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The Patriarchal Seal Issue

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The Patriarchal Seal Issue

Feb-02-2002 at 02:04 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

What are the facts about the seal issue and the title Patriarch of the Chaldeans used by Mar Oraham Shimun, the Patriarch of the Church of the East during the Badr Khan Begs massacres of the Assyrians in Hakkari (1843-1847) and later in the 1933 petition by Mar Eshai Shimun when the seal is found again in use?

There is no question regarding the title of the Patriarch of the Church of East until immediately before the Badr Khan Beg massacres of the members of the Church of the East. Professor Konstantin Tsereteli stated that Russian documents show that a letter dated July 1770 was send by the patriarch to the Georgian King Irakli II (1720-1798) and singed as The Assyrian Catholicos Mar Shimun. Other letters dated 1763 AD, 1769 AD and 1784 in the Russian Archives are in parallel with the letter above.

Therefore, the title in question started from the massacres of Badr Khan Beg. Lets follow the events through the various correspondences to have a better understanding.

1. Letter dated February 17th, 1843, from Asheetha (Hakkari).

In a letter to the Archbishop of the Church of England dated February 17th, 1843, while Mar Oraham was still in Asheetha, Hakkari region, signed his name as follows: Mar Shimun, Catholicos and Patriarch of the Eastern regions.(Percy G. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, p. 251)

As the massacres of Badr Khan Beg began to intensify, Mar Oraham Shimun escaped to Mosul, which he reached on July 27th, 1843. Mr. Rassam at the British Vice Consulate hospitably received the Patriarch.(Percy G. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, p. 271) The Patriarch began to have continuous communications with the Chaldean Catholic Church patriarch in Mosul and began to write to England seeking help.

2. Letter dated July 30th, 1843, from Mosul.

The Nestorian Patriarch distressed from what was being inflicted upon his people wrote a letter while still in Mosul to the Archbishop and Bishops of the Church of England looking for help. He dated his letter July 30th, 1843 and signed it as so: Patriarch of the Chaldeans in the East.(Percy G. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, p. 271)

While the Nestorian Assyrians were persecuted by the Kurds in the Hakkari Mountains, the Nestorian Assyrian refugees in Mosul and the surrounding villages were harassed by the Roman missionaries, who used the most questionable means to draw them over to the Catholic creed. A large sum of money, sent by the French Ambassador at Constantinople, was to relieve the wants of the Nestorian fugitives. These monies were placed in the hands of the priests, who distributed the alms at the church doors, in order to induce the Nestorian Assyrians to frequent their services.(Percy G. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, p. 279)

Therefore, from Feb. 17th, 1943 while in Hakkari and where the patriarch called himself Mar Shimun, Catholicos and Patriarch of the Eastern regions, to July 30th, 1843, in Mosul (now basically in the Catholic territory), i.e. within five months period, the patriarch changed his title to Patriarch of the Chaldeans in the East.

3. Letter dated January 1st, 1844, from Mosul.

Mar Oraham Shimun sent yet another letter to the clergy of the Church of England dated January 1st, 1844 from Mosul again. In this letter the Nestorian Patriarch signed his name as follows: Mar Shimun, Patriarch of the Chaldeans.(Percy G. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, p. 289)

4. Letter dated April 14th, 1844, from Mosul.

Finally, from Mosul again, here the church affairs were conveyed to the clergy of the Church of England again. The Patriarch signed his name as: Mar Shimun, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in the East.(Percy G. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, p. 292)

In letters 2, 3, and 4, the Church of the East Assyrian Patriarch was still among the Catholics in Mosul seeking help and he continued to use that Chaldean appellation. We have to understand the whole picture regarding the general feelings between the new Catholic converts and the Latin monks and French Council behind them and the Orthodox Churches in the Near East. Now the patriarch Mar Oraham returns to Hakkari after the massacres had stopped and he writes this letter from there.

5. Letter dated December 14th, 1849, back from Hakkari.

After all was settled and the patriarch of the Church of the East had returned to Hakkari region, he sent a letter to Badger dated December 14th, 1849. In this letter Mar Oraham Shimun signed his name as: Mar Shimun, Catholicos and Patriarch of the East.(Percy G. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, p. 377)

Hence, the patriarch returns to Hakkari and changes his title again to Mar Shimun, Catholicos and Patriarch of the East and drops the Chaldean title!!

We can easily conclude from the above that the massacres of Badr Khan Beg induced by the Turkish government as advised by the French Consulate, and the pressure inflicted by the Latin missionaries to convert the members of the Church of the East to Catholicism, were the main reasons why the Church of the East Patriarch had used such titles as Patriarch of the Chaldeans. The above examples show clearly those titles were very easily replaced, substituted and applied depending on circumstances and other reasons dealing with personal status.

