From an online book... a very old one

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Posted by Jeff Atto from ( on Wednesday, September 10, 2003 at 2:40PM :

"When the League of Nations Council met in November 1933 the question of the Assyrian massacres appeared on the agenda. The Iraqi delegates put up their case - that represented in the Blue Book prepared by the Iraqi Government. They admitted that excesses had been committed by regular troops, and stated that these excesses, whatever the provocation, merited and received severe condemnation. Sir John Simon said the same thing. He said that any attempt to apportion the blame was beside the point. What was essential was that the future of the Assyrians should be safeguarded. Both the British and Iraqi Governments were convinced that this could only be done if the Assyrians could be found new homes outside Iraq.

The League of Nations and Great Britain have been severely criticized for their failure to carry out an inquiry into the events of last summer, and for their failure to obtain the punishment of the officers responsible. It is, however, difficult to see how any action could have been taken. Iraq is now an independent State, and would certainly have refused any League Inquiry. In any attempt to force this upon her, there existed, as has been stated in the previous chapter, so great a risk of a massacre of Christians in Mosul town, and the surrounding districts, that no responsible person would have dared to take it, for though rioting and disorders might have been stopped fairly quickly, they would not have been stopped quickly enough - especially in view of the attitude of the Iraqi Army - to prevent the death of, at least, hundreds of people. It may have been ignoble to give in before such a threat, but there was no alternative. It is possible, however, that a stronger diplomatic pressure might have been brought to bear on the Iraqi Government to carry out an inquiry of its own. It could have been pointed out that accounts of the atrocities committed by the Army had been published in every newspaper in the world, and that the good name of Iraq had been blackened. Iraq could best clear its name by holding an inquiry of its own and punishing any persons found guilty. In view of the temper of the people, it would have been impracticable to hold such an inquiry at once, but when the situation became calmer it would have been possible. The argument that the Army would not have brooked such an inquiry is not altogether valid. The Iraqi Army is rent by internal dissensions, and many of its officers, it is satisfactory to be able to say, have expressed their horror of what happened in the north. In any case, if Iraq is to be ruled by the Army the future is indeed dismal.

The Council of the League of Nations agreed to the statements of Great Britain and Iraq, and a special Committee was appointed to inquire into the possibility of the Assyrians being found new homes outside Iraq.

Unfortunately, up to the date of writing, more than a year after the Simmel massacre, hopes that the Assyrians could be quickly moved from Iraq have been disappointed. The difficulty has been to find somewhere for them to go to. Early in 1934 there appeared a possibility that the Assyrians might be settled in Southern Brazil, on the estates of a British Company which is developing certain forest tracts on the Parana River. The Brazilian Government tentatively approved of this plan, and in February the League of Nations sent out a committee to investigate on the spot. This committee consisted of Brigadier Browne, who for some years had been in command of the Assyrian Levies, Major Johnson of the Nansen Relief Office, Geneva, and the Counsellor to the Swiss legation in Brazil. The report was favourable, and , despite climatic and other differences, there appeared to be no reason why the Assyrians should not flourish in Brazil. Unfortunately, it gradually became clear that public opinion in Brazil was opposed to any considerable Assyrian immigration. Malicious reports had been spread regarding the quarrelsomeness and pugnacity of the Assyrians, and it was feared that they might be employed as mercenaries on one side or another in the civil wars which not infrequently break out in Brazil. Such fears were quite unfounded. The Assyrians certainly have a warlike history, but they have fought for only what they held to be their right and to protect themselves. They were not in the least likely to become involved in the quarrels of other people. Fears were also expressed, perhaps with more reason, that the Assyrians would not settle down as agriculturists, but would tend to flock into the already overcrowded towns. There were, besides, objections to the entry of any more Orientals into Brazil. It is quite true that the Assyrians are Orientals, though they are not black, as some Brazilians appear to have thought, but of all Orientals they would probably assimilate the most easily with the people of whatever country they go to. There are already many Syrians in Brazil, and for the most part they have proved excellent. The Government may reconsider its decision, but in the meantime it has had to yield to popular clamour, and an immigration law has been recently passed which appears to close the door to the entry into Brazil for some time to come.

