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XII. THE CHRISTIAN REFUGEES.

I. ASSYRIANS.

The conclusion of the year 1919, saw some 50,000 Assyrian and Armenian refugees still in camp at Ba'quba where they had been since November, 1918, their destiny being a problem for the Administration, and their maintenance for the Exchequer. It was obvious that they had to be settled. somehow, but in the general uncertainty as to relations with Turkey and Persia, of which countries the refugees were in theory the subjects, the question of settlement was not easy of solution.

The Assyrians, who numbered about 35,000, were the more important element, for they had been recognised as allies by Great Britain in the war, and had been used by her in the campaign of 1919 in Kurdistan. A definite promise of settlement under a benevolent, if not a British government, had been made to them, and their land, if not within our administered area, was at least on the immediate frontier. The Armenian problem was greater in itself, but the numbers in the camp, (some 15,000) were smaller. They were simply refugees, and whatever the fate of their country, it was not under British direction. Government had no further duty to them than that of transporting them to their home when a home could be found, and maintaining them meanwhile.

Various schemes for settling the Assyrians had been mooted; and the most promising had been their suggested settlement in an enclave in the district of Amadiyah. This had been approved by Col. A. T. Wilson, (then acting Civil Commissioner) and by Col. Leachman, Political Officer of Mosul. It was welcome to at least a great part of the people, and the Assyrian Battalion raised among them to serve in Kurdistan, (which did good service in the 1919 campaign), had indeed taken some rather drastic steps towards clearing the country. The home Government, however, was unable to come to a decision on the point until the British troops had been withdrawn from the country and the project rendered impracticable.

The scheme had therefore to be dropped.

Amadiyah
Enclave

Scheme.

The Assyrian refugees were divided into two main bodies, the Persian Conditions subjects, who were the plainsmen of Urumiyah, and the Turkish of problem. subjects, the mountaineers of Hakkiari. Both were clear as to what they wanted, and both wanted the same thing, viz., return to their own homes, and settlement there under British protection. Unfortunately, the homes were in different districts, and though the people formed one congregation in theory, in practice most of them cared only for their own clan or village and very little for the fate of others. Further, the strain of war, and the conditions of life in a refugee camp, had broken up the old organization of the people under their headmen (maliks) and Patriarch, and nothing had taken its place. Free maintenance, with liberal payment for all services, rendered even to themselves, had pauperized a type already inclined to live by beggary in some form.

The Urumiyah folk, though fair soldiers when trained were not capable of self-defence if replaced in their old home. Further, the feeling against such replacement was far more bitter in Persia than was the case in Kurdistan. In Kurdistan clans had always fought and the quarrels had not always followed religious lines: the great war appeared as no more than the largest known instance of an old custom. In Persia, the rising of the Christians appeared as almost a slave insurrection, in which the slaves had shown themselves better men than their masters-an unforgiveable offence! Moreover, had the Persian Government been far readier to see the Christians back than was actually the case, they were in no position to guarantee their safety. The only practical authority in the Urumiyah district was that of Simko, the Shikak Agha, who had murdered the Assyrian Patriarch in 1918. The hands of the British Government were tied by the fact that it had promised integrity to Persia and was then in the position of adviser to the Shah.

The problem of the mountaineers was simpler. They are excellent fighting material in themselves, and formed, as hinted, part of the established disorder of things in Kurdistan. Many Kurds were not unwilling to see their old neighbour foes back on the old lands, if once they could be sure that the return did not mean Christian domination. Naturally, Turkish intriguers assured them that nothing less was intended, and the Christians were quite ready to complicate matters by their conviction that the British Government really wanted to annex all Kurdistan, and, further, that British protection implied the right to revenge all old quarrels.

and his plan.

It was at this time, the spring of 1920, that Agha Petros came forward Agha Petros with his plan for the disposal of his nation. Petros was an Assyrian mountaineer, of the Baz tribe, who had in his youth been a mere adventurer, and earned a living (like many of his nation) by collecting money from the charitable in America for non-existent orphanages. In the later stages of the war, (particularly after the murder of the Patriarch, Mar Shim'un), he

Delays.

had come to the front and taken the lead; he had shown himself a good fighter, though real generalship was beyond him. He was certainly the most active leader of his nation, but his incurable disposition to intrigue had brought him into bad odour with the British authorities at Ba'quba. He seemed to be, however, the best man available, and was so accepted by the British. His scheme was for the occupation of an area in the lower hill district on the Turko-Persian border, east of a line drawn from Gawar to Ushnu, and extending thence towards Urumiyah. With 8,000 armed men of his nation he could, he considered, occupy this area and allow the Urumiyah folk to return to their homes, while such mountaineers as did not accept settlement in the area itself might in time filter back to their mountain homes in Hakkiari. The Assyrians would then constitute a buffer state, of which Petros would probably be the ruler, between Turkey, Persia and 'Iraq. Petros would command the force to be raised, and would be accompanied by a few British officers in a purely advisory capacity.

