Assyrians - the Forgotten People, Part III
The ultimate objective of the international community bias, in favour of the Muslim countries was and still is to belittle the Assyrian endeavour and plea for a homeland. The Armistice of 11 November, 1918, resulted in compulsory population exchange between Turkey and Greece. Over one million three hundred thousand (1,300,000) Greeks were transferred from Turkey to Greece and over four hundred thousands (400,000) Turks were transferred from Greece to Turkey. In its zenith, the Ottoman Empire had dominated vast regions that stretched far and deep into the hinterland adjacent to Azarbaijan and all the way down to the Zagros Mountains. During this compulsory population exchange, the Assyrians were driven out of the collapsed borders of the Ottoman Empire and ended up in Mosul. Seven years after the war, Turkey’s accedence to the relinquishment of Mosul in 1925, indicated that it had detached Mosul for the purpose of allowing the ousted Assyrians to settle there, in compliance with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. When Russia dropped the share it had been allotted to, in the Sykes-Picot Agreement and withdrew its forces, Turkey stepped in and filled the vacuum. Van was one of the Assyrian territories Modern Turkey retained and kept within its new borders, but acceded to the relinquishment of the Mosul Province to give the ejected Assyrians a home outside the borders of Modern Turkey. The mandates did not use Mosul for the purpose it had been reserved. The Assyrians were expecting to be allowed to have Mosul as a substitute for their lost territories in Van and Urmia. The Mandates were simply aloof and indifferent to the plight of the Assyrian people and their legal rights as a dispossessed nation. They just dumped the Assyrian on the sideways. The Mandates pushed the Assyrians aside and gave no second thought to them as a people that deserved recognition. They failed to rehabilitate them in the last portion of their partitioned country in Mosul - Assyria. As a final solution to the Assyrian problem, the international community had, earlier and after the massacre of the Assyrians in August 1933, made several unsuccessful attempts, to uproot the Assyrians from their traditional homeland altogether, and dump them somewhere outside the Middle East, such as British Guiana, French West Africa, Union of South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Canada and Colombia. Their attempts failed.
Failing in their attempt of the ‘final solution’ following the Assyrian massacre, the French and British Mandates, divided the Assyrians further by resettling part of them in inhospitable arid ‘state’ lands that lacked means of irrigation and were classified by the Arab governments of Iraq and Syria as (mawat) dead land and malarial. Assyrian groups that had earlier resisted the mandate’s dictates were expelled from Iraq and settled in reservation camps in Syria, pending their settlement in the Ghab desert. Some were allowed to remain in villages in northern Iraq, under strict control of the Iraqi central government. Many other Assyrian families were left stranded in towns and cities, unaided, clouded with uncertainty. The Assyrians of Iran met a worse situation. They were considered as aliens, of foreign (Persian) affiliation, and granted indefinite residence permit and left to fend for themselves. As a result, the Assyrians were fragmented further. They were shattered and lost everything; they lost their homes and families, their voice and authority; and above all their freedom and dignity.
One of the unifying features of the Assyrian people was their Aramaic language. To distinguish themselves as Christians of Assyrian heritage, members of all the church groups, regardless of their geographical location and affinity, identified themselves to one another as ‘Surayi’. This terminology bonded them together. With this reciprocal recognition of one another, they assured themselves that no matter what Christian denomination they belonged to, they were all Assyrian in race, nationality and culture. To reaffirm that, they held fast to their Assyrian spoken and written language of both the Eastern and Western dialects. To preserve their Assyrian heritage, they spoke the Assyrian language at home and in private and continued using it as the liturgical language in their churches throughout Turkey, the Middle East and Persia. The Arabs and Ottomans tolerated this ‘Suraya’ term so long as those ‘millet’ communities did not engage in politics or declare themselves publicly Assyrian. By continuing to practice their Assyrian language, it was enough to confirm to themselves and indicate to the world that they were Assyrian. They were determined to keep their culture alive and protect their heritage. Despite all the adversities they had been through, the Assyrians have survived their ordeal. Their faith in their Assyrian identity has grown stronger and their determination in pressing ahead for restoration of their homeland is gaining momentum.
The long term process of the Arab/Islamic rule is to neutralize the Assyrians, distort their true identity to Syriani; annul their genuine Assyrian language to Syriac; diminish their number through fragmentation and dispersion and bury the Assyrian civilization under the falsified edifice of the Arab tent of Saddam Hussain. Such suppressive measures, they think will, in time, bring the fragmented Assyrian nation to its heels. They presume the Assyrian people, put under constant pressure of the millet provision, will succumb to the inevitable. They apply persistent pressure on the Assyrian to wear him down in order that he may give way, and revoke his identity and acquire a new one, acceptable to the domineering rulers of the Islamic states by force majeure. Curiously, the government of Iraq recognizes ‘Syriani’ (Assyrian western dialect) as the official language of the Assyrians in Iraq, while Syria does not recognize the Syriani language and denies the Syrianis of Syria the right to practice their Syriani mother tongue publicly, forcing them to speak Arabic instead.
