Why is the 7th
of August an
By Aprim Shapira - London
Assyrian history is replete with
the martyrdom of thousands who were massacred for the sake of their
beliefs, religious or national. Clearly, too, the number of Assyrians
massacred before August 1933 especially during the period of World War
I, is far greater than the number killed in Simel. This raises the
question of why have Assyrians zeroed in on the August 1933 tragedy over
all others. More specifically, what motivated the Assyrian Universal
Alliance (AUA) in 1970 to designate the 7th of August each
year as the “official” Assyrian Martyrs Day?
The rationale for selecting this particular date over several alternative ones forms the central motif of my booklet, “7th of August The Day of Assyrian Martyrs - Symbol of the Nation’s Immortality”. Here are some of the considerations:
The elements and trappings of nationhood typically include a flag, a
slogan, an anthem, a monument to the Unknown Soldier (or martyrs),
heroic names and legacies. The date of August 7th is a
rallying symbol expressing the maturity of Assyrian national and
political awareness. It underlines the importance of their national
entity, and in some situations making the ultimate sacrifice for the
Assyrian nation, as was the case in August 1933. It is worth noting
that, at the same period, i.e., in early 1970’s, at the peak of
national consciousness, a national flag, an anthem and April 1st were
declared national symbols.
2. The tragedy of Simel is relatively recent, and it serves more effectively than previous massacres the contemporary ideology relating to the Assyrian nation and its politics. This is consistent with a principle of political science which holds that the emphasis on contemporary events is a better than older historical ones as a rallying point for national zeal and awareness.
3. Most of the national movement figures of 1933 were alive until recently. In addition, many eyewitnesses survive to this day. This first-hand attestation is not only more reliable, but also more powerful than events which are recorded in books or preserved as oral history. Assyrian nationalists of the second and even of the third generation have been personally moved by the remembrances of those who lived in the eye of the storm.
4. The last three decades have seen the emergence of a number of Assyrian political parties and nationalistic organizations. Like all political entities, these new organizations needed to be invested with acts of heroism and examples of supreme sacrifices, as a mean of fortifying their resolve. Still vividly in the memory of many, Assyrian political parties found the tragic event of 1933 to be a timely, and most suitable symbol for the support of national aspirations, no matter the cost.
5. The Simel massacre (and its contemporaneous Assyrian national movement) has spawned a plethora of books and other documentation in Assyrian, English, Arabic, Russian and Farsi. This unusual amount of writing served to increase awareness of the event, and eased the way to elevating its national symbolism. Worth mentioning among the many works on this subject are Mar Shimun Eshai’s “The Assyrian Tragedy” (author ‘Anonymous’ at the time of publication), Malik Yacu’s “Assyrians and the Two World Wars” and Yousef Malik’s “The British Betrayal of the Assyrians”. These particular works are all the more significant because they were authored by individuals who were considered leaders of the Assyrian national movement of 1933, and who remained highly visible several years after.
Simel massacre and its high celebration is unique in another way. For
the first time, this event was framed by the Assyrian national movement
in terms of more apart from religious considerations than was ever the
case in previous Assyrian tragedies. While the old leadership possessed
strong allegiance to the church and the tribal system, underneath there
were nationalist embers. It seemed only natural that such a budding
national movement would inspire patriotic fervor, propelling the people
to the next stage, including political parties and national
The August event killed thousands of Assyrians, and resulted in
widespread looting and the obliteration of farms and entire villages.
Obviously such savagery has a major physical component. But the ripple
effect was far-reaching, with psychological, political and legal
consequences. From the point of view of the Iraqis, it led to
characterizing Assyrians as a mutinous, renegade and alien minority, one
which had migrated from Turkey only to be a disruptive British tool (a
fifth column) in the newly-independent country of Iraq. In turn, this
Iraqi attitude translated into a series of unfair laws whose inequities
have had to be borne by ensuing generations of Assyrians. A particular
onerous example is the problem of obtaining the certificate of Iraqi
nationality, a difficult task for all Assyrians and even more so for any
known follower of the Mar Shimun. Ironically, the inherent bias of such
laws towards Assyrians played into the perpetuation of Simel as a
watershed event, and its consequent echo on Assyrian national