Sayfo Firman, Seferberlik, Seyfo

‘Sayfo’, or ‘the sword’, is the term now commonly used for the large-scale massacres of the Syriac (as well as the Armenian) inhabitants of eastern Turkey in 1915 and following years, in the course of World War I and its aftermath (another term also used is ‘Firman’, denoting the order to kill the Christian population; also ‘Seferberlik’ denoting mass deportations). Serious massacres had occurred at intervals in the 19th cent., notably in 1843 (Hakkari), 1860 (Damascus and Lebanon), and 1895–6 (eastern Turkey), but those of 1915 were evidently orchestrated by high Ottoman officials, in particular the Minister of the Interior, Talaat Pasha. In the area between Urfa (Edessa) and Cizre the massacres and deportations primarily affected the Syr. Orth., Syr. Cath. and Chaldeans. The Assyrians, to the east of Cizre, in the Hakkari region, having sided with the Russians in 1916, were abandoned after the Russian Revolution (1917), and were driven out by the Ottoman army, escaping to the Urmia region (northwest Iran). Subsequently, when Urmia fell, large numbers were massacred.

The losses to all the Syriac-speaking communities were enormous. Eight out of twenty Syr. Orth. dioceses were completely or largely wiped out, and whole areas that had formerly had a considerable Syriac presence, notably Bsheriyyeh (Syr. Orth. and Chaldean) and Hakkari (Ch. of E.), were totally depleted of their Christian population. Reliable figures for those killed or who died in the course of deportations are difficult to attain (see Gaunt, 300–303), but in any case for all the Syriac Churches in eastern Turkey, the losses of their people formerly living in that region were well over 50%, and in some cases as much as 90%.

Those who escaped the massacres fled south to Syria, Palestine, or Iraq, and in the case of the Assyrians, also Iran or north towards the Caucasus. Although the emigration of Middle Eastern Christians to the Americas had begun in the 19th cent., especially after the massacres of 1895/6, it was Sayfo that gave a huge impetus to the creation of a massive diaspora that today accounts for a large proportion of all Syriac Christians.


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How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Sayfo,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Sayfo,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Sayfo.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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Front Matter A (73) B (53) C (26) D (36) E (27) F (5) G (30) H (22) I (31) J (15) K (11) L (12) M (56) N (19) O (3) P (28) Q (11) R (8) S (71) T (39) U (1) V (5) W (3) X (1) Y (41) Z (4) Back Matter
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