105 years is a long time. Much has happened during all these years that have shaped the world as we know it today. In our history books we read about crises, world war and genocide, and the youth learn from the great deeds and mistakes of previous generations. That is why it is extremely difficult to take in that our classes in high school never learned about what happened to us Arameans (Syriacs) in 1915.
Our ethnic group, together with the Armenians and the Pontic Greeks, became victims of the first genocide of the 20th century. It was a genocide that Hitler referred to before he himself became guilty of genocide and which reduced Turkey’s Christian population by 95 percent. A genocide whose over 1.5 million deaths brought consequences we still live with in our everyday lives.
As an indigenous people without our own homeland, we Arameans have no state authorities to ensure that our multi-millennial history and tradition survive, and nothing but our own ability to teach our children the Aramaic language will in the long run keep it alive. We were hit extremely hard by the genocide and Sweden has helped us more than any other country. Here we have been able to organize ourselves democratically and build our organizations and a strong and well-integrated diaspora. However, as long as the genocide is not recognized by Turkey, we are in a very tough situation where our human rights are constantly being violated. The issue can’t be reduced to a decision that only affects our history books. It is a matter of our survival as a people.
As the indigenous people ofTurkey, we differ from the majority ethnically, culturally, religiously and linguistically, but the Turkish state would like us to be Christian Turks at best. The extreme nationalism and assimilation policy Turkey has followed throughout the life of the Republic has been devastating for us and other minorities in the country, and the fact that its founding father Ataturk was a member of the young Turk-movement that organized Seyfo, says it all. Arameans from Turkey were forced to have Turkish surnames and a series of “reforms” to address everything that wasn’t Turkish was introduced. In school books, the events of 1915 aren’t decribed as a genocide. Instead, we are portrayed as traitors to the Turkish state and its people.
Although Turkey is secular on paper, it took until last year for us to get approval to build a new Syriac Orthodox church in Istanbul, which will be the first church to be built in the history of the republic. It is not however difficult to understand that if our bishop says a single word that Erdogan does not like, the construction will be delayed for another decade or two. It is a country where it is punishable to talk about the events of 1915 as a genocide after all. It is not out of kindness towards us that the church is allowed to be built. It is great for him to be able to state how friendly he is to his minorities, who of course in reality are oppressed.
105 years has passed since the genocide began and 10 years since the Swedish parliament decided to recognize the genocide. Neither the government of the time of recognition nor the subsequent ones have enforced the decision, despite Stefan Löfven promising to do so before becoming prime minister.
“Every generation has to hear the names.
Every generation must see the family portraits.
Every generation must understand what can happen if hatred is allowed to take root.
never look away,
never let it happen again. “
We have reminded our Prime Minister on several occasions of these words which he himself said in 2013 on the Holocaust Memorial Day, and would like to do so again. Partly because they are very nice words that we support, but above all because it is heartbreaking that he does not apply them to our names and family portraits. We need to teach about our fate in schools and the world must stand up against the Turkish state to prevent their hatred from keeping on taking root for generation after generation.
The government is fully focused on the corona crisis right now. It is both fully understandable and exactly what we want from you right now. When the spread of infection is no longer a problem and we can move on as a country, new decisions must be made and issues will be discussed.
That is when it is time for your government to state that the genocide should have been acknowledged a long time ago, and as such you should enforce the parliamentary decision. For our sake and for that of all humanity.
Jacob Lahdo, Chairman for the Syriac-Aramaic Youthfederation of Sweden (SAUF)
Gabriella Josufsson, Vice-chairwoman for the Syriac-Aramaic Youthfederation of Sweden (SAUF)