ANCIENT MEMORIES AND MODERN CLAIMS
In 1917 at a meeting at the London Opera House, held to welcome the British Government’s declaration about the future of Palestine, an Arab Sheikh reminded the audience the Bedoiun of the Desert were the kinsfolk and cousins of the Jews inasmuch as they were the children of Ismail the elder son of Ibraham Iba Torah, while the people of the Hebrews descended from Isaac, the younger son by another wife. We had been accustomed to the Balkan races claiming this or that piece of territory because their ancestors had held it five or six hundred years ago, but to base modern policies upon so venerable a family tie was a necessary reminder than in Asia memories are long.
A further example of this fact and a proof of the strange vitality of peoples is now to be found in the claim of the Assyro-Chaldeans to receive a local habitation and a national name from the Peace Conference. Assyria ceased to exist with its king, Shar-Ishkun, the Sardanapalus of tradition, about 606 B.C. According to historians, her methods of prosperity had been an unhappy blend of what modern men associate with Prussian Shrecklich-Keit, and Turkish administration, and the prophet Nahum celebrated her downfall with triumphant poetry. As a just punishment for her cruelty, pride, and intolerance, Assyria underwent a term of penal servitude and for five and twenty centuries has been purging her soul in the house of bondage.
A NATION’S HONOUR REDEEMED
After so tremendous a sentence the people of T'iglath-Pilesor, of Sargon, and of Sennacherib now ask to be released in order that they may try again, and petition to be accorded political autonomy under Western supervision. Nor have they contented themselves with prayers alone. During the war they turned not their fighting men on the side of the Allies and fought valiantly against the Turks in cooperation, with Russians, Armenians, and British. The Assyrians who are for the most part Christians and well known to those who have been interested in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Mission, to the Assyrian Christians,” were frequently engaged throughout the whole war, losing nearly 50 percent of their effectives as casualties in addition to serious losses suffered by the sack of their villages and the hardships, inflicted upon their refugees while retreating before the temporarily victorious Turks.
Like their neighbours the Armenians, the Assyrians owe the perpetuation of their nationality during the last 1,500 years or so to, the existence of their national Church. This, under a succession of bishops, in which each prelate was followed, as far as possible by his nephew, has kept the Assvrian race from melting into the surrounding Moslem masses much in the same way as the indomitable Vladikas, or Prince-Bishops of Montenegro kept alive the national spirit of that principality against centuries of Turkish onslaught.
The Assyrian nation is still to be found in its old national home between the Tigris and Lake Urumiah, or Urmi, in Persia. This is now known as the Hakkari district, and to the south of it lies the sites of the ancient royal cities of Niniveh, Assur, Calah, and Dur Sharrukin, whence successive armies issued to war with the Sumerians, the Hittites, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Elamites, the Phoenicians, and the Jews for a space of nearly 2,000 years. In the petition which the modern Assyrians have laid before the Peace Conference, they ask for a boundary on the Euphrates which will afford the new State, if formed, room for the expansion of its population within its own boundaries.
Nor is that population descended only from the fierce-hearted Assyrians so dreaded by their neighbours, it also claims as ancestors those more peaceful and eminently civilised, Babylonian Chaldeans who compelled the first known code of laws, practised the difficult science of astronomy, and subdued the great plain of Mesopotamia with a system of irrigation and drainage which made it one of the wealthiest and most fertile countries of Asia until destroyed and, utterly devastated by Hulagu and his Tartars more than six centuries ago when thy last reigning Caliph of the Abbaside family was trampled to death by the pagan hordes.