A Commentary by John Joseph on

Frederick MWehrey's

The first part of this article is found at page 1, which will mean a web page now named mos.html

This will be a continuation page from page one (web page named mos.htm)


Faced with this insistence by the Permanent Mandates Commission, the mandatory power seems to have tried to do away with the entire question of the special treatment of the Assyrians as recommended by the Mosul Commission; it tried to invalidate those recommendations and almost succeeded. In its report to the fourteenth session (October 26-November 13, 1928) of the Permanent Mandates Commission the mandatory power explained that the Mosul Commission's recommendations with regard to the Assyrians were "applicable to the Turkish Government," and had nothing to do with Iraq since the "disputed territory" had been "allotted to Turkey."

This British argument is presented as follows in the Special Report...on the Progress of Iraq...1920-1931 (Colonial, no. 58), an official report that has, unfortunately, served as a 'primary.' though misleading, source material for the scholar, including Frederic M.Wehrey now. "When the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry in regard to the Assyrians were examined," said the British 'Special Report,' "one difficulty at once became apparent. The recommendations appeared to be based on the assumption that the Assyrians would return to their former homes north of the frontier, as is implied by the opening phrase 'Since the disputed territory will in any case be under the sovereignty of a Moslem State...' the Commission did not contemplate that, whereas the disputed territory would be under the sovereignty of Turkey, the Assyrians would remain under the sovereignty of Iraq."

In further support of their above misinterpretation, the British authorities restated the arguments they presented to the commissioners when the latter first arrived in Baghdad; arguments which, as we have seen, the commissioners found "unfair and not justified." Furthermore, British authorities had not only misquoted the Commissioners' report, they even took the position that the Commissioners had completely accepted the British arguments instead of rejecting them!


Very strangely, the Permanent Mandates Commission, during its fourteenth session, without even discussing the interpretation--rather, misinterpretation--of the mandatory power, "recognized" that the recommendations made in 1925 by the Mosul Commission in favor of the Assyrian community had "become inoperative so far as Iraq was concerned." It will be remembered that during its twelfth session a year earlier, the Permanent Mandates Commission had stressed the fact, accepted by the British accredited representative present, that the Mosul Commission had made its recommendations in regard to the Assyrians "at a time when it must presumably have realized that the frontier would not be fixed any further north than was eventually the case." It is interesting to notice that the commissioner who had made this point clear, M. d'Andrade of Portugal, was not present at the fourteenth session when the Commission recommendations were distorted. In its final report on this session the Permanent Mandates Commission wrote the following curious conclusion on the Assyrian problem:

"Indeed the information contained in the annual report and the statement made by the Accredited Representative [of Britain] show that the district in which the homelands of the Assyrian were situated was allotted to Turkey by the Council resolution of December 16th, 1925, and that the Assyrians who have taken refuge in Iraq are not prepared to return to Turkey. It is noted with interest [that measures are] taken with a view to the final settlement of these refugees on lands which the Government of Iraq will put at their disposal."

Having thus silenced the members of the Permanent Mandates Commission by convincing them that the recommendations of the Mosul Commission were "inoperative so far as Iraq was concerned," the Commission took no steps to dispel the false hopes of the Assyrians based on the recommendations in their behalf, now declared void. The decision of the League of Nations was not communicated to the Assyrians, most probably having been suppressed by the mandatory government lest the feelings of the minority be aroused at the obvious misinterpretation of the recommendations. Not aware that their settlement claims had been forfeited, the Assyrians looked naively forward
to the day when their wrongs would be righted by the British mandatory power whose interests they actively served and whose regime they believed would continue for about twenty-five years.

When it finally dawned on the Assyrian leaders in 1930 that the mandatory regime was definitely due to terminate, they made representations and petitions to the British authorities and the League of Nations with a view to fulfilling and safeguarding their rights in Iraq where they had been made protégés of the hated mandatory. Petitions in behalf of the Assyrians brought the Special Recommendations of the Mosul Commission before the attention of the Permanent Mandates Commission and requested that the Council of the League be advised "to set up a special commission of inquiry to determine to what extent the recommendations of the Mosul Commission have been carried out." [The Kurdish nationalists sent the League of Nations and the mandatory government their own protests against the absence in the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi treaty of all reference to the maintenance of Kurdish privileges as recommended by the Mosul Commission and the various League of Nations resolutions.] In a petition that he sent to the Permanent Mandates Commission, the Assyrian Patriarch stated that it was the Commission of Inquiry's recommendations that had led the Assyrians to vote for Iraq when the plebiscite for the vilayet of Mosul was taken. "The Commission's recommendations, however, were not followed, and the mandatory Power had revealed its intention of leaving the Assyrians of Iraq in their present state of insecurity."

The Permanent Mandates Commission did another strange thing at this juncture. It did not remind the Assyrians of its decision that the Mosul Commission's special recommendations had been declared "inoperative"; instead, the Commission itself revived the question of those recommendations! Even before it was bombarded with petitions, the Commission at its nineteenth session drew the attention of the mandatory government to the recommendations of the Council, singling out the provision that the Assyrians "should be guaranteed the re-establishment of the ancient privileges which they possessed under the Turkish regime before the war." In the light of such encouragement and utterances-and confusion--the petitions of the Assyrians to the League of Nations do not seem to be far-reaching or unreasonable, as admitted by the high commissioner in a letter to the patriarch.

