On August 7, Assyrian Genocide Remembrance Day, The Assyrian Studies Association jointly partnered with other 35 fellow Assyrian community organizations & allies to sign a letter calling on the Iraqi authorities to recognize the Simele Massacre of 1933. You can read the letter by clicking on the icon to the right.
Right now, The Assyrian Studies Association is calling for academics to add their voices demanding a professional academic and impartial investigation into the current situation of the material remains of the Simele Massacre site. Show your support by adding your name to the letter.
This letter will be sent to all relevant authorities in Iraq and the KRG within Iraq as well as academic institutions such as UNESCO and other Non-Governmental Organizations on October 1, 2020. To view our letter, please see below.
Calling For Academic Signatures To Recognize The Simele Massacre as Genocide & Its Sites as Protected Places of Remembrance
Since 1933, the site of Simele is a sacred site of mourning and remembrance for the Assyrian community of Iraq and Assyrians worldwide. In Duhok Governorate, in today’s Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the site has both ancient and modern significance for the Assyrian peoples. It is believed that the town was an ancient Assyrian settlement; at the same time, it is a massacre site related to historical atrocities and injustices against indigenous people native to modern-day Iraq and one of the oldest living cultures. This site, as well as several others in the area, is believed to contain the remains of Assyrian victims of systematic, large- scale killings when Iraq launched its genocidal campaign targeting Assyrians across northern Iraq in 1933.
The Simele Massacre, a massacre committed by the armed forces of the nascent Iraqi state, through weapons supplied by Great Britain and with the participation from Arab and Kurdish irregulars, systematically targeted the indigenous Assyrian community in August of 1933. The term is used to describe the massacre in Simele and the broader campaign that took place across more than 80 Assyrian villages in northern Iraq. As many as 6,000 Assyrian men, women, and children were killed, while tens of thousands more were forcibly displaced and barred from returning. Assyrian Remembrance Day—which honors the victims of all genocidal campaigns targeting Assyrians in their modern history—is observed annually on the anniversary of this crime.
The 1933 Simele Massacre was one of two events (1933 and Armenian, Assyrian, Greek genocide of 1915) that inspired the coinage of the word ‘genocide’ by a lawyer and international legal scholar Raphael Lemkin in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Lemkin’s definition would later serve as the basis for the definition and codification in international customary law for the crime of genocide in the United Nation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, to which Iraq became a signatory in January 1959.
Indeed, the Simele Massacre, which took place less than a year after Iraq’s founding, laid firm precedent for the decades that followed, which saw terrible crimes committed against various Iraqi communities. More recently, Assyrians, along with Yazidis, (both of whom saw the physical killing, ethnic cleansing, and cultural destruction) were explicitly and systematically targeted by the so-called Islamic State as part of its policy extermination. This has not only threatened their life and culture but their very existence in the region.
Mass tragedies take place all too often, and equally tragic is their erasure. The Iraqi Government has yet to recognize and accept responsibility for the Simele Massacre. Further, the aforementioned sites in Simele contain exposed skeletal remains consistent with their designation as possible mass grave sites and warrant investigation. The sites have not been adequately maintained and remain unprotected, leaving them vulnerable to disturbance and contamination, compromising the Assyrian community's right to truth andjustice. Reports of preliminary excavations recently conducted at these sites are especially troubling. The ongoing mismanagement of these sites jeopardizes critical evidence necessary for any future accountability efforts.
An investigation of sites related to the Simele Massacre may yield critical evidence for future justice processes and create a historical record. Moreover, the process of investigation and documentation reconfirm the dignity of the victims.
The denial of historical injustices threatens the Iraqi state's democratization and prolongs strained relations between different ethnoreligious communities. Proper recognition acknowledges the gravity of the offenses perpetrated and will help promote Iraq’s transition into a pluralist and tolerant society.
Thus, the undersigned academics recommend that federal and regional authorities take urgent steps to shield these sites against further degradation to preserve evidence in the town of Simele and other regions of the massacre and include the following steps:
Any plans, be they local building or excavations must be suspended immediately until a thorough investigation of the site(s) is completed;
The Iraqi Government should vigorously pursue an impartial survey of the various sites of the Simele Massacre (including the town of Simele itself) of 1933 with assistance from international Assyrian scholarly experts and the local Assyrian community;
To avoid any further mishandling of human remains, the relevant authorities must commit to protecting the integrity of the sites. We, therefore, urge the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to allow neutral forensic experts. They will work with the Assyrian community in the region of question and experts of the Assyrian Studies Association as a non- partial, non-political NGO, to help preserve and analyze the evidence by granting them uninhibited access in conducting a thorough investigation of the sites. Exhumations conducted without forensic experts can tamper with the site, run the risk of desecrating this sacred space for Iraq’s Assyrian community, and can lead to the destruction of critical material required for addressing this historical atrocity;
Authorities should make all efforts to pursue genetic identification of the dead and to provide dignified reburials with the approval of the families of the victims and local Assyrian community;
The site should be designated a permanent memorial space for the victims of the 1933 massacre and be memorialized as such;
The Iraqi Government must confront its past and formally recognize the Simele Massacre of 1933 in its Constitution;
Finally, the Iraqi Government should offer appropriate compensation for the victims and their descendants. Legislation should be enacted to restore the citizenship of Assyrians who were citizens of Iraq by birth or by descent who lost Iraqi citizenship due to the Simele Massacre.