TRAINING THE ASSYRIANS.
REFUGEE CAMP AT BAKUBA.
Midsummer, 1918, saw the arrival in the occupied territory of Mesopotamia of some 45000 Armenians and Assyrians from Asia Minor, Lake Van, and Urmia. The majority of these refugees are Christians, who for many years had been fighting against the oppression to which they were subjected by the Turkish and Persian Governments. In the great war these small nationalities saw an opportunity of freeing themselves from the Turkish yoke, and did their utmost to aid Russia in her campaign on the Caucasus and on the Persian fronts.
Both Assyrians and Armenians, especially the Turkish Armenians, suffered cruel hardships during the war, and time after time were in imminent danger of total extermination. The Russians would occupy a certain area, retreat suddenly, leaving their unfortunate allies to the mercy of the vindictive Turks, who looked on them as renegades, traitors, and, above all, Christians.
Then would ensue a series of gruesome massacres, which would continue until such time as the Russian armies again advanced to reoccupy the evacuated territories. The Kurds, who all through the campaign had been intriguing with the Turks, were on all occasions employed by the latter on punitive expeditions against these unfortunate people. Early in November, 1917, the Russians having decided to withdraw their forces from North Western Persia, the serious question arose as to what the Assyrian nation would do. It was eventually decided that they would remain and along with the Armenians in the North endeavour to hold the Persian frontier against the Turk. This decision aroused the wrath of the Persian Government, and led to many disturbances. But for Persian interference, the combined force of these two small nations would, undoubtedly have succeeded in holding the Turk back. As it was, they succeeded in inflicting a severe blow against a Turkish force at Ushnu in April, 1918, and proved themselves the most capable of all, the National Troops, which the Allied Governments attempted to form out of the various Caucasian and Persian frontier tribes, after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution had necessitated the, evacuation of all Russian troops.
Eventually, however, Turks, Kurds, and Persians proved too much for them to deal with single-handed and without adequate support in the way of arms and ammunition, and these Christians were finally forced to leave their homes the Urmia plains, and to start of on their long southerly journey through hostile country to seek shelter behind the British. A site on the right beak of the River Diala about three miles from Bakuba (35 miles N.N.E. of Baghdad) was chosen for the Concentration Camp, where these unfortunate people were to live. There they lived under British control, and even after the Armistice, when the Turk was compelled to evacuate the territory formerly inhabited by them, were still unable to return. There is every reason to believe that it will take time to repatriate them, owing to the prolonged hostility of the Kurds, who naturally resent giving up areas which they have acquired by virtue of their doubtful allegiance to Turkey. Persia likewise presents an obstacle to the scheme of repatriation as far as the Van-Bitlus area is concerned, but it has been found possible to repatriate some Armenian refugees north-westwards into Asia Minor.
One of the most remarkable triumphs of administration has been accomplished in regard to these people. During an amazingly short period, they have, thanks to British tact, assimilated Western ideas which, normally, it would have taken them centuries to acquire. It is interesting to note that the Administration of the refugees in the Bakuba Camp is now carried out by the refugees themselves, with a minimum of British supervision. The refugee areas have been definitely grouped into Mountaineer-Assyrian, Urmi-Assyrian, and Armenian. Labour, clerical work, education, and internal administration are entirely in the hands of the refugees, whose chiefs are responsible to a British Administrator. The refugees are able to find any amount of employment as sub-ordinates in the transport and animal camps, in hospitals, and in the telephone exchange. All children over the age of 7 are made to attend school. The schools are entirely secular, and physical training is insisted upon. Three hundred acres of ground have been put under cultivation, and any refugee with a trade has the opportunity of practising it; while others who have no trade, are afforded every facility in learning one.
From the above it may be gathered that the main efforts made in the camp are directed towards enabling the refugees to look after themselves pending and after repatriation, so that when they are able to return to their own country they will form a greatly more civilized series of little nationalities than they were while under Turkish rule.