The scheme was not impossible, on certain conditions. Those conditions were: (1) that the local Kurds should raise no objection, and turn a deaf ear to the Turkish intriguers among them: (2) that the difficulties of the transport of a huge caravan of women and children, as well as fighting men, by the very hard route chosen, did not prove insuperable: (3) that Petros should prove able to control his own people, so as to keep order among them during the operation, and induce the warlike mountaineers to convoy the plainsmen (for whom they cared not at all) to safety in the fat plain west of Urumiyah before returning to their own mountains. Petros, after the habit of his people, overlooked all obstacles on a road that was to lead to prosperity for his people and greatness for himself, and the scheme was accepted, perhaps too readily.

By April, 1920, some three-fourths of the nation had accepted the plan; the remainder of the nation hung back, under the leadership of the Patriarchal house. This family is theoretically the head of the nation, and had actually been so during much of the war, under the then Patriarch Benjamin Mar Shim'un. On his murder in 1918, a younger and weaker brother had been selected for the semi-hereditary office and the family had dropped into the background, and were kept there by the fact that the man selected, Paulus Mar Shim'un, was dying of tuberculosis, and actually died in the course of 1920. The subsequent election and consecration, (partly by family influence), of a child of thirteen years to the Patriarchate, at once accentuated the differences in the nation, and the difficulties of the Patriarchal house and party. The opposition of this party was therefore negligible. A small proportion of the people, some 4,500 mountaineers as well as a number of Urumiyans who had remained loyal to the Patriarch, were settled in villages in the Dohuk-'Aqrah districts, but the available corn lands were insufficient for more. In May, 1920, the transport of the nation from Ba'quba to Mindan, the starting point selected, was begun. The route proposed led from 'Aqrah through the difficult Barzan country to Gawar, the road to Urumiyah is easy.

whence

Big dumps of food and munitions were collected at Jujar, near Aqrah for the purpose. These arrangements were carried out with signal success by the Director of Repatriation, Colonel Cunliffe Owen.

Before any start could be made, the Arab rising of 1920 had caused a general suspension of action. Ba'quba camp was attacked, and the dumps at Jujar were threatened by the Surchi Kurds. It is true that the Assyrian contingents-to their own great satisfaction and our great advantagedefeated both attacks, but the condition of the country prevented any further movements until the end of October. The pending departure of Sir A. T. Wilson was a second reason for delay. Short of unusual good luck in the form of a late winter, the season was undoubtedly late to give great chance of a successful issue, but great expense had already been incurred in preparations and it seemed to be a case of now or never. Accordingly on October 27th, 1920, Agha Petros' army was sent over the 'Aqrah Pass. It comprised about 4,000 men, armed with good rifles, mostly of the Turkish type, and several mountain guns: this was to occupy the territory, and the women were to follow later. There were also three British Lieutenants. Food in abundance had been collected at Jujar but the army proposed to live on the country and much of the stores provided was left behind.

were

Some sort of arrangement had, it was understood, been made between Petros and the local Kurdish Aghas, but whatever the nature of the treaty, it did not prevent opposition being offered at the crossing of the Zab, by Faris Agha of Zibar, and Shaikh Ahmad of Barzan, both of whom actively hostile to the British authorities in 'Iraq. This was overcome, and Faris was driven off to the west, towards Nerva and Raikan, Kurdish districts that had always been loyal to us. Petros ordered a pursuit, and the clans of Tiari and Tkhoma,-which had been imprudently posted on the left wing of the advancing force, thus found themselves moving in the direction of their own mountains, with arms enough to wreak full vengeance on ancient enemies. The temptation was too much for them, and-abandoning