Still, the facts about why Patriarch Mar Oraham Shimun used a seal stating 'Patriarch of the Chaldeans,' is explained as thus by Rev. George Percy Badger, who came twice to the region and stayed with the Assyrians for some time and learned about them from very personal experience:

1. To escape the persecution of the Kurds and Turks authorized by the French Latin missionaries to force the Nestorians to become Catholics and follow Rome.

2. It was to put themselves, meaning the Nestorian Patriarchs, on an equality with the Patriarchs of the plains, after they had joined the Church of Rome and taken that appellation, and as a stratagem to repel the name of Nestorian(Rev. George Percy Badger, "The Nestorians and their Rituals", page 181)

In a nutshell, the Patriarch of the Church of the East needed to do anything to PROTECT their people, since they were harassed and persecuted by the Kurds and Turks by the directions of the Catholics. So it was only natural to use that title temporarily because he has no other option at the time.

It is still worth mentioning that while Mar Oraham Shimun was in Mosul, the Chaldean Patriarch offered that seal (stating Patriarch of the Chaldeans) to him to use in his communications and it is stated that he even asked him to keep it. The Patriarch of the Church of the East with his state of economy would have cared less in my opinion to purchase a seal in those times. It seems that the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church had shown some soft feelings for the Orthodox after getting the real picture from Mar Oraham. One issue remains to clarify here. It is known that after the exodus of the Assyrians from Hakkari and ending the Turkish direct influence on the Patriarchs of the Church of the East, the expression and the seal was not used again until Mar Eshai Shimun used it in one more occasion in 1933. The patriarch used that same old seal in his letter of 1933 to the League of Nations, explaining what had happened to the Assyrians by the Iraqi government and its army in north of Iraq generally and Simmel in particular. But the Patriarchs letter included this title too besides the seal: Mar Eshai Shimun, Patriarch of the Assyrians.

We have to understand that the Mar Eshai Shimun was a nationalist in addition to being a clergyman and his involvements with the League of Nations and the Assyrian question proves that without any doubt. He used the same seal his great uncle, Mar Oraham Shimun, had used. Why?

Lets think about these issues: We are talking here about the patriarchal family, who has practiced always to save things from generation to generation. That seal was no exception. Now, Mar Eshai Shimun was consecrated in 1920 as Patriarch at the age of (11) in the refugee camp at Baquba, Iraq. He was directed to England while a young teen to study and upon his return he immediately got in the middle of the Assyrian troubles in Iraq. The Patriarch was overwhelmed with the troubled events facing the Assyrians. He was not in any way or shape in the same environment as that of the Chaldean Patriarch, settled and with friendly relations with the government. Many more important matters of life and death were facing him for the next few years. Then he was detained and put under house arrest in Baghdad and then deported to Cyprus as Assyrians lived the Simmel massacres of 1933. The point is that the Mar Eshai Shimun had other priorities facing him, priorities more important than issues dealing with a seal, for example. Here, while deported and in exile in Cyprus, at the very young age of (24) this patriarch wrote the famous appeal of 1933 to the League of Nations about the atrocities committed by the government of Iraq and its army against the Assyrians and signed it by his hand "Mar Eshai Shimun, Patriarch of the Assyrians". But the patriarch used in addition the same old seal of his great uncle Mar Oraham next to the above hand written title. Now, what does that really mean?

From one side, if the Mar Shimun looked at himself as a chaldean, he would NOT have signed his name with his own hand as "Patriarch of the Assyrians" next to the seal. If he truly looked at himself as a chaldean, he would have used that seal again and again after that one very urgent time when he really needed to make a point, but he did not. On the other hand, lets look at the issue in further depth. Because the Patriarch wanted to make clear to the League of Nations that he was not only speaking on behalf of the members of the Church of the East, rather Assyrians who were members of the Chaldean Catholic Church too who refer to themselves mistakenly as Chaldeans. Therefore, he used the seal stating one thing but signed it personally stating something else. Was he reaching a compromise at that crucial moment? We do not know.

The Assyrian people MUST not rely completely on religious texts or clergymens statements in order to prove matter relating to ethnicity or nationality. The clergymen of all denominations have in general contributed in an unforgiving manner to the mess we have been going through today. We need to seek secular scholarly books and historical archives and then create a balance through what we have learned from all sides. When we do that, we find without any doubt that the Syriac-speaking people of northern Mesopotamia could not be but from an Assyrian stock.

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