:History repeats itself

History repeats itself: why I painted the rock for genocide awareness
By Raman Michael
April 29 2015

Weinberg senior Raman Michael paints the rock on Thursday night to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and Yezidi genocide
Five days after Michael painted the rock, it remains untouched

I had to do this. I just had to. April 24, 2015, was approaching: the 100th anniversary of the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek and Yezidi genocide. The previous day, April 23, was unbelievably cold (well, for Chicago weather, it’s believable), and throughout the day, I only left my tent to eat and use the bathroom. A few friends stopped by to bring me paint and say hello. But never did I even entertain the question, “Why am I doing this?” I just had to

Finally, midnight Thursday arrived, along with six of my friends. I delegated the painting of the barrier to some of them, and the basic background painting of the Rock to others. I saved the words and Assyrian flag design on the Rock for myself. The flag is one of the most beautiful, meaningful symbols in my life, and I wanted to make sure that, although I was grateful for the help of my friends, I was the one who would ultimately give the painting life. When all was said and done, four of my friends had been home for hours, and it was 4 a.m

Why did I have to do it? Why did I put myself through this 28-hour ordeal? I am an Assyrian Christian. My ancestors suffered a genocide after World War I in the Ottoman empire. The Ottomans swept it under the rug, and no one spoke a word of it. Today, 100 years later, ISIS is committing acts of murder, rape and everything in between against my people in Iraq and Syria. Again, no one speaks of it. Almost no one knows we are still here

Before the rise of ISIS, the word “Assyrian” was rarely associated with anything more than a powerful ancient empire. Now people only pay attention to us because of the kidnappings in Khabour and other towns, the detonation of our churches and the destruction of our history in Mosul, Nimrud and several other cities. ISIS is determined to eliminate any trace of Assyrian existence from the Middle East, and after nine months of unprecedented brutality, the West’s response has been limited to a few air strikes and half-hearted “condemnations.” A genocide is unfolding, and no one is saying or doing anything about it. When mistakes and tragedies are not acknowledged, they cannot be fixed. When they cannot be fixed, history is doomed to repeat itself

As time passed and reports of more horrors surfaced, I grew angrier, more anxious and more helpless. I sometimes found myself wanting nothing more than to make a one-way trip to my ancestors’ homeland, which I have never seen before, to help protect their descendants that have remained there through so much suffering and persecution

?How could I remain in Evanston, learning and living in comfort, while both the presence and past of my people are being wiped out in our ancestral homeland, Bet Nahrain, “the land of the rivers” (Tigris and Euphrates)

Inspired by the rise of organizations like A Demand for Action and the Assyrian Genocide Research Center, as well as by the activism of Northwestern students that I have seen on various issues throughout my four years here, I set out to allay my anger and helplessness in the best way I knew how: by bringing awareness of the genocide to NU via the Rock. April 24 is actually the day that Armenians use to commemorate the 1915 genocide carried out by the Ottoman empire and its Kurdish allies on 1.5 million Armenians, 750,000 Assyrians, 1.5 million Greeks and 500,000 Yezidis, for the sake of ridding the empire of its Christian and non-Turkish inhabitants

To this day, Turkey denies that these unpalatable tragedies constituted a genocide. And as forgotten as the Armenian genocide is, the Assyrian genocide – spanning a decade after World War I and collectively known as “Seyfo” (Assyrian for “sword”) – is even more so. Armenians outmatch Assyrians with regards to numbers, wealth, influence (read: the Kardashians) and, most importantly, having a land to call home. Turkey’s denial of Seyfo 100 years ago facilitates the ongoing genocide from ISIS today

One of the most notable consequences of the lack of recognition of the 1915 genocide was actually the Holocaust. In 1939, as Adolf Hitler riled up the Nazi war machine for the extermination of millions of Jews, Poles, homosexuals and others, he reminded his followers, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Although the Nazis did unfortunately succeed in slaughtering millions, the world discovered it, and rightfully labeled it a genocide. And, as a byproduct of global efforts to prevent another genocide, the Holocaust is an essential component of education systems across Europe and the United States

Germany acknowledged the horrors of its Nazi era; why can’t Turkey do the same for its Ottoman era? I painted the Rock because I hope to continue the conversation, and to ultimately see the truth triumph, before history repeats itself and my people and any recollection of them disappear

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