What Could Not Be Written: A Study of the Oral Transmission of Sayfo Genocide Memory Among Assyrians

06 Sep 2017

This article discusses the ways in which eyewitness accounts about the Assyrian Genocide have been transmitted in writing and orally, reconstructed across generations, and how these accounts have been expressed in lamentations, poetry, and songs in the diaspora, after large numbers of Assyrians settled in Western states beginning in the 1960s. The study of poetry and songs is not only important for reasons of literary analysis, but more so because of the relatively few written primary sources about the Assyrian Genocide. The production of poetry and songs has partly been instrumental in avoiding censorship and renewed persecution, but in recent years has additional value as a medium to call for future action in preventing violence and transmiting memories of the past. The article also highlights culturally specific forms of coping with trauma and transmitting memory. It is based on the analysis of Sayfo lamentations and poetry produced in the homeland, 21 Sayfo songs and poems produced in the Western diaspora, and some recent interviews with the writers of these songs.