the scheme and the comrades for which they had never had any enthusiasm,--
they marched off on a great raid on the two districts named, plundering both
of them, and incidentally the Chal area also, regardless of the fact that they
had invited the Agha of that place to assist them against his old foe, Faris
of Zibar. Meantime, the balance of the force, namely the Urumiyah men,
deprived of its best fighting material, came to a halt in the unfamiliar hills,
lost all order, and presently drifted back to 'Aqrah and Mindan, having
lost about 100 men from cold (for the winter had set in early with heavy
rain, and the rivers were in flood), several hundred rifles, and the bulk of their
transport animals. The Tiari and Tkhoma men continued their wild career
through Nerva and Chal, but were ultimately checked by Haji Rashid Beg,
the Rais appointed by the British over the Barwar district, and by the
British Assistant Political Officer of Dohuk, who had hurried to the scene
of action with a few police. They also returned to the Mindan camp.
Thus, as had been feared by many who knew too well the lack of discipline
and union amongst the people, the scheme ended in fiasco, and the attempt
had only increased the Kurdish distrust, both of the people and of the
English, which British officials had been attempting to allay. The choice
of route, the late date of the start, the absence of proper supply, and the bad
leadership of Petros, all contributed to this result, but in fact the absence of
any common feeling or real organization among the people would have been
enough to render success impossible. Even had there been proper training
and discipline and direct British control, Agha Petros' scheme was a diffi-
cult one.
There now remained nothing but to compensate the Kurds for the
damage done, and to think out a more practicable plan.

At the beginning of the year 1921, some ten thousand Assyrians and as Repatriation by many Urumiyans, some twenty thousand refugees in all, had been recollected Infiltration. in Mindan camp and the prospects of successful repatriation were apparently further off than ever. It was realised that at all costs the Mindan camp would have to be broken up during 1921, and accordingly a scheme for repatriation by infiltration was at once got out and despatched to Baghdad for approval in the middle of February. Briefly speaking, the idea was not to let loose the whole body of Assyrians upon Kurdistan in a horde but, relying on our control of the Kurdish leaders, to settle the mountaineers, tribe by tribe, with a reasonable interval between each move, the nearest to Amadiyah first, and the further sections passing successively through them, either to their homes or as near to their homes as suitable locations could be found for them.

We were emboldened to attempt this plan because it was known that some of the Assyrians had been in communication with Haji Rashid Beg with a view to returning to Barwar and that he had given them a favourable reply. If he maintained this attitude, the scheme was half insured and, as it turned out, he went even further to meet our wishes than we had dared to hope.

Sanction to proceed with the scheme was not received until the very end of May. This meant not only that none of the refugees would be able to reach their destinations in time to raise any crops that year, but also that the rate of settlement would have to be far more rapid than had been intended. Actually the whole of the twenty thousand odd refugees, with the exception of clearing up parties, were out of the camp by the beginning of August.

The sum allotted to us for the purpose was thirty lakhs for the Assyrians and a similar sum for the Urumiyans. After making a large allotment for contingencies a budget was drawn up in which an allotment of Rs. 122 was allowed for every person in the camp, man, woman and child. A severe drain was subsequently made upon the fund for contingencies by the intimation that the cost of the upkeep of the camp from April 1st to the beginning of the dispersal would have to be borne by the Dispersal Fund. Even in spite of this it was found possible, owing chiefly to the speed with which the scheme was worked, to keep within the limits set, and towards the end of the year, after setting aside a sum of two lakhs for necessary poor relief during the winter and another sufficient sum to cover all visible contingencies, it was found possible to relinquish a sum of two lakhs for the settlement of the Armenians at Nahr Umar.

Of the settlement of the Urumiyans there is little to be said. In spite of grave warnings as to the difficulties they would encounter, practically all of them decided to endeavour to reach Persia via Baghdad. They They were released from the camp in daily batches of 100 (subsequently increased to 150), took their money in Mosul and departed down the line.

As had been predicted to them, their subsequent fate was not fortunate. On reaching the Persian frontier they encountered the opposition both of the Persian Government and of the local tribes. Robbed of what little they possessed, many turned back to find such occupation as they could in the Iraq. A few hundred of these are still concentrated in a small camp in Baghdad, for which the Repatriation Department gave a grant to cover the original outlay. Some have reached Tabriz where they are said to be living in a state of misery.

Refusal of the
Crumiyans

to participate.

Settlement of
the Mountaineers.

