On August 28, 2020, a delegation comprised of representatives of Assyrian civil society organizations based in the US attended a virtual meeting with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representative to the US Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman to discuss matters related to suspected mass grave sites located in Simele, Iraq which are believed to be related to the Simele Massacre of 1933. These sites are presently under the jurisdiction of the KRG. The meeting was organized pursuant to the contents of an August 7, 2020 joint statement endorsed by 35 international organizations.
Multiple sites in the town of Simele contain arrays of disassociated skeletal remains consistent with their designation as possible mass grave sites and warrant investigation. Preliminary information and assessments of these sites support their designation as possible mass grave sites. There is speculation from well-informed international scholars that these sites are indicative of what could be mass graves and may indeed be related to the 1933 Simele Massacre. These reports can neither be confirmed nor refuted without excavations and forensic examination of the remains.
The possible mass grave sites have not been properly maintained and remain unmarked and entirely unprotected, leaving them vulnerable to disturbance and contamination. Any further contamination and disturbance of the mass grave sites could compromise the evidence value and thereby undermine attempts to ensure justice and accountability. Exhumations conducted without forensic experts can tamper with the sites, run the risk of desecrating this sacred space for Iraq’s Assyrian community, and can lead to the destruction of critical material required for addressing this historical atrocity.
An investigation of the sites related to the Simele Massacre may yield critical evidence for future justice processes and will create a historical record. Moreover, the process of investigation and documentation reconfirm the dignity of the victims. Undertaking all appropriate measures regarding excavation, exhumation and identification, based on best practices and standards, including meaningful protection of these sites, will serve the broader obligation of the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure the rights to truth, justice, and reparations for the families of the victims and their descendants.
The Assyrian civil society representatives put forward a number of proposals, including: urgent steps to shield these sites against further degradation; an impartial survey of the sites in Simele with participation from Assyrian scholars with relevant expertise and neutral forensic experts; memorialization of these sites as places of remembrance; proper and accurate recognition of the Simele Massacre of 1933; and educational reform which recognizes the importance of teaching and learning about historical injustices committed against Assyrians. See the full briefing and recommendations provided to the KRG Representative here.
To ensure a victim-centered approach to the identification, excavation, exhumation, and investigation of the suspected mass grave sites in Simele, the delegation emphasized that any future processes must include meaningful participation from scholars and other specialists of Assyrian background. A list of recommended experts was provided to the KRG Representative (see page 5).
The KRG Representative committed to forwarding the briefing and proposals to the relevant authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for further consideration and discussion. Approval from the relevant governing authorities is necessary in order for any survey and forensic excavations to take place in Simele. A similar meeting with the Iraqi Ambassador to the US will take place in September.
The Assyrian civil society delegation is answerable to its constituencies who demand nothing less than transparency and accountability. All future steps and timelines related to this process will be widely shared. Please submit inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, KRG Representative to the US
Delovan Barwari, Director of Public and Humanitarian Affairs
Dasko Shirwani, Director of Genocide and Diversity Affairs
Karwan Zebari, Director of Policy and Advocacy
ASSYRIAN CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPANTS
Natalie Babella, Assyrian Aid Society of America
Dr. Joseph Danavi, GISHRU
Reine Hanna, Assyrian Policy Institute
Ninorta Kasso, Assyrian American Cultural Organization of Arizona
Joe Khibeir, Assyrian American Cultural Organization of Arizona
Anthony Narsi, Assyrian Youth Federation of America
Dr. Emil Soleyman-Zomalan, Assyrian American Association of North Texas
Ramond Takhsh, Esq., Assyrian American Association of Southern California
Shmony Younadim, Assyrian American Cultural Organization of Arizona