August 2020 | By Yasmeen Altaji | Photo by Joe Snell
CHICAGO — Backed by a coalition of more than a dozen global organizations, the Assyrian Policy Institute (API) published a letter on Friday calling for recognition by the Iraqi government of the Simele Massacre of 1933 and urged proper maintenance of relevant sites and other recommended government actions.
The letter is introduced amid the planning of excavations of the site that threaten the collection of physical evidence potentially critical to “future justice processes,” according to API.
“The Simele massacre…is overlooked completely in Iraqi history,” API Director Reine Hanna said. “And in order for Iraq to really transform into a tolerant, inclusive country, there has to be acknowledgement of past crimes.”
The Simele Massacre was the 1933 systematic targeting of Assyrians by the Iraqi army in the town of Simele, Iraq and 65 surrounding Assyrian villages, according to API. The massacre site, located in Dohuk Governorate within what is now the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, currently lacks protection by a the Iraqi government.
The letter, cosigned by 35 non-governmental organizations both in and outside of the Assyrian community, demands the protection and investigation of physical sites, measures to prevent unauthorized excavation and compensation by the Iraqi government for victims and their descendants. If properly applied, API says, these measures can pave the way for “future accountability efforts” in the country.
The organization will send the letter to U.S. representatives thought to be “in a condition to help promote awareness, insight and accountability and [who], potentially, would be willing to help intervene,” said API director Reine Hanna. Additionally, she said, the organization will be in contact with both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, the latter of which holds jurisdiction over the Simele site.
Hanna says this initiative is part of a greater effort to “work toward justice” for Assyrians who have struggled in the Middle East. Signatories include both Assyrian and non-Assyrian organizations, a significant step in this struggle for justice, according to Hanna.
“It’s a show of solidarity among these communities who really have a shared sense of suffering and pain and have dealt with very similar atrocities in their modern history,” Hanna said. “It’s really powerful when people who have been victimized come together and stand together.”