BERLIN — If the Armenians were the ones who suffered the greatest losses in the 1915 genocide, they were not alone. Other Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire were targeted, among them the Arameans, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Since 2015, the date June 15 has been designated as Remembrance Day in Germany for the Arameans, the East and West Syrian Christians, and this year members of the community, joined by Armenians and others, commemorated the victims in Berlin. In the afternoon, participants gathered at the Evangelical Luisenkirchof cemetery, at the site of a memorial in honor of the 3 million Christians who died between 1912 and 1922. The three altars of remembrance are dedicated to the Armenians, the Arameans, Assyrians and Chaldeans, and the Greeks from Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor and Pontus.
In the evening a solemn ceremony was held in the French Cathedral, located in the historic Gendarmenmarkt in central Berlin. Following greetings by Josef Kaya, from the Foundation of Aramaic Studies, Prof. Dorothea Weltecke from the Research Center for Aramaic Studies of the Goethe University in Frankfurt spoke. She introduced a theme that was to be developed by later speakers: the German role in the genocide. The Germans were not only well aware of the events unfolding during the war, she said, but were complicit. In May 1915, the French, English and Russians had raised the alarm, and some Germans tried to prevent the atrocities but others took part. She called for an independent parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the German role. The resolution passed on June 2, 2016 by the Bundestag (Parliament) recognizing the genocide was all well and good, she said, but did not go far enough.
Daniyel Demir, chairman of the National Association of Arameans in Germany, drew the parallels between the butchery wrought by the so-called Islamic State today and the genocide a century ago, when the Ottoman leadership under Talaat Pasha et al was committed to eliminate the Christian community from Turkey. Demir also applauded the passage of the Bundestag resolution, but lamented the fact that the German government had undermined its impact by saying it had no binding legal value. Expressing his “due respect to the Bundestag,” he urged the government to take steps with regard to the descendants of the victims.
Community of Survivors
Mor Philoxenus Mattias Nayis, Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Diocese in Germany, expressed his profound gratitude and respect for the fact that the Arameans have succeeded in maintaining their integrity as a people. He said 1915 was not the only time they had been persecuted. It is truly a wonder, he went on, that this community, which has neither its own land nor a state, has managed to survive; though expelled from their homeland and dispersed throughout the world, they have kept their faith and identity. Given this moral strength, he expressed his confidence that the schools and churches that have been destroyed again today will be rebuilt.
The members of the Aramean community displayed their special appreciation of the presence of an Armenian diplomat at the ceremony. Ashot Smbatyan, the Armenian ambassador in Berlin, himself honored to be present, spoke of the fraternal relations between the two peoples. Arameans and Armenians have much in common, he said, not only as victims of the genocide but as friends throughout hundreds of years before that. He recalled the presence of Aramean traditions in Armenia, pointing to manuscripts preserved in the Matenadaran. He also referenced the importance of works in Aramaic that were translated into Armenian. And he recalled the fourth-century bishop Jacob, said to have been the first to search for Noah’s Ark; though he climbed daily, and prayed, he never found the ark. But it is related that an angel sent by God gave him a piece of the wood of the ark, preserved in Echmiadzin.