The patriarch was at Geneva in 1932, trying to bring to the attention of the Permanent Mandates Commission the crucial difference between the various formulae of the League of Nations in behalf of his people but it was too late now. Also in 1932 Iraq was admitted as a member of the League of Nations, the first of the 'Mandates' of the League of Nations to emerge independent. Just before his departure from Geneva, Mar Shamun received a letter from Nuri al-Sa`id, the Prime Minister of Iraq, who was also there, informing the prelate that upon his return to Baghdad he should go and see the Acting Prime Minister. For the first time since they were settled in Iraq, the Assyrians were to face the realities of the situation; for the first time they would be dealing with an independent Iraqi government and not through the British High Commissioners.

The patriarch was asked now to stop participating in his people's political affairs. The Iraq government backed those religious and tribal leaders who were opposed to Mar Shamun. Bickering among the Assyrians often became sharp between those loyal to the patriarch and those who wanted to accept matters as they stood, feeling that their best interests lay in adjusting themselves as far as possible to life in Iraq. The patriarch withheld his cooperation in the settlement effort, complaining that he was being "forced to submit to [a] policy which ignored the sacred minority guarantees given to the League of Nations" and that the treatment he and his supporters were receiving was "a real foretaste of the type of rule we had expected."

The government responded by summoning the 23-years-old prelate--who had spent the tumultuous years 1924-1928 studying in England--to Baghdad for "consultation." He was informed by letter by the Minister of the Interior Hikmat Sulayman (brother of a former vizier of the Ottoman Empire), that while the Iraqi government "desires to recognize your Spiritual See...over the Assyrian people...[it] cannot agree to transfer to you the temporal power and your position will be same as that of other spiritual heads of other people of Iraq." The Minister assured Mar Shamun of the government's "sincere desire to fulfill whatever is possible to see the Assyrian people satisfied and happy," and that "the Government by its declaration before the League of Nations has fully declared itself to this effect..."

Accompanying Hikmat Sulayman's letter was the text of a written guarantee that asked the patriarch to sign, promising that he would do nothing to make the government settlement scheme difficult and that he would "in all ways and at all times act as a loyal subject of the King."

The patriarch answered that his "dominant desire" was to see his people happily settled as loyal Iraqi citizens but refused to sign the written promise "since such an action would only mean that I am willingly withdrawing myself from the duty to my people." Emboldened by the League of Nations Special Recommendations that the Permanent Mandates Commission was still discussing in early1932, Mar Shamum overstated his patriarchal authority, defining it as a "a great historical and traditional usage" descended "to me from centuries past as a legalized delegation of the people...and it is only to them to take it away." He protested that he was "quite prepared to suffer any further injustice that the Government may put on me," but he would in no way "submit to the methods which have been used to make me sign documents which betray my people into accepting an unreal fulfillment of the promises and recommendations of the League of Nations."

Writing of the Patriarch's articulate English and British education, J.F. Coackley notes that "he was equal to appearing on the world's stage and pleading the cause of his people as one can hardly imagine any of his modern predecessors doing." Alas, his words fell on deaf ears on the world's stage; one wishes he were more articulate in Arabic, and a little less unbeding, in the Baghdad of seventy years ago.


[The above is an adaptation from the following three of my publications, which have extensive and detailed ocumentation, omitted here to save space: "The Turko-Iraqi Frontier and the Assyrians," in James Kritzeck and R. Bayly Winder, eds. The World of Islam: Studies in Honor of Phillip K. Hitti (3rd edition, London, the MacMillan Company, 1960), pp. 255-270; THE NESTORIANS AND THEIR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS: A Study of Western Influence on Their Relations (Princeton University Press, 1961; THE MODERN ASSYRIANS OF THE MIDDLE EAST: Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers (Brill Academic Publishers, 2000.)]

Without the historical background and perspective detailed above, Mr. Wehrey's account, unfortunately, perpetuates many of this complex history's half truths. He apparently has read The Nestorians and Their Muslim Neighbors but seems to have overlooked all of the above. Let us look at some of his statements and conclusions, quoted below, followed by my note:

· "By serving as a buffer, the Assyrians enabled Britain to preserve its interests in the Mosul province during frontier negotiations with Turkey and the League of Nations."

NOTE: Britain, as the mandatory power, did not have "frontier negotiations" with the League of Nations; it submitted its case, as Turkey did, to the League of Nation. As pointed out above, when Turkey and Britain failed in their "frontier" negotiations at the Lausanne and Constantinope conferences, they agreed to submit the Mosul vilayet problem to the League of Nations for arbitration. From the viewpoint of both Turkey and the League of Nations, this issue had nothing to do with the Assyrians, as clearly shown above. In its report, the Mosul Commission pointed out its disagreement with the British view, "so often put forward in British documents and speeches," that the problem to be solved was merely that of fixing a frontier line. The Commission stressed that its task was to determine the fate of a large territory and a considerable population. (See my critique of Professor Khaldun S.Husri's article, 'The Assyrian Affair of 1933' in International Journal of Middle East Studies, 6(1975) 115-117, titled 'The Assyrian Affair: a Historical Perspective.")



Det som händer i Mosul i våra dar, år 2017, är givetvis betydelsefullt historiskt sett. En rekommenderad läsning sommaren 2017 är denna om mosul-iraq-isis-united-states-airstrikes av Phyllis Dennis inthesetimes.com/



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