M o s u l

Mosul

EXPLOITING THE ASSYRIAN PRESENCE IN IRAQ
A Commentary by John Joseph
on
Frederick MWehrey's
NEGOTIATING THE ASSYRIAN IDENTITY IN IRAQ, 1919-1933

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.

Article to be continued:

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[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.")


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.
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.

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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.

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