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Luciak, who is fluent in five languages (English, German, Swedish, French, and Spanish), speaks quietly yet passionately. He speaks of his great grandfather, a member of Sweden's parliament and an advocate for women's right to vote in the early 20th century. It is with a touch of pride that he points out that Scandinavian countries have a strong tradition in gender equality issues, even incorporating a quota system that requires a balance of men and women on their political party lists.
He shares his ancestors' commitment to social justice on a global level (his grandfather, Einar af Wirsén, was the head of the Mosul Commission, appointed in 1924 by the League of Nations to determine the border between Iraq and Turkey). Luciak had already earned a law degree in Vienna, Austria, before traveling to Nicaragua in 1984 as a visiting professor at Central American University. Asked how he became interested in gender equality, he replied, "I was intrigued with how the poor majorities lived within those countries, particularly the women because they were the poorest." This led to further study of women in developing countries experiencing political turmoil.
1923 Jul 23 : Treaty of Lausanne : formal end of the Anglo-Turkish war over Mosul. It was decided to submit the dispute about the territory to the Council of the League of Nations. A three-men commission was appointed to examine the problem. (2) 1924 Jul : Shaykh Mahmud Barzanji was defeated. Dec 24 : New British proclamation concerning an autonomous Kurdish government within Iraq. 1925 Dec 16 : The Council of the League of Nations decided to entrust the mandate over Mosul to Iraq, on condition that the special rights of the Kurds would be respected. 1926 Jan 13 : Turkey recognised the right of Iraq over Mosul, in exchange of a share in the Mosul oil production and the promise not to intevene in the affairs of Turkish Kurdistan. Jan 23 : The Kurds of Iraq were offered a special regime and limited autonomy. (1) British Representatives (like all other British administrators in Mosul subordinated to the military administration in Mesopotamia) 1918 - 1919 Maj. Edward William Charles Noel 1886 - 1974 1919 Ely Bannister Soane 1881 - 1923 (2) Members of the Mosul Enquiry Commission (at work in Mosul from jan to may 1925) : Carl Einar Thure af Wirsén (Chairman) [(Swed.) 1875 - 1...] Col. Albert Paulis [(Belg.) 1875 -1933] Pál, gróf Teleki [(Hung.) 1879 -1941] (3) Except for the fact that Kurdish was introduced as language in the primary schools of Sulaymanya, no other parts of this decision seem to have been implemented. As a result new revolts occured : - 1930 - 1931 : Last revolt of Shaykh Mahmud Barzanji. - 1931 - 1937 : Revolts of the Barzani, under the command of Shaykh Ahmed Barzani (1... - 1956) - 1943 - 1945 : Revolt of the Barzani, now headed by Mulla Mustafa Barzani, (1903 - 1979), brother of Shaykh Ahmad.
The Assyrian refugee problem in Iraq seemed to be resolving itself through repatriation more or less satisfactorily in 1921. Unfortunately for the Assyrians, 1921 was also the year when Turkish nationalists at Ankara started to defy their own Sultan and his government at Istanbul, repudiating the humiliating Treaty of Sèvres that they had signed with the Allies. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish nationalists were determined to save Turkey from dismemberment. Early in 1921 they adopted their National Pact for whose terms they continued to fight. Luckily for the Turks, their nationalist movement had coincided with the breakup of Tsarist Russia, and the war-weary public in Britiain and France was not in any mood to resume World War I with the Turks.
The first article of the National Pact declared that all Ottoman territories, whether within or outside the Armistice line, which were inhabited by a [non-Arab] Ottoman Moslem majority form a whole which does not admit of division for any reason in truth or in ordinance. This formula implied a claim to retain under Turkish sovereignty territories predominantly inhabited not only by Turks but also by Kurds; it laid claim over at least the greater part of the predominantly Kurdish province (vilayet) of Mosul. In 1921, the government of the Grand National Assembly at Ankara was already strong enough to begin to assert its authority over the Kurdish tribes immediately beyond the boundary of the Anglo-Iraqi administration. A new peace treaty was negotiated with Turkey at Lausanne, Switzerland. On November 20, 1922 the Lausanne Conference opened with the determination of the frontier between Turkey and Iraq on its agenda. Britain decided to involve the Assyrian refugees in Iraq in these deliberations.
