“High, wild and beautiful Hakkari”

William M. Warda

The article titled “High, wild and beautiful Hakkari” by Terry Richardson published in Turkey’s www.todayszaman.com provides valuable information about the region and history of the Assyrians of the Church of the East who lived there for centuries. However the part explaining their departure from the area is incorrect and includes false accusations.

According to the article:

“In 1915 the Patriarch [mar Benjamin shimoun] backed the invading Russians against the Nestorian’s Ottoman overlords. When the Russians withdrew following the Bolshevik Revolution, fearing Ottoman reprisals, the whole Nestorian community of Hakkari packed its bags and streamed south over the mountains into what would become British-mandated Iraq.”

The above paragraph explains Turkey’s attempt to dismiss and whitewash Ottoman’s wholesale massacres of the Assyrians, Armenians and the Greeks during World War One. Turkey’s war with the Russians had nothing to do with these three ethnic groups. On October 1914 Turkey joined Germany against the Allies by declaring war against Russia. Assyrians isolated in the inaccessible mountains of Hakkari with their outdated flint Guns surrounded by millions of Kurds, who were turkey’s allies, were in no position to back Russia or anyone else against Turkey even if they wanted to.

A Fatwa of (Jihad) was issued against “infidels and enemies of the faith” in Turkey on November 14, 1914 by the Shykh ul-Islam in front of the Fathi mosque, in Constantinople, it was intended to redefine World War One as a battle between Islam and Christianity. While this was ignored by most of the Muslim world Turks carried out their intentions to massacre the native Christians wherever they found them. Their methods varied but the result was always the death of the innocents.

Assyrians were forced to escape from Hakkari mountains long before the 1917 Russian revolution not because they feared persecution but because of being massacred. They did not stream south over the mountains “into what would become British-mandated Iraq.” They joined their equally persecuted brethren in Northwest Iran. It is interesting how easily, with few well chosen words, history can be subverted.

On the 3rd of August 1914 the Valli of Van, Tahsim Pasha, invited Mar Shimun informing him that if Assyrians remained loyal to the Turks during the upcoming war they can expect military and financial help from that country.
Soon It became clear that this was a deliberate attempt to deceive the Assyrians while plans were underway to expel them from their villages. A telegraph from the Ministry of the Interior Office of the Directorate of Public security dated early October 1914 indicates that Turkey had other plans in mind. Orders were given for the deportation and expulsion of Assyrians belonging to the Church of the East especially those living on the border of Turkey and Iran to such provinces as Ankara and Konya, where they should be dispersed exclusively among Muslim people, so that no more than twenty families would be settled in one area. The authorities were also instructed not to provide any type of aid or support for them. (http://www.bethsuryoyo.com/articles/AssyrianDeportation/AssyrianDeportation.html#DOCUMENT 5)(BOA.DAH?L?YE ??FRE KALEM? Nu:46/78) Babiali [1] Ministry of the Interior Office of the Directorate of Public Security General …. Private:
 Number: 104 Ciphered Telegram to the Province of Van)

According to Surmi Khanim the aunt of Mar Shimoun while Assyrians waited the declared Fatwa and above mentioned order unleashed a bloody onslaught against them. During the same month persecutions of the Assyrians living in the highland near Iran’s borders began.
See; Surma’ DBait Mar Shimun, “Assyrians Church customs and the Murder of Mar Shimun, Mar shimun Memorial Fund 1983, pp.66-93
Some fifty Assyrian men of Gawar were taken to the local government center in Bashkalla and were murdered. Assyrian peasants of North Berwar district were plundered by the Turkish soldiers. Young men of Albag were killed the women and young children were taken captive and houses plundered. Assyrians of other villages such as Shamsadin, Norduz, Mar Bishu, Iyil who were most loyal to the Turkish rule suffered the same fate. The Assyrians of Iran were attacked by the kurds under the command of the Turkish officers starting on October 28th. During the next four months Their villages were set on fire and thousands were killed or forced into Islam, women and children were abducted, some sold into slavery. only those who took refuge in the American and French mission managed to survive.

Appeals for help by Mar Shimoun to Tahsim Pasha remained unanswered. Soon it become evident that the promises made to the Assyrians were not meant to be kept. In mid April 1915 a meeting was arranged between the Assyrian tribes in the mountains where it was decided that unless they began to defend themselves against Kurds and the Turkish army their entire population will soon be decimated.

A month later on June eleventh a Turkish army led by Hidar Baq the Vali of Mosul together with troops from various Kurdish tribes equipped with artillery and up to date weapons began a coordinated attack against the Assyrian villages. Mir Rashid of Barwer led a confederation of Kurds against Lizan and lower Tyrai. Chumba and upper Tyrai were attacked by Arthosh Kurds and regular troops of Julmerk. Agha of Chalbrought his forces attacked Slabekan and Thuma, Sutu Agah of Ormar assailed Jilu and Baz. Despite being greatly outnumbered Assyrians bravely defended themselves for a while, but their antiquated flint guns were no match for the fire power of the mountain Cannons and machine guns. The explosions of the canons thundered in the mountains and the echos of their blast bounced back and fort from one mountain peak to another. The canon balls striking against the rocks among which Assyrians had taken shelter produced sharp nails flying in all
 direction killing and wounding anyone they struck. When the canon balls blasted the boulders at a higher altitude they unleashed an avalanche of rocks rolling down the slope and crushing anyone standing in their way.

One after another Assyrians villages were defeated their inhabitant; men women and children were killed. Only those who could escape to the villages at the higher altitude survived. By October 1915 the only viable option for the Assyrians was to abandon their homeland of many centuries and find a way to break the blockade and lead the population not “into what would become British-mandated Iraq” but to Urmia in northwest Persia. Even there they were chased by the Kurds and Turkey military and were massacred.

For information about what happened in Northwest Iran see:
The last Assyrians in Urmia,
 during World War One Massacres
At: http://christiansofiraq.com/behind.html