of martyrs. We now want to make an historical conference with eminent scholars to remember. And as the patriarch said: «the memory not asking for vengeance», but the historical memory matures in the passion of a church that has lived this story. The aim of the research joins what I would call, with a Latin word, «pietas», that is «participant memory for the fallen». By introducing this conference I must ask myself a question: why was there Seyfo? But for which reason? Why helpless, apolitical, peaceful Christians were exterminated? What is the reason? The Committee of the Young Turks at the power in Istanbul wanted a total cleaning of the Christians. The official explanation of the massacres was that it was a armed response to the uprisings and cooperation with the Russians and the Armenians and to their secessionist will. First, it is a disproportionate response, but I will not speak of this. I'm just wondering: where is the Syrian uprising? Where the Chaldean revolt? Where the Syrian-Catholic revolt? Florence Hellot-Bellier will talk of the Assyrians, which is a story a bit special. Seyfo is not a case of confused east. Seyfo is a lucid choice. The turkish young draw for an ethnic cleansing of Armenians had a nationalistic character, was the son of nineteenth-century nationalist culture who wanted create nations with assimilation. Young Turks assumed to assimilate the Kurds because Muslims loyal to the caliph, but soon they realized that the Kurds were not assimilable and also for the Kurds began deportations continued under Ataturk. And today certain Kurds members recognize that great historical error: to collaborate in the massacres. Dear friends massacres are barbaric stories that should not become numbers, but represent a drama to remember. But these barbaric stories are part of a crazy and rational project. The project is: ethics engineering to reshape Ottoman society to do it all Turkish, all Turkish and to destroy the mosaic of groups. A citizen of Diyarbekir whose house can still be visited as a national monument, Ziya Gokalp, follower of Durckheim sociology and of European nationalism, was the ideologue of the racial engineering. He had grown from child with the Syrians, Armenians, Chaldean from Diyarbekir; in Diyarbekir a high school is still dedicated to the name of Gökalp. maybe Gokalp had played as a child with the Christians, because at Diyarbekir they are open yet a beautiful Syriac Church, a large Armenian church, a Chaldean church although the faithful can be counted on fingertips. Born in eastern provinces, Gökalp wanted ethnic homogenization He knew who were the Syriac and how to stand out from the Armenians, but in an his poem about the new turkish world, entitled "Red apple", writes: "He said it is important to know the East, said that the people is a garden and we are the gardeners, the trees are not only rejuvenated by grafts, before it is necessary to prune the tree. " It's clear, the tree is the Ottoman society; They does not want implants but to prune, cut, clean. This is an engineering that becomes almost poetry for him. An Ottoman Institution, the direction for the settlement of the refugees to the tribes, under the leadership of Gokalp, the first Professor of Sociology in Istanbul, conducted scientific ethnographic research on Alevis, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Syriac. They wondered: who is comparable? The Young Turks feared that territorial pockets, parts of the territory, homogeneous, could be the basis for separatisms. This explains the fight to the Assyrians, combative, on mountains of Hakkari. I do not understand and it can not be explained the fight against Syrian in Tur Abdin, who were minority compared to the Kurds, were minority, and also Tur Abdin became the space to hunt down Christians, a manhunt. It does not justify the fury, the military fury against Ain Warda, where the Syriac fortified the churches and were besieged from a huge Ottoman troops. They Resisted 52 days, more then Moussa Dagh from the famous Werfel's novel. An episode of resistance, among the others, there was also at Hah, a village with a magnificent Church. It is inexplicable the concentration of Turkish military forces against the village of Azakh, inhabited by Syrians, Catholics and Orthodox. The empire was at war, it had greater challenges. David Gaunt note that there were regular Ottoman and German forces. That case was presented by the Ottomans as an Armenian revolt that threatened to connect to that of Sinjar, where, as Ternon wrote in his beautiful works, the Yazidi generously defended Christians. These resistances are episodes of the epic Syriac, who knew also an armed resistance, although most part were killed, says a witness, like sheep brought to the slaughter. They show, however, as there was an excess of concentration of Turkish military; but in the turkish imagination it was necessary to eliminate the Christian ethnic basis. It is something that recalls, with all the differences, the German and Nazi rage against the Jews, even when Germany was at war. It is a rational and crazy though, it is a rational and crazy strategy, because the Syrians did not represent any danger and beacause the real danger was the war that the British, the French made against the Ottoman Empire; not a handful of Ottoman Syriac citizens. Seyfo it was not an accident. It was the result of a terrible draw: to eliminate the Christians who felt Ottoman subjects, to clean the land from unassimilable minorities. However, to do this it was necessary to arouse the popular hatred. How to do it if not in name of Islam? Here is another aspect of that barbaric massacre: anti-Christian hatred. The Anatolian farmer did not feel himself turkish, although he spoke turkish, but he feel himself Muslim and Kurdish feel the call of the Sultan Caliph. The nationalist massacre of the Armenians became the Great Jihad against giaour, against the infidels. How to mobilize the masses whose labor and whose complicity young Turks had need? With anti-Christian hatred. So it was affected Syrians, were struck Armenian-Catholics and Catholics, and I note that the Sublime Door had