THE LAUSANNE CONFERENCE AND THE ASSYRIANS
At Lausanne the British made their last effort on behalf of the Assyrians with a view to settling them in their original homegrounds in Turkish Hakkari. At the meetings of the First Commission held on January 9, 1923, Lord Curzon, Britain's Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke of the "Assyro-Chaldeans," stating that they were either "in Turkish territory or want to go back to the place in Turkish territory near Julamerk where they originally were." He hoped that the Turkish government would give full guarantees for their language, schools, customs, and religion. A British proposal called for the preservation of the Christian community's customs and traditions "under the authority of Turkey." The Turkish delegate met the British suggestion "with an absolute and clear refusal." Lord Curzon eventually had to concede that on certain aspects of the question of the minorities, the Powers gave way to the Turkish claims in their desire to secure a peace agreement. It was decided to conclude the peace between Turkey and the Allies by excluding the Mosul question from the agenda of the Conference and settle it by common agreement between Great Britain and Turkey. If not settled, the dispute would then be referred to the Council of the League of Nations for arbitration. Pending a decision to be reached, it was agreed to observe the status quo in the disputed territory of the vilayet of Mosul. [See map in THE MODERN ASSYRIANS OF THE MIDDLE EAST: p.170, or THE NESTORIANS AND THEIR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS, p.22.]
The contemplated negotiations between Great Britain and Turkey were continued at Istanbul on May 19, 1924; the 'Constantinople Conference' almost immediately arrived at an impasse. The Turkish delegate, Fethi Bey--then President of the Grand National Assembly--renewed his country's demand for the restoration to Turkey of the entire province of Mosul, almost the northern third of present-day Iraq. Sir Percy Cox, the former High Commissioner of Iraq, declined to discuss the Turkish demand and asked for a frontier that ran considerably to the north of the boundary of Mosul vilayet to include part of the prewar districts of the Assyrians. Sir Percy explained that the frontier of the new British proposal would admit the establishment of the Assyrians in a compact community within the limits of the territory mandated to Great Britain by the League of Nations. He 'thought' that the Turkish government would be prepared to meet the wishes of the British government to annex "suitable adjacent districts" in Turkey which were formerly ancestral habitations of the Assyrians, because the region was inhospitable and its administration and control had in the past been a constant embarrassment to the Turkish government. A bewildered Fethi Bey reminded Cox that instead of resuming the negotiations at the point at which Lord Curzon left them at Lausanne, he [Cox] was raising a new question--that of the future of the Assyrians. To secure the Assyrians' future, said Fethi Bey, "you ask for the annexation...of certain territories which are now under the flag of the Turkish Republic. To say that this demand does not astonish me would be a perversion of the truth." Faced with the serious claim of Turkey to regain the province of Mosul, the dispute was then placed by the British government on the agenda of the thirtieth session of the Council of the League of Nations.
After hearing the representatives of the two countries, the League of Nations Council decided to set up a Special Commission of Inquiry of three members to investigate the facts of the disputed area on the spot in order to assist the Council in reaching a decision. In the meantime the Turkish government attempted to extend its administration into the Hakkari district claimed by Great Britain. A Turkish force was sent there a few weeks before the arrival of the League of Nations Special Commission; it burned and plundered the reconstructed Christian villages, driving about eight thousand of the repatriated inhabitants southward into the Anglo-Iraqi territory, where most of their able-bodied men were serving as British mercenaries, better known as Levies.