As regards the mountaineers, they were sent out of camp in sections of roughly one thousand persons at intervals of about a week. Great credit is due to the Repatriation Department officers, especially Messrs Charge, Holmes and Burn, for the clock-work like method in which these departures were effected and the very precise nominal rolls-very necessary if the payment of the allotments was to be kept correct-issued with every party. The intention was that each section should go first to Dohuk to be paid its allotments, but as things turned out a good many of them were paid in Mosul. Mr. Shim'un was lent by the Director of Repatriation to carry out payments there.

When the actual dispersal from Mindan began the uncertainty of our northern frontier gave rise to the greatest difficulty. All the Assyrians were unanimous in their determination to remain within the British sphere. The frontier of the Mosul Wilayat, up to which we had been administering since the Armistice, included the whole of Barwari Bala, up to, but just exclusive of Ashuta and Lizan. The Assyrians had not unnaturally hoped and expected that the frontier as laid down in the Peace Treaty would include their country, which is conterminous with the Mosul Wilayat. Actually, however, the frontier as described in the Treaty of Sevres not only left the Nestorian country to the Turks, but actually gave them Amadiyah, which is not only economically dependent on Mosul, but is strategically the door to this part of Kurdistan, since it has easy access to Zakho, Dohuk and 'Aqrah. Its exclusion from the boundaries of 'Iraq would, moreover, hand over to the Turks, not only the Nestorians of Barwari and the Chaldeans of the Sapna, but also men like Haji Abdul Latif who had held Amadiyah for us against Turkish agents and Turkish intrigues. The Assyrians were clamouring for an assurance, and any final assurance on the point, even if forthcoming, was bound to take weeks, if not months, to obtain. Rightly or wrongly, the assumption was made that the frontier would be revised, and that at any rate the actual Mosul Wilayat would eventually pass to 'Iraq. On this assumption the process of dispersal was carried out, in the hope that in due course it would be supported and the Nestorian Christians not handed over once again to the tender mercies of the Turks.

The Assyrians themselves proved extremely difficult to deal with. The good intentions of Surma Khanum, sister of the late Patriarch, and of Mar Timotheus, the Nestorian Patriarch of Malabar, were not enough to restore the lost authority of the youthful Mar Shim'un, while the intrigues of Agha Petros, who exhorted his followers not to fall in with any British scheme as he was about to conclude with the French an arrangement for an autonomous Assyria under French protection, made the people unwilling to listen to our counsels. The natural fanaticism of the Assyrians themselves made the problem all the more difficult. It must not be forgotten that in normal times they are just as truculent as the other local Kurdish tribes, and no less savare. The right of a Nestorian Malik taking his place as a matter of course at the head of a conference of Kurdish chiefs does much to dispel the entirely erroneous idea that the Nestorians were a class of downtrodden slaves.

The bulk of the work of settlement fell on Mr. Jardine who has met the many problems which faced him with unfailing knowledge, patience and discretion. The presence of Dr. Wigram, who before the war was in charge of the Archbishop's Mission to the Assyrians, has been of great service in keeping touch with the people, in gaining their confidence and in persuading them to produce recruits for the Assyrian Levies, whose good behaviour and growing efficiency have been a matter of general surprise and admiration. Mr. Lampard, of the American Mission, has done most valuable service in treating the malaria-stricken villages of the Dohuk colony.

As has been mentioned some colonies of mountaineers and Urumiyans had been settled in 1920, in the 'Aqrah-Dohuk plains. The Urumiyans showed tendencies to settle down and make the best of their lot, and their colonies should have been most successful. Unfortunately, as was the case with the mountaineers also, they were heavily stricken by malignant malaria in the late summer and autumn. It should be noted in this respect that the Assyrians who settled in the mountains have also suffered in this way and that generally the incidence of fever among all classes of the population is reported to have been very heavy this year.

Most of the Assyrians regard their residence in these colonies as purely temporary, until they can move towards their own homes. It is much to be hoped that a sugestion that a number of these should be settled in Barwari Zair, where there is ample and good land for them, may be carried into effect this spring.

In addition to these colonies, a small party of 300 Barwari Bala left Mindan for their homes before the actual dispersal scheme started. These, by arrangement with Haji Rashid Beg, were well received, entered at once into their houses which had been occupied and kept in good repair by the Kurds, and received their Tapu share (in these parts one-half) of the products from their lands which the Kurds had cultivated.

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