The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia (present day Iraq and northern Syria). Prior to 1915 Assyrians lived in the territories of south-eastern Anatolia, between the Tigris and Euphrates River. The Assyrians formed part of the Christian population of the Ottoman Turkish Empire and like the Armenians and Greeks were subjected to genocide between1915 and1924.
As witnessed by ANZAC prisoners-of-war during World War One, all the indigenous Christian Assyrian, Armenian and Hellenic peoples of Anatolia were subjected to deportations and massacres. Across the empire and far beyond as the Ottoman Turkish armies invaded the Caspian Sea and north-west Iran, this genocidal persecutions lead to the deaths of as many as 750,000 innocent Assyrian men, women and children.
Documented evidence of the Assyrian Genocide is predominantly found in the archives of Christian missionaries who maintained stations throughout the region. Death by burning, hanging and execution were some of the genocidal policies adopted against the Assyrians, while enslaving young Assyrian women became a common practice. According to one media report, hundreds of Assyrians were burned in a church in Gerogtapa, while 60 Assyrian refugees were executed at the French Catholic mission in Urumiah (Northern Iran) and 103 villages in the area were destroyed. In and around Hakkari (present day southeast Turkey) in late 1915 alone, 20,000 Assyrians were massacred and 30 villages were destroyed.
Despite such devastation some Assyrians were saved by Anzac soldiers serving in the region. In the final year of World War I, a Commonwealth unit known as the Dunsterforce (an allied military unit comprised of Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian soldiers) was formed to secure the Caspian oilfields for the British Empire. Ill-equipped for the task, they were forced to retreat by the numerically superior Ottoman Turkish forces. In their retreat, the Dunsterforce escorted a column of tens of thousands of Assyrian and Armenian Genocide survivors through north-west Iran to refugee camps in British Mesopotamia (present day Iraq).
With the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in October 1918, a delegation of Australian Assyrians submitted a resolution to the Acting Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. William Watt, congratulating him on the decisive victory of the Allied forces. The resolution expressed hope that the rights of Assyrians would be safeguarded.
By the time Kemalist forces formed government in 1923 Anatolia’s indigenous Assyrian population was a shadow of its pre-war self. An approximate 100,000 people remained, concentrated near northern Syria.