THE MOSUL COMMISSION AND THE ASSYRIANS
After hearing both parties to the dispute and after much detailed investigation on the spot, the Mosul Commission pointed out that "The Assyrian question was the principal argument advanced by the British Government" in defense of the frontier that Britain advocated.. The Commission concluded that the British government's claim to a frontier beyond the Mosul vilayet was "not justified"; it decided not to take into account in its conclusions this principal British claim . To the Commission, the problem to be solved was not the future security of the Assyrians but the future status of the entire vilayet of Mosul. In its report to the Council of the League of Nations, the Commission pointed out its disagreement with the British view-- "so often put forward in British documents and speeches"--that the question at issue was the mere tracing of a frontier to the north of the vilayet of Mosul and not the fate of that entire province. The problem to be solved was not merely that of fixing a frontier line "as the British Government argues," but that of determining the fate of a large territory and a considerable population. It was true enough that the dispute related ultimately to a frontier question, but it was clear that the territory between the lines proposed by the British and Turkish governments respectively "is too large for it to be said that the question is merely one of delimitation." The entire vilayet could, under certain conditions, be returned to Turkey whose legal territory the province of Mosul still was "until that Power renounces her rights."
As for the Assyrian Hakkari districts to the north of the vilayet of Mosul, the Commission of Inquiry felt that these formed "a territory which indisputably belongs to [Turkey]," emphasizing that the British solution was not "consonant with the principles of equity which should govern the desired settlement." In the commissioners' opinion, the most satisfactory solution would be for the Assyrians to accept the offer made by the Turkish delegate at the Constantinople Conference: "that they should be allowed to return to their former home"; in that case, added the Commissars, they "must continue to enjoy the same local autonomy as formerly." According to them, the Assyrians formerly enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy under the government of their patriarch. They disregarded the Turkish position made at the Lausanne Conference where the question of autonomy for the "Assyro-Chaldeans" had met with an absolute and clear refusal by the Turkish delegation.
SPECIAL RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING THE ASSYRIANS
The commissioners realized that the Assyrians, like most of the other Christian and non-Arab Muslim minority groups of the disputed province, preferred to stay in British-mandated Iraq rather than in Turkey. Taking the much publicized case of the Assyrians into consideration, the commissioners made certain recommendations in their behalf which, besides those that they had in favor of the Kurds, were exceptional. In the last chapter of its report, the Commission made its "General Conclusions"; under a section entitled "Special Recommendations," which were "of vital importance for the pacification of the country and the welfare of its people," it wrote the following:
"Since the disputed territory will in any case be under the sovereignty of a Moslem State, it is essential in order to satisfy the aspirations of the minorities--notably the Christians, but also the Jews and Yezidi--that measures should be taken for their protection.
It is not within our competence to enumerate all the conditions which would have to be imposed on the sovereign State for the protection of these minorities. We feel it our duty, however, to point out that the Assyrians should be guaranteed the re-establishment of the ancient privileges which they possessed in practice, if not officially, before the war. Whichever may be the sovereign State [over the vilayet of Mosul], it ought to grant these Assyrians a certain local autonomy, recognizing their right to appoint their own officials and contenting itself with a tribute from them, paid through the agency of their Patriarch...."
Without the effective guidance of the mandatory power, the Commission recommended that it would be more advantageous for the province of Mosul to remain under the sovereignty of Turkey whose internal conditions and external political situation were incomparably more stable than those of Iraq. Should the province be awarded to Iraq, the Commission recommended that the mandatory regime continue for twenty-five years, unless Iraq were admitted as a member of the League of Nations before the expiration of that period.
When the League of Nations Council awarded the vilayet of
Mosul to Iraq in its resolution of December 16, 1925, it
defined the territory very strictly and in accordance with
the recommendations of its Commission. It cannot be
overemphasized that when speaking of "the disputed territory" in its concluding chapter, the Commission meant the province of Mosul; this area certainly did not include the Assyrian district in Hakkari because the Commission had already established that that territory was "indisputably" Turkish. We shall soon see how official British documents continued to interpret the term "disputed territory," as it appeared in the above recommendations in behalf of the Assyrians, to mean the Assyrian homegrounds in Hakkari, claimed by Great Britain at the Lausanne and Constantinople Conferences and, therefore, the Special Recommendations concerning the Assyrians, applied to Turkey and not Iraq!
