The Assyrian people, most popularly known as Iraq’s Christian population, are observing Martyrs Day on Friday to remember those in their community who have died due to persecution.
From Los Angeles to North Iraq, the Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) diaspora are holding events to remember past persecutions as well as highlight the ongoing suffering of the community. Events are planned for San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, Detroit, New York, London, Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, North Iraq, Syria, Iran and other locations.
The date, Aug. 7, was chosen to commemorate the 1933 massacre of 3,000 Assyrians by the Iraqi army.
In 1933, the Iraqi army promised the men in the Assyrian town of Simele and its neighbors that they would be safe if they surrendered their weapons. However, after they gave up their weapons, the army used machine guns to kill the Assyrian men, women and children in the town. Thousands died between Aug. 8 and 11 that year.
To remember Assyrians who have died to preserve their culture and ethnic identity, the community in San Jose will hold an event Friday evening that includes informative speeches by Assyrian activists, theatrical and musical performances, a candle light vigil, poetry and other activities.
The theme this year is “Simele, Never Again: A past and present revelation on the Assyrian Nation’s fight against oppression and genocide.”
Assyrian communities around the world will also highlight the ongoing persecution of Assyrian Christians in Iraq.
On July 26, a 30-year-old Iraqi Christian was shot dead by gunmen outside of a factory between Mosul and the predominantly Christian town of Talkeef. And earlier in July, seven Iraqi churches were bombed over the course of 48 hours causing widespread fears within the Christian community in Iraq.
Since the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed, dozens of churches have been bombed, and more than half the Iraqi Christian population have left the country.
Last March, the second most senior Catholic cleric in Iraq, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and then murdered in the northern city of Mosul. Then in October, more than 15,000 Iraqi Christians were reportedly driven out of the northern city of Mosul after 13 local Iraqi Christians were killed within four weeks, including three within 24 hours.
Christians now make up less than three percent of Iraq’s population. Many fear that the population will soon be non-existent if something is not done to protect the community.