David Gaunt

Flawed Cultural Trauma and the Late Recognition of the Assyrian Genocide


Realization that the Assyrian Christians (a.k.a. Chaldeans, Syriacs, Nestorians) who lived in South-Eastern Anatolia were victims of genocide during World War I, came late in the twentieth century. For decades the families of survivors preserved memory of the events, but among the wider collective of Assyrians little was known and there was literally no scholarly research and few sources had been printed. This presentation aims to test the sociological “theory of cultural trauma” to uncover why the Assyrians, despite great individual efforts after the war, did not managed to shape a credible narrative among their own people and failed to make a legitimate claim to the status of victim of extermination. The major factor appears to be the insurmountable disunity among the Assyrian Christians before, during and after the war. They were split by geography, religious orientation, dialect and way of life. For instance, the Orthodox Nestorians (now Church of the East) lived mainly in the Turkish-Iranian borderlands as ashiret tribes, the Catholic Chaldeans lived mostly in what is now Iraq but had isolated enclaves inside Iran and Turkey, the Syriac Orthodox lived to the west mostly inside the province of Diyarbakir. These churches had weak leadership and were in chronic internal and external conflict. They spoke a mosaic of languages, their original Aramaic was divided into eastern and western varieties not mutually understandable, in many places they had turned over to speaking Armenian (Harput), or Arabic (Mardin, Mosul, Cizre, Diyarbakir) or Kurdish (Beshire, parts of Tur Abdin). There was no feeling of common identity and even today identity remains a great problem. Sources from the Assyro-Chaldean delegation to the Paris Peace Conference 1919-1920 will be researched to show the breakdown of the attempt at making a united front to get independence.