The Western Allies ignored the simple fact that the Assyrians of Mesopotamia had been forcibly ejected from parts of their territory and separated into smaller groups by newly mandated borders, drawn by previous and subsequent conquerors. It was an inhumane method of attempted extermination of a harmless nation by dispersion and fragmentation. Instead of rehabilitating the Assyrians in their ancestral homeland as an independent sovereign state, the Assyrian territory was partitioned by the power brokers, and incorporated into the four neighbouring states in a frenzy mood to destroy all trace of the Assyrian cultural identity. The Assyrians were entrapped in the vicious closed circle of perpetual colonialism - Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab and Ottoman. In post World War One, Western imperialism handed out Assyria back to oriental colonialism. Yet, the Assyrians, remaining loyal as ever to their Western Allies and pledge of liberating themselves from bondage, have always stood fast to their faith, language and culture. They remain steadfast in their objective of liberating themselves as one united people until Assyria is back in the hands of its rightful owners.
Despite the intolerance and heavy handedness of successive foreign rule, the Assyrians continued to live on their land, defending their soil, up in the highlands of Mosul. Assyria’s territorial loss has made a severe impact on their lifestyle. The Hakkari district now under the Turkish rule, has since been ethnically cleansed. In recent years, tens of Assyrian villages in the region of northern Iraq have been depopulated forcibly by the Iraqi Ba’ath regime. The Assyrians in Persia, scattered all along its western border, (extending from Urmia north, down to Abadan south), despite the political and cultural turbulence over the years, still enjoy a measure of tolerance under the current Islamic regime. In Syria, recent water shortage in Khawoora (Khabur) River has had a severe impact on their livelihood. The 33 Assyrian villages existing along the Khabur riverbanks are struggling for survival. Many families are deserting their farms and villages in search of greener pastures abroad. Unless something is done, and very soon, to relieve them of their plight, indications are that the Assyrian community there is headed towards disintegration. Syria’s long term intimated policy is to assimilate the Assyrians into the Arab culture and integrate them as subjects of the Arab state, similar to the attempts being made on the Syriani Assyrians. The first paragraph of Section ‘F’ (of the Decision of the Council of the defunct League of Nations Relating to the Application of the Principles) of Article 22 of the Covenant to Iraq for Settlement of the Assyrians of Iraq (in Syria) states the following:-
"From the time of their admission to the territory of the Levant States under French mandate until their naturalisation, the legal status of the Assyrians will be that of other foreigners, subject to the application of certain special derogations specified below." Section "F. CIVIL, RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL STATUS OF THE ASSYRIANS, 1935.
The last paragraph of Section ‘F’ concludes that
The mandatory powers, through the League of Nations, integrated the Assyrians into different countries; each group according to the country under which their territory fell or they happened to be at the time of partitioning or creation of the new states. Foreign citizenship was imposed upon them. Thus, their land was taken away from them, their language and identity suppressed and their entity annulled. If the League of Nations was to classify and recognize the Assyrians as refugees, it would have created implications with the world powers and strained its budget. It would have recognized their holistic rights and left Mosul detached from Iraq and rehabilitated the Assyrians in northern Mesopotamia as an independent nation. It would have admitted that Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations in itself was no more than an Allied creation, designed to protect the interests of major Western Powers. It would have shown that their dealings with the Assyrians were iniquitous and immoral. The League of Nations consequently evaded the issue. It reluctantly removed the subject item from its agenda and placed it on hold, in abyss. It suspended the Assyrian case and filed it away and absolved itself from any further commitment towards the Assyrians by dismantling the refugee camps in Baquba and Hanaidi in Iraq. The aim of the mandatory powers was to appease the Islamic countries, at the expense of the Assyrians, by re-settling them among the Arab majority, with the prospect of total assimilation. Power brokers prioritized world issues in keeping with their self interest. The Assyrian issue being under the jurisdiction of the mandatory powers, powerplay gave precedence to the security of oil and protection of their interests over the right of resettlement of the Assyrian people in their own region. The Assyrians being a distinct people, were looking forward to full independence, totally free from foreign rule, whether Western or Oriental, British or French; Turkish or Arab. Their expectations were dashed as a result of the arrogant and disdainful action of the Anglo-French mandates.
