Yesterday was the 7th of August – Martyr’s Day or Simele as it is known to Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans. A day where we remember all of the Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans who were massacred, raped, pillaged and kidnapped because of their ethnicity. The Simele Massacre, which lends its name to this day, in particular highlights the way in which Assyrians were targeted simply because they were Assyrian. Although not the biggest massacre in terms of number of deaths, the tragedy caused a long-term psychological and social impact on the survivors In the aftermath, British Administrative Inspector for Mosul Lieutenant Colonel R. R. Stafford reported:
“When I visited Alqosh myself on August 21st I found the Assyrians, like the Assyrians elsewhere, utterly panic-stricken. Not only were they disturbed, but their spirit was completely broken. It was difficult to recognize in their cowed demeanour the proud mountaineers whom everyone had known so well and admired so much for the past dozen years.”
Yesterday, we were supposed to let the world know that Simele took place. We were going to tweet it, share it and make it trend. That was the plan. We wanted the same rights that are afforded to other communities who have faced a genocide. We wanted the world to know we still hurt and that our wounds are not all healed. But that didn’t happen. Because instead of being allowed to observe this day, we found ourselves scrambling for more information on almost 250 newly kidnapped Syriac Assyrians from the province of Homs in Syria. Instead of being able to pay tribute to our martyrs, we were fielding calls from people who had fled, now begging for food, water and medicine. Instead of making #Simele trend, we were trying to figure out how many children were among the abducted.
And where was the world media? The same media that raged when a dentist shot a lion or sent itself into a frenzy when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner announced they were getting divorced. Whilst we found ourselves steeped in another ethnic-cleansing, the major publications were busy speculating on what dress Jennifer Aniston wore to her wedding. They were falling all over themselves trying to come up with clever alliterations for the Clinton-Kardashian selfie. They were mourning Australia’s loss in the cricket.
So today we have twice the work to do. We must not only educate the world about our history but we must teach them about current events. Somehow, we must be heard, in amongst the celebrity make-ups and break-ups. We must let them know that just because a life is lived in a little village no one has ever heard of, in a country no one wants to visit at the moment, doesn’t make it less important or less valueable. To quote Jon Stewart, whose celebrity status means that the media has spent most of this week farewelling his departure from television, “we grieve but we do not despair.” We grieve for our martyrs. We grieve for the 240 hostages taken from Khabour and for the 250 hostages from Homs who have now joined them as captives of ISIS. We grieve for those in Iraq and Syria who mourn the life they once knew. But we don’t despair. We don’t despair because even as I write this, Congresswoman Schawosky and Senator Kirk (both of Illinois) are releasing individual statements marking the anniversary of Simele. We don’t despair because even as we post updates, people are writing to us to find out how they can help. We don’t despair because to despair is to dishonour the memory of those who went before us and who gave their lives in the hopes that future generations won’t have to.
We don’t despair. Instead we honour. We remember. #Simele