Armenian refugees

History: The Gruesome Massacre of Indigenous Asyrians and Armenians

WARNING: If you are faint of heart, or sensitive to the graphic details of the massacre, then perhaps you should reconsider reading further ahead.

A history buff or someone well versed in ancient events might know about an ancient civilization, dating back to 2500 BC, known as Assyria of Mesopotamia.

Modern Assyrians( Syriac Christians) claim themselves to be descendants of the same.

An ethnic group native to the Middle East, self identifying sometimes as Syriacs or Arameans, these indigenous people are famously known as Assyrians.

In current times, Northern Iraq, Southeastern Turkey and Northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria form the region that was initially where the Assyrians resided. You can say that it was their homeland.

Most Syrians have migrated throughout the world, going to Asia, Europe, Australia, North America and other places. This was provoked by unnerving events such as the Assyrian genocide and the massacres of the Diyarbakir that happened during World War I.

The perpetrators of this massacre were some shady officials of the Ottoman empire in accordance with the Kurdish tribes.

In this blog we will find out about one of the darkest period in Assyrian and Armenian history that resulted in tens of thousands being homeless, thousands forced to convert their religion and thousands murdered in cold blood.

The Massacre of Diyarbakir
©Genocide Museum

Massacre of Diyarbakir

Genocide of Assyrians and Armenians
©genocide museum

It is said the massacre was instigated by Ottoman politicians and bureaucrats to try and destabilize the state of the Armenians.

However, not long after beginning, it somehow changed into an anti-Christian movement that ended with more than 25,000 deaths of indigenous people.

The massacre may have started against Armenians only, but it soon moved to the region of Diyabakir vilayet as well as Tur Abdin.

Targeting the predominant Christian population such as Armenians and Assyrians in vilayet, the massacre of Diyarbakir was part of the Hamidian massacre. It occurred between 1894 and 1896.

What happened Backstage?

Indigenous Assyrians and Armenians

An intense famine caused havoc in the surrounding region. You can say that this led to frequent Kurdish raids on the villages of the province for a continuous few years.

18 people were killed in the province of Tur Abdin in August 1888, by the assaults of Kurdish Aghas. In October 1889, around 40 villagers(men, women, children)were massacred in Syriac/Assyrian villages.

These events foreshadowed the horrifying massacre that made a dark mark in history. Back In 1894 in the Sasun district of Bitlis vilayet, 4000 Armenians rebelled against the Kurdish nomadic tribes in protest of the traditional taxes imposed upon them.

The local bureaucrats complained to the Sultan that it was a major uprising which could threaten the sanctity of the government itself.

Seeing it as a threat to his throne after being incited by the local authorities, the Sultan sent the Ottoman army along with the Hamidiye Cavalry and regional Kurdish tribes to suppress the supposed major rebellion.

After really suppressing the Armenian rebels, the force of furious Kurds plunged upon the innocent civilians of nearby Armenian villages in the region of Sasun and Talori.
It is estimated that after the dust settled, around 7500 Armenians were found dead.

Intervention of foreign powers;
The massacre of Christians led to the intervention of European powers in the nearby region consisting of Russia France and Britain. They collectively suggested to the Sultan that a performance should take place in the autumn and local government, which might lead to a decline in the violence occurring in the region.

The interference of foreign powers backfired, although the mounting pressure from the European nations eventually led to the Sultan announcing the reforms back in October 1895.
If you think about it, there was no way that this could have led to anything good.

In a region struggling with violent conflict between two religions, any external stimulus of a sudden shift would surely only act as a catalyst of disastrous reaction.

The agitated climate in the Ottoman empire only got worse with time. The clashes between Muslims and Christians of the region continued from day to day. The slowly building violence continued to spread across the whole empire and eventually reached Diyarbakir as well.

Reason behind the adverse reaction to foreign interference

Massacre of Christians
©genocide museum

No nation wants foreign interference in matters of state, even if it’s related to civic conflict. The pressure mounted by Britain, France and Russia, caused the Muslim population of the locality to speculate that the foreign powers may be trying to build a Christian empire in Armenia.

Disputes between Christian and Muslim populations continued to mount day by day. The furious public had the misguided idea that the Christian populace was trying to overtake the throne. The reforms only seemed to hammer in that fact, as the Kurdish leaders of the violent riots lost their trust in their Sultan for bowing down to foreign pressure.

The new reforms caused by foreign intervention ignited the fuse that was already heated to its peak.

The main perpetrator behind the Armenian massacre in Susan and Mush, titled the Kurdish Sheikh of Zilan, visited the Diyarbakir region. He incited the heated sparks of violent clashes into roaring flames of hatred that burned like lava into the veins of the Muslim populace.

The Kurdish Sheikh was a major puppeteer of the events that unfolded thereon, stimulating the Muslims against Christians.
People with influence among the Muslim populace sent their Sultan a telegraph that read: “Armenia was conquered with blood, it will only yield with blood.”

Curtain-raiser of the massacre:
The massacre in the city of Diyarbakir did not just happen randomly. Just like most notable events in history, there is a forgotten story behind it. Let’s delve a bit into the prelude to the heinous Christian massacre.

The perpetrator related to a fire that had supposedly destroyed Christian shops, was somehow elected as the governor of the city of Diyarbakir. The Armenians and Assyrians protested vehemently against this.

The newly elected governor tried to force the Christian population into signing letters of gratitude in favour of his appointment as the governor to stabilize, and gain backing for his position.

This was the last straw that the Christian population could take and they started closing their shops and protesting openly against the government. More than 1200 people signed a petition requesting the governor to be removed from the city. The protest carried on slowly gaining momentum until a suitable response was sent from the higher ups.

