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1933: League of Nations: Protection of Minorities in Iraq

by League of Nations and various sources.

Posted: Saturday, February 20, 2021 at 04:45 PM UT

1933: League of Nations: Protection of Minorities in Iraq - Assyrians
1933: League of Nations: Protection of Minorities in Iraq - Assyrians
(PDF: 3 MB, 29 pages)

Protection of Minorities in Iraq

Geneva, October 31st, 1933

Supplementary petition, dated October 8th, 1933, from the Mar Shimun, "Catholicos" Patriarch of the Assyrians, concerning the situation of Assyrians in Iraq. (Docs.C.504, 535, 545, 556, 567 and 573, 1933.I.).

Note by the Secretary-General

The Secretary-General has the honour to circulate, for the examination of the Council, a petition from the Mar Shimun, dated October 8th, 1933.  This petition has been considered as supplemanting to those from the same source and concerning the same question previously communicated to the Council.

The text of this communication is being forwarded simultaneously to the Iraqi Government, for its observations.

The Secretary-General will not fail to circulate those observations to the Council as soon as they reach the Secretariat.

Report of Mar Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrians

October 8th, 1933

In making this final appeal on behalf of my people, I recapitulate first the substance of previous reports, knowing that this document is likely to fall into the hands of many who did not receive them.

The League of Nations is aware that, after the Assyrian Nation lost its home in Hakkiari as a result of the Great War, the decision given by the League in 1924 assigned our home to Turkey, while leaving the Nation still refugee in Iraq.  The Turks refused to allow us to return to Hakkiari.

The League of Nations expressly said that we ought to have a home where our national life could go on, with its traditions and culture; and it was to secure that, among other things, that the mandate over Mosul for 25 years was given to Great Britain.  Yet the question of Assyrian settlement was left unsettled for ten years; various efforts were made after a solution, but none succeeded, though the problem - in the opinion of one British High Commissioner it was not insoluble (See note I).

Meantime, the Assyrians were used as a military force by the Mandatory Power, a fact that made bad blood between the Assyrians and Iraqis.

In 1932 the mandate was brought to an end, the question of Assyrian settlement being still open.  The Mandatory Power was warned that massacre would follow their withdrawal, and the High Commissioner Sir Francis Humphrys admitted that he had had to take steps to prevent such already.

Nevertheless, that gentleman assured the Assyrians that there was no danger, and declared to the League that Iraqis were always tolerant, and that Great Britain would be morally responsible in the event of trouble.

Now it is an admitted fact that there has been very serious trouble:  those tolerant people have proclaimed a "Jihad" (Holy War) and a massacre as hideous as any of late days has taken place.  (see note II details of massacre).

This was regarded as national triumph and those responsible have been promoted.

We mention these facts, not because we desire vengeance, but as showing why we feel that Assyrians cannot live under Iraqi administration and why we are sure Iraqis would be glad to see them out of the land.

Hence we ask what the League - which has a definite responsibility in the matter - proposes to do.

The actual massacre and its causes

Great Britain had not settled the Assyrians when - long before its legal term - she "closed" her mandate.  Hence, when in June 1932 the "closure" was near, Assyrians made an effort to secure settlement.  The men of the "Levy" in British service gave a month's notice - as was their legal right - of terminating their service.

To avoide inconvenience, the High Commissioner asked Mar Shimun to use his influence to keep the Levy serving, gave various vague promises of the good treatment he hoped to secure for the people and suggested a reference of the whole matter to the League of Nations.

Mar Shimun did as requested, and this is the most conspicuous instance of his use of that "Temporal Power" of his, for which he has been much blamed.

In September 1932, Mar Shimun proceeded to Geneva, and on November 14th of that year the Permanent Mandates Commission having heard him recommended the settlement of the Assyrians in a homogeneous Group or Unit in Iraq territory, saying that they believed this quite possible.  As this solution was not acceptable to the Iraqi Government, the Council of the League recommended "settlement in homogeneous units", - and left the size of the "Units" to the discretion of Iraq.

In January 1933, Mar Shimun returned to Mosul (where the Mutasarrif told him that his appeal to the League was an unforgivable insult to Iraq) gathered the chiefs of his people - after leave secured - explained the position, and begged them to be loyal and wait the fulfilment of the resolution of the League.  He was also requested to secure the continuance of the service of the Levy.  From that time till May the Government of Iraq - now independent, with the late High Commissioner as British Ambassador only - attempted to force a "settlement" by the method of displacing the known leaders of the people and setting up instruments of their own.  The people were settled in small groups, isolated among hostile elements, and were established only as "tenants at will" under Arab or Kurd landlords, with no title deed or rights to show.  It being the plain object of these proceedings to destroy all the corporate life of the Nation, Mar Shimun refused to co-operate in them, a fact which brough him into bad repute with officials, and gave rise to the accusation that he thought only of his own position and that of his family, and that he wished to retain his "Temporal Power" against the Government.

Mar Shimun wishes to repudiate that accusation strongly.  Had it been only his own interests that he thought of, he had only to accept an abundant provision offered by the government as the price of abandoning his people.

