Frederick P. Isaac

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Articles and book information on Assyrian issues including contemporary history, experiences under Islamic rule, leadership and Assyrian aspirations to nationhood.


Indigenous Peoples

Under the Rule of Islam

 

by Frederick P. Isaac

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The Will to Set the Wrong Aright
 

 

The Assyrians look up to the United States of America, the U.N. and the international community as the strong democratic arm of justice. They look forward to seeing the world body restore Assyria to its legitimate status and include the Assyrian nation in the new world order.

The international community is obligated, according to the United Nations Charter, to free Assyria from Islamic neo-colonialism. Time and demography of the Assyrian people are irrelevant. The fact remains that though their country has been appropriated, the Assyrians are a nation in their own right. It is time that the world body woke up to itself and realized the seriousness of the plunder Islamic nations have done to the Assyrian indigenous people and other peoples of the Middle East. The results of foreign policies of the international power brokers have caused untold tragedies to people that looked up to them in the hope of doing justice.

In Post World War I, Britain rejected the Assyrian demand for at least an autonomous national home within their traditional territory. It ignored the Assyrian plea and dismissed it as unacceptable outright. The British confirmed that the rescue operation of the Hakkari and Urmia Assyrians from the jaws of their surrounding enemies was no more than a humanitarian gesture. Britain reiterated that its rescue mission had no political bearing and should not be translated as a prelude to further political demands. Yet, Kuwait was declared as a British protectorate following the outbreak of War with the Ottoman Turks in 1914.

In mid-1961, Kuwait became an independent Sheikdom. In 1963, it gained full independence as the State of Kuwait and became a signatory member of the United Nations. If Kuwait had oil, so did the Assyrian Province of Mosul. Kuwait had a small population of less than 100,000k, half of whom were Bedouin nomads. The Assyrians were town and village dwellers. Their total population in Urmia, Iran and the five main tribes of Hakkari, Turkey (less the so-called Latin-Catholic Chaldeans) was estimated at between 750,000 to 900,000K. What was the difference? Kuwait was situated along the seashore of the Arab Gulf had its strategic significance. Mosul was up in the mountains, in a rugged place, far from the sea and surrounded by hostile Kords. Besides, the Kuwaitis are Muslims. The Assyrians are not; they are Christians. Al-Hashim of Saudi Arabia and the Vatican would have been upset if Assyrians had regained independence. The Foreign Department of H. Majesty’s Government did not want to disrupt the smooth relations that existed between the British Empire and the Arabs or upset the newly created Bedouin kings. This policy was affirmed by Sir Winston Churchill and the charismatic officer T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia).

Over 90 years on, since World War I, the Assyrians are still abandoned. Their pleas for constitutional independence for a national home in their region have been ignored. In April 1920, the French and British colonial powers abolished the Assyrian Resettlement Project, in Baquba. The Allies opened a new camp in the small village of Mindan (Mundun), about thirty miles northeast of Mosul. With little concern about their plight, the defunct League of Nations, in collusion with colonial powers, cancelled the rehabilitation program for the Assyrians. Instead, the League Council stopped its relief work and humanitarian assistance, dismantled its makeshift tents in Baquba and Henaidi in Iraq, and dismissed the Assyrians to an ominous fate. They were scattered and left to fend for themselves without any compensation, protection, shelter or sustenance. They were robbed of their homes and treated mercilessly. The Assyrians ended up being Ra’iyya. Scattered about, in the Middle East, like a lost flock, without a shepherd to save them from their predators.

During the mandated period, the Iraqi and British intelligence spread rumours that the Assyrians were rich and that although they looked a bit off colour and shabby in their simple clothes, they were loaded with gold and well off (Stafford: p 221). They accused the Assyrians of playing ‘poor’ to avoid suspicion and cover up their wealth. What a debased statement. The difference between the Anglo-Iraqi banditry and Turkish-Kordish brigandry was that the British parcelled Assyria and sold it to the highest bidder of the four neighbouring Islamic countries, while the Kords pillaged and destroyed the Assyrian towns and villages, removing all trace of Assyrian existence there. In the summer of 1933, the Arabs capped the campaign by massacring the Assyrians, at the hand of the Iraqi Kordish General Bakir Sodqi.

The Iraqi Government, in collusion with the Muslim Kords, ransacked Simele and the surrounding Assyrian villages. They were forcibly removed from their dwellings and expelled from their traditional homeland, Ninweh, the Province of Mosul. A large number was banished to Khabur, Syria. The rest of the Assyrians were insulated from the world media. They were completely cut off from any kind of humanitarian assistance. They were treated mercilessly and left to fend for themselves.