THE PERMANENT MANDATES COMMISSION AND THE SPECIAL RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING ASSYRIANS
When the Permanent Mandates Commission examined the mandatory
government's reports on Iraq, it put special emphasis on
paragraph 4 of the Council resolution of December 15, 1925,
the paragraph that noted the Special Recommendations. The
paragraph was communicated to the Permanent Mandates
Commission by the Council requesting that it be taken into
consideration when annual reports on Iraq by Britain were
examined. During its first
session on Iraq, the Permanent Mandates Commission took cognizance of the "somewhat uncertain" position of the Assyrians and invited the mandatory to furnish additional information regarding them on the points included in the special recommendations of the Mosul Commission. A year later, at its twelfth session (October 24-November 11, 1927), the Permanent Mandates Commission again recalled the recommendations and wanted to know what was
being done to implement them.
The British mandatory representative explained that in view of the final location of the Turko-Iraqi frontier, it was virtually impossible for Iraq to carry out the above recommendations. M. d'Andrade, the Portuguese member of the Mandates Commission, reminded his colleagues and the British representative that the recommendations of the Mosul Commission were made at a time when it must presumably have realized that "the frontier would not be fixed any further to the north than was eventually the case." The British representative conceded that fact but, he explained, the Mosul Commission perhaps did not fully realize the number of people who would be deprived of their ancestral homes, for whom the Iraq government would have to find homes. M. d'Andrade then wanted to know to what extent the specific recommendations of the Mosul Commission regarding the Assyrians had been or would be given effect to in view of the fact that communities of some size, entirely Assyrian in character, had been and would be formed.
GREAT BRITAIN MISINTERPRETS THE SPECIAL RECOMMENDATIONS
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.")
· "A League of Nations Commission, convinced that the majority of the inhabitants of the Mosul region preferred British over Turkish rule, awarded the Mosul vilayet to Iraq. Yet the bulk of the territory formerly inhabited by the Assyrians was allotted to Turkey. This decision created a new political context for Assyrian ambitions by officially precluding the return of the community to their former homes in Hakkari."
NOTE: 1. This is the most that Mr. Wehrey says about the Mosul Commission; there is not a word in this paper on how or why or on what bases the League of Nation became involved in this issue. 2. The choice was not "British over Turkish rule," but Arab over Turkish rule. The Mosul Commission found that the majority would opt for Turkish over Arab rule if the British presence as the mandatory power in Iraq did not continue for an extended period of time, hence the Mosul Commission's conditions attached to the Iraq award. 3. Prewar Assyrian homegrounds were part of Turkey proper; they were not, as Wehrey tells us, "allotted to Turkey." The Mosul Commission, never consider Hakkari as 'disputed territory,' as the British documents hold.
· "The permanent settlement of the refugee Assyrian community and its political rights under the government of Iraq became a major concern to the League of Nations. Increased attention by the League emboldened the Assyrian patriarch to redefine Assyrian identity in more autonomous political and territorial terms-a transformation that was calculated to preserve the traditional power of the patriarchy."
NOTE: Not a single word is said in the Wehrey paper about the Special Recommendations made by the Mosul Commission in behalf of the Assyrians in the vilayet of Mosul.
· "Perhaps unknowingly, the League had adopted a narrative that did not necessarily correspond to the realities of Assyrian life and did not reflect the self-definition of most Assyrians, but rather one that specifically served the interests of the patriarch.......Efforts by the Mar Shimun to emphasize the homogeneity and autonomy of the Assyrian community culminated in the submission of the Assyrian National Petition to the League of Nations on June 18, 1932...the National Petition was the product of elite self-interest and a rising trend of factionalism."
NOTE: 1. What the League of Nations representatives saw in
northern Iraq was a people traumatized by the events of World
War I, far removed from their ancestral homes. Their demands
were basically, according to the League, due to a "profound
uneasiness" about their future. 2. On September 22, 1932, the
Nestorian patriarch sent to the Permanent Mandates Commission
a petition in which he reminded it that its recommendations
were not followed, and the mandatory power had revealed its
intention of leaving the Assyrians of Iraq in their present
state of insecurity. To
attribute this "profound uneasiness" as Wehrey does, to elite self-interest, and as serving the interests of the patriarch, does not lead to any understanding of this complex history.