As for the "Temporal Power" (see note 3) he is accused of claiming, Mar Shimun recognised and recognises that every Iraqi subject must obey the laws and have right of direct access to the Sovereign.  He never had any notion of asking for an "Imperium in impero" for himself.  He only transmitted the desires of the people for an enclave, such as British Statesmen had encouraged them to hope for, to the League of Nations.  (House of Lords.  Lord Curzon.  December the 1st, 1919).

But Assyrians are mostly tribesmen still, and have always been accustomed to use the mediation of their Patriarch in dealing with Government.  While any man who so wishes can petition Government direct, any man who prefers it can present his petition through another.  The fact that a poor man among the Assyrians normally ignorant of Arabic could not obtain attention from local officials made this a necessity for them.

Mar Shimun sought no more than the continuance of this practice needful for his people, and granted in Iraq to other types, Arab and Kurdish, in the same position as the Assyrians.  As the tribesmen become settled and educated the right would naturally lapse.  (See note 4).

In May 1933, Mar Shimun was summoned to Baghdad and detained there under surveillance; with the idea, admitted by the British Administrative Inspector at Mosul, that his absence from his people would break his influence with them, so that such a settlement as Government desired could be forced upon them.  (See note 5).  Here Mar Shimun had interviews with Major Thomson the English "Settlement expert," but found that that officer regarded himself as no more than an agent for the execution of the Government policy.  Meantime, in Mosul attempts were made to go on with the Government scheme, but the people refused to co-operate with it, ignoring the "Maliks" (local Chiefs) set up by Government in place of those they knew, and petitioning for the return of the Patriarch.  (See note 6).

Ugly signs began to multiply; there were threats bruited that the Patriarchal House should be exterminated; inflammatory speeches were made in Parliament advocating the destruction or expulsion of all the Assyrians; and fears of massacre spread  among them.

The climax was reached July 10th-11th.  On those days the Mutasarrif of Mosul called the Assyrians together saying "Here is the Government scheme.  Those who do not accept it can get up and leave the country."  Hence came the departure of a total of about 1500 men - in several parties under their own "Maliks" rather than one body under Yaku  d'Malik Ismail - with the idea of passing into French territory.

It was not a rebellion, it was the migration of a body of men who despaired of life in Iraq and were doing what a Government official urged them to do.  (See note 7).  They intended that their families would follow them.  It was when others tried to follow and join them that Government troops tried to check the movement and collision of August 4th resulted.

For six days after that date there was deliberate and appalling massacre of all Assyrian males in Dohuk district, - many women and children being killed also - by Iraq troops in uniform, with the knowledge of Iraqi officials.

The massacre was stopped when it was considered to have gone far enough and celebrated as a triumph.  On August 18th Mar Shimun - still till then under surveillance in Baghdad - was deprived of Iraqi nationality and deported.  This was done without trial by ex post facto law, a procedure applicable now in any other individual case.  He was sent to Cyprus, and now having come to Geneva presents this appeal to the League.

Ten or more of the leaders of the people remain in captivity or exile and we ask that the League concern itself with their safety.  (See special note).

His petition to the League is as follows:

If there be any doubt as to the facts complained of, let a Commission of the League be ordered to investigate matters, and to make an independent enquiry.

For the future:

We ask for no vengeance, nor do we wish to be regarded as making propaganda against the Government of Iraq though we do ask for compensation for the wronged.  We say this:

Facts have shown that it is not possible for Assyrians to live under ordinary Iraqi administration and equally impossible for Iraqis to receive them.  We ask that the Commission we have requested should make suggestions for the future of the people and we put forward our own ideas on the point.

  1. If it should be possible at this late date, to form (as suggested by Lord Curzon Dec. 17, 1919) a "Kurdish/Assyrian enclave in the north of the vilayet of Mosul under special administration," where Kurds and Assyrians might dwell together, we would accept that solution; but we doubt the possibility.  It could only be by the consent of the Government of Iraq, in which Kingdom the enclave would be.
  2. Should it be deemed - under a resolution adopted 5/9/23, - that it is not regular for a minority to ask to be removed from the jurisdiction of the government under which it lives, then we waive the intention of such a request:  but we point out that the government of Iraq has recently passed a law by which it can deprive all Assyrians of Iraqi nationality if it pleases, without trial; and it has done so in our own case.  Mar Shimun the petitioner is not a subject of Iraq, and so does not come under the terms of the resolutions referred to.

At any rate we do ask the League to appoint a commission to report as to what ought to be done in our Assyrian case, for failing some effective protection, the Assyrians will either be destroyed, or the more vigorous will scatter over the earth while the weaker are reduced to the status of serfs of Iraqi landlords.

To stop such a scandal, we appeal to the sense of honour both of the League of Nations and the Great Power that undertook the settlement of the people and accepted service from them pending settlement.

We also beg not only for the appointment of the Commission that shall have the authority of the League of Nations for investigating the matter and finding a final solution for the Assyrian problem but also we beg that this Commission shall be empowered to take all necessary steps for the relief of those whom the recent massacres have left starving and destitute.

Murders we know are still going on in the districts and unless these steps are taken promptly, there will be an extension of the recent lamentable events.

(signed) Eshai Shimun
By the Grace of God,
Catholicos Patriarch
of the Assyrians.

1933: League of Nations: Protection of Minorities in Iraq - Assyrians
(PDF: 3 MB, 29 pages)

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