Classified as ‘aliens’ by the Iraqi Government, ‘Nestorian’ Assyrians were not allowed to own immovable assets, of any sort. The government would not allow the sale of land or a house, as a place of residence, to the Assyrian. Assyrian families lived either in British cantonments, or Assyrian villages allocated to them by the Iraqi government. Some destitute families lived on the outskirt of cities, as fringe dwellers. Gailani Camp, on the outskirts of the capital city, Baghdad, was a familiar site. The villages were under strict control and surveillance of the Iraqi central government. They were not allowed to build churches; neither schools nor community centres. Their house of worship was a simple one-room dwelling that resembled a hut more than a church. They could rent but, by law, they could not purchase land or own property. They could rent but not own a house. The Assyrians were completely cut off from the outside world. They lived in total isolation. They lacked schools, social services and basic amenities. They lived an impoverished life – prisoners in their own country.

The Iraqi Government’s response to the massacre of the Assyrians was that ‘*It was no more than an act of exemplary discipline, a warning for their rebellion against an Islamic sovereign kingdom.’ The Assyrian massacre of 1933 was no less barbaric than the massacre of the She’ah residents of Karbala at the hands of the Saudi Sunni in 1802 (*Sayid Muhson Abu-Tabikh, 2001: p 340).

The Iraqi central government branded the Assyrians aliens and considered all virgin and unoccupied land as crown land. The Iraqi central government alone decided where the humiliated Assyrian ‘millet’ should be allowed to live and at the price, they recommended. There was no such thing as free distribution of land. Their alien classification did not entitle them to re-own their original land. They had to pay for it. It was at the choosing of the Iraqi government where the Assyrians were to be settled. The aim of the Iraqi government was to disperse them among the Arab, Turkuman and Kordish majority.

The British deceived the Assyrians by playing the role of protection and formation of the Assyrian Levies. Being under the direct control and command of the British, it gave the Assyrians a sense of security and safety, yet without any commitment for their rehabilitation in the Province of Mosul. The Allies reneged on their promise to return the Assyrians to the Mosul Province for their rehabilitation. The British policy was to end its mandate abruptly and grant Iraq full independence, without resolving the outstanding problem of the Assyrian people. In August 1932, Britain recognized Iraq prematurely. Iraq gained full independence and became a sovereign state and active member of the League of Nations. The Assyrian situation worsened and ended up in tragedy.

The aim of the mandatory powers was to eventually abandon the Assyrians to fend for themselves, without the need or help of the British, and settle as future citizens of Iraq without much involvement in matters of their local affairs. The Arab concern was as serious. They wanted to retain the ‘millet provision of the Islamic Shari’ah Law under which the Assyrians had been ruled by the Turks.

The British, on the other hand, wanted the idle Kords to be drawn in proximity to the area of the planned project to recruit labour for the construction of the highway upwards through the formidable mountains of the dismembered Assyria. This stratagem helped win the Kordish leaders to the Anglo-Iraqi side in order to allow them to recruit casual labour from the idle Kords for the construction of the highway.

The Iraqi government would have organised the Kords, at a moment’s notice, into militia groups and unleashed them on the (Kafir) ‘infidel’ Assyrians, at the first available opportunity, by issuing a (fatwa) religious edict to attack the Assyrians, declaring on them (jihad) holy war. Nevertheless, the British, being keen on building the highway, through the formidable northern highlands had the situation firmly in control. Except for a few small skirmishes, the general situation remained relatively calm, which did not warrant agents of the Iraqi government to order enforcement of the issued (fatwa) religious edict to annihilate the Assyrians. Following is a relevant discussion narrated between Ismail Beg, a Kordish Chieftain and Archibald Milne Hamilton, Author of the Book The Road to Kurdestan:

 

During their discussion, Hamilton asked if Ismail Beg meant that Assyrians and Kurds could really live in the same country without destroying each other, for that was not the impression, he thought. The Kurdish Chieftain wondered where then the Assyrians had lived for centuries but in Kurdestan – an unanswerable reply. He added that they were very much like them and all spoke Kurdish. Ismail Beg asked Hamilton if he had heard that a petition had been taken through Kurdestan asking all Mohammedans to declare a holy war [Jihad] on the Assyrians. The petition was brought by a man from Mosul. He was the agent of a political party in Baghdad. Ismail Beg said that they of Rowanduz [city] understood its evil purpose and refused to have anything to do with it, but the chiefs of other districts might yet pay heed to such malicious emissaries. The Kurdish Chieftain said that Hamilton should of course realise that Assyrians were so intensely disliked by some official circles in Iraq because they served as Levies during the Arab Rebellion. (Hamilton: 1937; pp 297-298).

 

Islam is still keen on seeing that the Assyrians would not stand out as a people on their own. The ultimate aim was, and still is, to disperse them and keep them apart. They are determined that their existence should come to an end, either by dissimulation, decimation or by the edge of the sword, through (jihad) holy war.

 

 

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Dashed Hopes

 

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