Having said all this, it has to be pointed out that Assyrian claims-though based on one of the League's conditions of the Mosul award to Iraq-were such that they would not be granted to a minority by even a sovereign state, let alone by a nascent nation-state like Iraq, struggling for independence and for its very existence.
The accredited representatives of Great Britain who appeared before the Permanent Mandates Commission after 1930, rightly pointed out that the only solution for the Assyrians and the Kurds lay in their regarding themselves as Iraqis and being regarded as such by the Iraqi government; these representatives wisely discouraged the Commission from taking any unfortunate steps that might have a tendency to prevent the minorities concerned from regarding themselves as true citizens of the Iraqi state. But the tragedy of the Assyrian case was that until the end of 1930 the British government did not advise the League in the manner above. Until then the mandatory government had emphasized her position as mandatory power when her representative appeared before the Permanent Mandates Commission, while ignoring that position in her dealings with Iraq. This uncertain position of Great Britain was doubly tragic insofar as the Assyrians were concerned. Not only were they considered as a privileged minority by the League of Nations--owing to excessive British demands in their behalf after 1924--but also they were singled out by the mandatory power who permitted among them the growth of a loyalty exclusively directed toward Great Britain and a corresponding antipathy toward the Arab government that was even then theoretically, and was soon to become actually, their own. Thus the Assyrians--like the Armenians in Syria, where they were enlisted by the French mandatory government-- were put in an especially difficult position; they dared not to offend the mandatory power on whose good will their maintenance largely depended; on the other hand, they did not want to antagonize the neighboring population. The British commanders of the Assyrian Levies have reported that "the greatest persuasion" had to be used to have the Assyrians enlist. They "saw that by joining the levy force it would make it impossible for them to live side by side with Kurds afterwards, and they did not want to join for that reason."
As for the Iraqi nationalists, who were faced with a host of challenges, including rebellious Shi'te Arab tribes of the south, the Assyrians were nothing but refugees in their country, who owed Iraq immense gratitude with no special rights to claim. The country certainly did not owe them any special rights that other minorities of the land did not have. The Iraqi attitude toward the minority is best illustrated by Nuri al-Sa`id's observations on the Assyrian petition of July 17, 1932. He regretted that the "sympathy" which Iraq had shown the Assyrian refugees had "become a reason for encouraging them to put forward demands most of which are unreasonable..." Nuri al-Sa'id suggested that the Assyrians "should avoid anything likely to embarrass the Iraqi Government or arouse the jealousy of other elements of the Iraqi nation."
One wonders if Nuri al-Sa'id and the founding fathers of modern Iraq of the 1920s ever pondered this question in 1924: "Suppose the Mosul Commission of Inquiry recommmends to award the vilayet of Mosul to the Republic of Turkey instead of to Iraq?" As noted above, one of the recommended alternatives that the Council of League of Nations received from its Mosul Commission of Inquiry was that the entire vilayet could, under certain conditions, be returned to Turkey whose legal territory the province of Mosul still was "until that Power renounces her rights."
Interestingly, there was an echo of the League of Nations Mosul award in the media recently, as the Turkish leaders recalled the events of 1925 across their border. The Turkish Deputy Premier Bulent Ecevit, well aware of the conditions under which Turkey renounced its predominantly Kurdish territories to Iraq, was quoted in an Associated Press release from Ankara on November 8,1998, that the current Kurdish leader Barzani had confirmed that any solution to northern Iraq has to be within the territorial integrity of Iraq, adding that the Kurds "know the consequences of calling for an independent Kurdish state in this region." In 1992 Turkey had raised the question of annexing these northern regions if faced with the disintegration of Iraq, presumably that would be a move contrary to the agreements reached in 1925, when Turkey accepted the decision of the League of Nations in favor of Iraq.
Professor John Joseph
[Professor John Joseph is Lewis Audenreid Professor of History, emeritus, at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. To order his book, "The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East", call Brill at 1-800-337-9255. To contact Prof. Joseph directly write to firstname.lastname@example.org .]
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