told to the Germans to the Austro-Hungarians, that Catholics would be exempt from persecution. They had to feed, between the people, the hate against Christians. Here is another reason, dear friends: the social hatred. Often minorities, with the help of missionaries and their schools, had a higher level of education. It is less the case of Syriac more isolated in Tur Abdin, but the Russian consul Nikitine notice the hatred for the cultural level of the Christians, so that from Istanbul was sent, in 1913, a commission to help Muslim schools. Hatred was increased by the impact of Muslim exiles from the Balkans and settled in Anatolia after the birth of the Balkan states. But I would like to ask: what the Syrians had nothing to do with Bulgarians? Yet that was created in the imagination that there was a division between Christians and Muslims; the close Christian were seen as part of the same block of Bulgarians and Serbs. It was a real strain. The social and religious hatred made neighbours the enemies, but these people had worked together. This is the story of the genocide, why you must speak of genocide: it is the building of the menacing figure of the victim; kill the victim is considered preventive defence. this was a political and religious construction, but he had the economic underpinnings. At Mardin there were not massacres at the time of Abdul Hamid, but the Vali of Diarbekir, Rechid, young turkish doctor, he felt called upon to expel illness and disease from the turkish body and the disease was called "Christians," Rechid sent to Mardin a deputy Feyzi Pirinççizade to bring the notables on the positions of anti-Christian; listen a moment his words. Feyzi seys to Muslim notables: «Who holds you from acting? The fear of having to pay the consequences? But what they did to those who killed Christians under Abdul Hamid? Nothing! And today we are stronger, Germany is with us; let's get rid of the Christians to be masters in our own home». This is the idea of all of Islam: finally masters at own home There is the idea of ​​Christians as an emanation of foreigners, especially the French who intervened in the affairs of the Ottoman, often in the name of protecting Catholics, and the protection of minorities is an institution that young Turkish wanted to abolish. But the anti-Christian hatred was fueled by religious preaching. But we do not neglect the other question, often overlooked: the goods. Seyfo was a great robbery of Christian's goods, by Kurds and Turks: property, monasteries, churches, land, commercial and entrepreneurial activities. This robbery has loyal Muslim groups to the policy of genocide, it has created complicity and the robbery of Christians marked the luck of some families, who have passed away from the Ottoman world to the Republic of Atatürk; the same families. I mentioned the Pirinççizade family, notables in Diyarbekir, who were involved, different generations, in the massacres of Abdul Hamid in 1915, the expulsion of Christians in the '20s, but they were ministers and deputies of the Republic. But the robbery of Christians not enriched Muslims, but impoverished Turkey. Let me tell you this: in 1926 the great American educator John Dewey was invited to learn about Turkey, and he noted: but what a country is this? It is a miserable country! The economic situation, noticed Dewey, is tragic! The Christians' shops are still inactive and closed. "Turkeyze" economy was impoverishing society. I will not speak long. I would say that what which occurred in 1915, and during the first world war, was an absurdity. No murder can be explained, but there may be reasons. Here we are faced with the absurd, with blood shad for an ideological discourse. In Ottoman territories they were Germans and Austro-Hungarian witnesses of the deportations; It is well documented - Yacoub aware. But it was so absurd what happened, that in September 1915 Pope Benedict XV wrote a message to Sultan Mehmet V of fulfillment of two words: inexpressible facts and unspeakable facts. I would like to read the words of the Pope: «There comes painful echoes of the groans of a people, that in the vast Ottoman domains is submissive to inexpressible sufferings; we are told that entire populations of villages and cities are forced to abandon their homes, and moved with unspeakable hardship in far points of concentration, in which, in addition to moral anguish, they must endure the most squalid misery and tortures». But why Christians uneasy power? I have to remember that these Christians did not build a united front. They were divided. Each community - those were not ecumenical days, there was not the office that he held the Cardinal Kasper, there were fewer offices in the Curia, perhaps less problems, fewer dreams - in that period, the not ecumenical, each community had its own strategy; not only, but communities were in conflict and the Ottoman power was used, often, from one community against the other, and the slaughterers played on the divisions, for example in Mydiat they was led to believe, to the Syrians, that would It has been affected only Catholics Protestants, because they were related to foreigners. The eminent Syrian Safar family, who enjoyed the pasha title, felt safe, but then it came the time of the massacres of Syrians, who defended themselves.In Mardin, relations between the Syrian-Orthodox and Catholics were not good, on the eve of war, because a bishop Syriac - Ladho - was passed from the Orthodox Church to Catholicism. During the violence, the Syrians were little touched in Mardin, elsewhere they were massacred; and I have an explanation, because at Mardin almost the half of population was Christian, and Ottoman power could not make war to half the population. The communities were not a united front, but all suffered bitter days and evil. This expression: «Bitter and evil», was written by Syro-Catholic bishop Tappouni to its patriarch. The Chaldeans, despite being Catholic and then and so officially exempt from deportation, lost three bishops, many people, priests, monks. In Seert, the murder of the Chaldean bishop Mar Addai Sher, 48yo (he was hidden by a Kurdish Agha, but