This caused a rift to open between the Muslim and Christian population the city and the government officials used this as a leverage to provoke the population against the Armenians and Assyrians.

It is said, however, that the governor himself banned any action against the Christians, but somehow the events still took place.

The day of the massacre

Diyarbakir Genocide; actual photo of the event
©Genocide Museum

• November 1, 1895- strangers fire shots outside the grand mosque of Diyarbakir when the Muslim prayer was taking place during the noontime.

• It was registered as a report in Ottoman government documents that Assyrians had started shooting outside the grand mosque.

However, according to the report filed by the French consul, it was noted that a policeman had shot a Chaldean Catholic who was passing by, coincidently with the time of the prayers.

• The Muslim public, incited beyond reason, started attacking any and every Armenian they could find in the nearby area.

• The minor clash did not take long to turn into a mob slaughter that spread like a disease throughout the city, not long after.

• The enraged Muslim populace started targeting Christians in the area. Burning down their shops, destroying their residences and looting anything and everything belonging to the Christian masses.

• The fires that started burning a few Christian shops soon went out of control, destroying everything spreading uncontested around the city. It is said that the fire could be seen literally from Ergani, which existed around 55 kilometers from the city.

• Any Christian person that was not able to run away immediately from the mob was hunted down and shot. It is estimated that around 2 million Turkish pounds was the damage alone from the first day of looting and fires in the province.

• The next morning, a systematic genocide of the Christian populace started. Numerous men, women, children were murdered in cold blood. The girls were carried off and forced to convert to Islam.

• Some Christians were able to save themselves and their loved ones by defending themselves with the weapons they had in hand while fighting in narrow streets.

• Around 1500 people were protected by the French consulate. The mob attacked the consul, which served to raise fear in the hearts of the governing bodies inside.

It is said that the consul himself gave an order to shoot his wife and children in case the mob got to them, fearing that heinous acts could occur to his loved ones.

A telegram to request help was sent, somehow in the confusion, to Constantinople, where the embassy was situated.

• The massacre of Diyarbakir, killing numerous Christian citizens, although later on the governor declared an end to all violence and weapons to be seized or the threat of severe punishment for those who break the law.

While that might be the case, it is stipulated that even the government and enforcement officials themselves participated in looting and massacre.

• The next year, the total death toll was concluded by the British vice consul that visited Diyarbakir. It is estimated that around 1000 Christians in total died, while 155 women among them were kidnapped and had been forcefully converted into Islam by the Kurds.

• One of the ways that a lot of Armenians found to save themselves was converting to Islam. While it may have been under the threat of violence and murder, it was still a legitimate way of surviving the massacre. Most of the converted Armenians reverted to the Christian religion after the end of the troubled times.

Massacre in the countryside(to the east of the city)

Diyarbakir Massacre; actual photo of the genocide
©Genocide Museum

Killings of Sa’diye, Qatarball, Qarabash & Mayafaraqin

While the massacre in the city may have been abated after an order from the governor, it still continued to spread to the east of the city in the countryside region. Sa’diye was a village where around 3000 Armenians and Assyrians used to live.

The Turks(who weren’t let inside the gates of the Diyarbakir city, in fear that they might not discriminate in their killing spree, between Christians and Muslims) killed them all.
The village was surrounded and overpowered by the Turkish raiding party. The men were killed first, then the women and lastly the children. A small number of villagers hid inside the church in hopes of survival. It was burned to the ground, burning alive those inside along with it.

You may find it a bit of a stretch to imagine or even a cinematic folktale, but it is said that three people survived the massacre of the village by hiding below the corpses of others.

In the similar event that took place in Mayafaraqin, 15 people survived out of 3000 populace(consisting of protestant Christians, Jacobite, Armenians).

Qarabash was totally ravaged to ruins, while Qatarball was another murder spree that left only three alive out of 300 families.

It was claimed by a contemporary Syriac Catholic priest that other than the ones mentioned above, there were 10 more villages that were ravaged beyond any chance of saving. Which cost the lives of another 4000 or so victims at the very least.

The massacres in the outskirts of Diyarbakir left around 20,000-30,000 in dire need of shelter and food. At least 10,000 people were counted to be homeless after the wave of massacre passed away.

The wave of massacre reaches Tur Abdin

The city itself was spared any massacre, as the officials of the city were not influenced by the Kurdish instigators of the massacres or the clerical co-conspirators.

The people of this province were too intermingled with either religion to be able to be differentiated by any. Which leads to the fear in Mardin officials that the Kurds might kill everyone in their mad killing spree.

When the Kurds came to the city they were driven away by the local defending Muslim forces. Soon, the governor ordered the gates to be closed and the city defenses to be set up to repel any attacking forces.
While the city was spared the massacre due to its defenses in place, the surrounding regions were not so lucky.

• Tell Armen, a village near Tur Abdin was erased off the map. Its church burned to ashes and the village looted to bare bones.

• Al-Kulye, a settlement of about 2000 Jacobites, was obliterated as well.

• Banabil suffered a similar fate to the above villages, but Al-Mansurye survived due to aid from other nearby settlements.

• Jacobite Patriarch resided at Qalaat Mara and its people were able to survive due to escaping to Saffron Monastery. The people set up their defenses at the monastery and were able to resist the attacks from the Kurds.

According to an account of events given by Patriarch Barsoum, there is another reason that the city and the near region were relatively less harmed than the unrestricted massacre around Diyarbakir.

A request for protection was sent by two Assyrian people of high influence and wealth. This prompted the governor to send a force that protected the city and surrounding region from Turkish raids until the winds of violence abated.

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