The mandatory powers helped Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria annex the divided Assyria and part of Armenia to their territories. The Treaty of Lausanne, on 24 July 1924, with Turkey, confirmed the deal. Thus, the map of Mesopotamia was redrawn by the Anglo-French forces and handed on a silver platter to the Islamic states in return for protecting the strategic and economic interests of their governments. This reprehensible act of geopolitical change, the eradication of Assyria, was an act of betrayal and flagrant violation of human rights. Having accomplished that, the mandated powers then embarked on the second stage of their scheme: the total eradication of the Identity of the Assyrian individual and the Assyrian contemporary history, considering its surviving people as non-Assyrian multitude millets, having no place in the emerging Middle Eastern countries. They were determined to phase out the Assyrian nationality altogether after tricking them out of their inheritance. Soon Arab states mushroomed all over the region, dominating the whole Middle East, in fulfillment of the nomadic Arab wish. They endeared themselves to the Arab states with distribution of the historical lands that rightfully belonged to peoples of other nations within the region. In October 1949, the Assyrian ‘inactive’ file was transferred to the United Nations Organization and filed away in their archives. The United Nations failed the Assyrian people for lack of the political will. The UN has since played down the issue, ignoring it completely. The UN, to extricate itself, has pushed the Assyrian issue aside, leaving it in limbo. UN’s reaction to the tragedy of the Assyrian people is passive; its response, mute and its decision, non-committal. So much for its principles of doing justice, enhancing diversified cultures, defending human rights and promoting democracy.
The Assyrian has since been labeled Persian, Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian. Without a travel document he could not cross the newly demarcated borderlines. The new political boundaries formed barriers that prevented the Assyrian from joining his people on the other side of the border. He was restricted in his movement and could not travel freely in his own homeland as had traditionally been the case prior to the creation of these Arab states. He was pinned down and cut off completely from his family and kinfolk. By denying the Assyrian people access to their ancestral homeland, they were disconnected from their loved ones and separated from their relatives and kinfolk. Through inhumane and prohibitive actions, the Islamic states suppressed their racial identity and derogated their social status. The Assyrians became a people without a country, yet in all their diversified ethnic and denominational groups, they realize that they are all Assyrians and belong to one nation - Assyria.
Although the national identity of the Assyrian people has been distorted, the majority of the various segments in question are still proud to declare themselves Assyrians and recognize themselves as such. Yet, officially and statistically, its civilization has been described as dead and its people extinct. As a country, it no longer exists. Assyria is equated with Assyriology and archeology and its people with ancient history, long past and forgotten. You only read about them in history books as a people of antiquity, long dead and gone. All Arab and Islamic state and private schools have withdrawn and removed textbooks on Assyria from their curricula - even Assyria’s ancient history as a subject has been dropped by the board of studies of the ministry of education of Iraq and the other Middle Eastern states. They only touch on the subject with a passing glimpse. At best the vital statistics of the Iraqi government in its census indicates the ‘Nestorian’ Assyrian population less than one per cent (1%), eluding the world public opinion that the rest of the denominations in question are not Assyrian.
During the British mandated period, in Iraq, the Assyrian leaders were shunned by the British. The objection of the Assyrians to their resettlement in an inhospitable malarial area in north western Iraq and eastern Syria, was described by the British as disruptive and defiant to the world order of the day. The notion of considering a homeland for the Assyrians in their Middle Eastern region was far removed from the mind of the mandatory powers, especially the British. Under the Treaty of Sèvres of 10th August, 1920 between the Allies and Ottoman Turkey, the victorious Allied Powers made the unjustifiable mistake of considering the Middle East as Arab land and termed the whole Middle Eastern region as ‘Arab Asia’. They ignored grievances and natural rights of the oppressed native Jews, Assyrians, and other ethnic groups to whom most of the Middle East legitimately belongs. To add insult to injury, in the Lausanne Treaty of 24th July, 1924, the Allies defined the liberated territories of the native inhabitants of the Middle East as ‘former Arab provinces’, giving the Arabs the green light to lay claim to the whole of the Middle East in toto.
The conquering powers went ahead and established Arab states and created Islamic kingdoms by the dozen. They gave away unashamedly and without any remorse, territories that by right belonged to the Assyrian nation, the Jewish people and Arab Christians. Trusting in the ethics and morality of the Mandatory Powers - braggarts of ‘Justice’ and ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ - British and French Mandatory Powers failed to make good their promises. Justice and democracy were lacking in them and found wanting.
Last paragraph of Section F. CIVIL, RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL STATUS OF THE ASSYRIANS. Royal Government of Iraq Correspondence Relating to Assyrian Settlement, from 13th July, 1932 to 5th August, 1933; PART II - Communicated to the Council and the Members of the League of Nations. Report of the Committee of the Council on the Settlement of the Assyrians of Iraq in the Region of the Gab (French mandated Territory of the Levant) Official No.: C.352 M. 179. 1935. VII)
To be continued in Part IV of Assyrians - the Forgotten People.
- the Forgotten People, Part III