then he was taken), took place in the presence of a witness who writes it. Why do I mention it? Because this bishop was a great scholar, author of Nestorian history books, and he had a great library, where he kept important historical documents, of history; everything was burned in 1915. Because, remember, dear friends, the genocide of a people also goes hand in cultural genocide. Books, manuscripts, historical monuments, churches, millennial environments were destroyed. The cultural genocide. The strategies were different, characters of the community were different: the Chaldeans, the Assyrians more mountaineers used to living with the Kurds in Hakkari; there are those who negotiated, those who paid, as Mar Addai in Seert, but they took the money and killed them; who tried to negotiate, as Tappouni Mardin and among other Tappouni, poor, leading an interesting activity: regained the Christian children offered for sale on the market, Tappouni regained Christian children; or who, like the beautiful figure of the bishop Syriac March Filiksinos Ablhad in Ain Wardo: March Filiksinos Ain Wardo preached in the church-castle in Ain Wardo, the duty to resist, invoking the Holy Spirit, then he climbed on the roof of the church, where he fasted and prayed for 17 days, until he died for exhaustion, while others fought. But no strategy was successful. But I would like to emphasize, before concluding - and the fact that no one strategy was winning shows the absolute determination of Ottomans to kill - but the genocide changed the relationships among Christians, it changed. I quote an episode: in 1931, the apostolic delegate Margotti, with a trip so long at those days, he went by train from Istanbul to Mardin, indeed from Istanbul to Lecco and then to and then from Lecco to Mardin, and tells how, at Mardin trainstation, he was received by all Catholics united, and already new, but just arrived at home of the Chaldean bishop, he received the delegation of Protestant and a delegation of Syriac bishops led by the Patriarchal Vicar, in 1931 relations have changed. And Margotti tells that that people said him: «you see Monsignor, I was on the terrace, and the Turks came to slaughter my parents»; and a woman indicates a home and said: «that was my home, my children were killed by them there». I would say that the pain of the survivors must be remembered and honored. And I also remember the survivors who lived forced to practice Islam: women, children. The French Dominican Réthoré describes the children's market that was just opposite the beautiful building of the Syrian-Catholic Patriarchate of Mardin, a real market. Unfortunately a child was worth like a lamb and children under two years had no market, but they were killed. Maybe there are not, Your Holiness, testimonies of how the children saw this. A child tells how the Turks chose the most beautiful boys and girls and says: «With my brothers and my sisters we huddled against each other not to be separated, waiting in anguish our fate. We were petrified». How is it possible remain indifferent to so much pain when you are believers? Monsignor Balakian poses to an Ottoman official this question: «But why you, Bey, who is a practicing Muslim, you can kill so many people?». And Bey replied: «It's the Jihad, a sacred duty: the other does not longer exist; the child is not a person, it's an object». But we must be honest: not all were the murderers; this is the biggest mistake of denier historiography: the concealment of the action of the righteous which have gone missing; there are Muslims righteous. When we talk about Seyfo, we need to talk about executioners, but we must not forget the righteous: Haidar Bey, Vali of Mosul, were opposed to the massacres; the mutasserif of Mardin defenses Christians and ran from the German Vice Consul to report the incident. The Ottoman officials resisted, but also the poor people, as the Kurdish pastor Salimo, from Mydiat, which was informed about the project to kill Syrians he alerted the Syriac family Abdyo: «You have been generous with me and I am with you» There are Kurds who hid Christians, but there were also large Cheick, as Fatullah Hamidi, Sufi leaders, who mediated between Christians from Ain Warda and the Ottomans. Dear friends, I have concluded. I believe that the historical memory returns the dramatic and human thickness of this story, which is a terrible story. You see, the bones of these people have had the grave in the countryside of Northern of Mesopotamia and sometimes still crop up. But we are convinced that the memory should not be buried under the ashes; remembering is a debt of memory for so many lives stolen, from children, from adults, from elderly. Remembering for Syriac churches, Chaldean Syrian-Catholic and Assyrian, it means addressing the problem of how to be faithful to that martyrdom. But it is a problem of all, because that martyrdom is a legacy of all. Remembering is not hating or providing material for hatred. His Holiness spoke sbout reconciliation, but reconciliation starts from the recognition of the witnesses of martyrdom, but from knowing this human history, not by repeating the numbers, because the numbers we all know them, because even 500,000 dead, but they are thousands of families, of children, of pain and tears. I would conclude with a phrase, said by an elderly Armenian from Havav, in the region of Palu, which was a happy little girl, a terrible day came, she did not die but was forced to convert to Islam and she hid his Christianity for decades; As old woman, she called her granddaughter and she said: «I'm not Muslim, I am Armenian» and she pointed to a book she had with her, a book that she could not read, it was a Bible in Armenian language, and she said: «This is the book of my God, I do not know how to read, but it is the it is my book», and then she said: «my daughter, that those days to go away and not come back anymore». We want to remember, but we want also pray for those days to go away, them to leave forever and not come back anymore. This is the hope and I venture to say, for us who believe, it is our prayer: that those days will not come back anymore!