The failure of the Brazil project was a great disappointment, and for some little time matters remained at a deadlock. The Committee for the settlement of the Assyrians which had been set up by the Council of the League of Nations in October 1933 dispatched urgent appeals to the Governments of a large number of countries, asking if there existed any possibility of settling Assyrians in their home or overseas territories. Among the countries consulted were Great Britain and the Dominions, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and Argentina. In the meantime, private inquiries had been made, especially in England, as to what possibilities existed. Many people in England considered that it would be of advantage to the British Empire if the Assyrians could be settled within it. Their value as fighting troops would not be lost, and economically they would be a considerable asset. But none of the self-governing Dominions are prepared to accept Asiatic immigrants. There is not enough room in Cyprus. The Assyrians themselves are averse to going to Africa, where the higher lands of Tanganyika would appear to be particularly suitable, though both here and in Kenya there are already sufficient mixtures of races to perplex the local administration. Outside the British Empire, Syria has been suggested, but here the French mandate cannot endure for ever, and the Assyrians would eventually find themselves once again under the rule of a Moslem majority; apart from which, practically all the available lands are now occupied by Armenian refugees from Turkey. Of the other countries, the Argentine would appear to be the ideal, especially in regard to climate, but there is not the slightest reason to think that the Government of that country would consider the entry of large numbers of Assyrians, especially in view of the economic blizzard now raging.

The communications of the Assyrian League Committee has so far only produced two replies which can in any way be termed favourable. One was from the French Government, which on September 24th wrote that the settlement of some Assyrian families in the bend of the Niger (a little distance south of Timbuctoo) might be contemplated. It was pointed out that much investigation was required before it could be ascertained whether such a settlement was likely to be a success. The climate alone renders this most uncertain.

The other reply was received from the British Foreign Office, officials of which have been most assiduous in their efforts to find a solution for the Assyrian problem. In this reply, dated September 22, 1934, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, after pointing out the very great difficulties of finding any suitable home for the Assyrians, stated that in the British Colonial Empire the only possible place appeared to be the Rupununi district of British Guiana. He wrote as follows:

The area is an extensive one, and should be sufficiently large to accommodate all the Assyrians who may desire to leave Iraq. At present it is for the most part unsettled. A considerable number of horses and cattle are grazed upon it, and it appears to have possibilities of further development as a stock-raising area. Its agricultural potentialities have not yet been properly tested, but it is thought that limited areas would lend themselves to cultivation sufficiently to meet the requirements of the Assyrian settlers and their stock. Much closer examination will, however, be necessary, with particular regard to considerations of health and climate and to pastoral and agricultural conditions, before the district can definitely be pronounced as suitable for Assyrian settlement, and an independent and impartial investigation conducted on the spot with this object, under the auspices of the League of Nations, appears to His Majesty’s Government to be essential for the satisfaction both of the Council of the League and of the Assyrians themselves, before any decision is reached. The Government of British Guiana estimate that a mission of investigation would require to spend three months in the colony for the proper accomplishment of its task……

The land concerned is the property of the Government of British Guiana, but certain parts of it are at present leased to private interests. The largest of these interests is the Rupununi Development Company, which holds approximately 1,500 square miles of what is probably the best grazing lands. The Government of British Guiana have accordingly taken the necessary steps to secure an option under which, if the League of Nations decide to proceed with the scheme, the entire assets of the above company could be purchased for the sum of £35,000 at any time prior to March 20, 1935. The assets include not only land leases, but a quantity of cattle, horses, and buildings, which should be a useful nucleus for any settlement operation.

There are in existence in the area certain well-defined Indian reservations which must be preserved and excluded from the land available for settlement. But these amount to only 855 square miles out of a total of 13,000 square miles, and they are so situated as not to present, as far as can be foreseen, any likelihood of disturbance of Indians by the settlement of Assyrians in adjoining areas and vice versa.

The climate of Rupununi district is tropical, lying as it does only 5° north of the equator, but it is reputed to be healthy, though, of course, very different from that to which the Assyrians have been accustomed. There are two hilly portions rising to 2,000 - 3,000 feet above sea level. The remainder of the area is open savannahs, consisting mainly of undulating park lands of mean height of 300 feet. The lower areas flood to a depth of 1-4 feet during the rainy season. The temperature ranges from 91.9°F. to 71.5°F., the nights being uniformly cool. The rainfall ranges from 55 to 80 inches, two distinct rainy seasons occurring. Perhaps the principal difficulty met with would be that of communications, as at present there are few roads, and the rivers are unnavigable owing to frequent rapids.

The Council of the League accepted the suggestion of the British Government that a committee should be sent to Guiana to investigate on the spot. Brigadier Browne was again appointed a member, and he is accompanied by an Italian agricultural expert. The Nasen Relief Office is not this time represented. The committee left England early in October, and its report should be received early in the new Year. If this report is satisfactory, the main difficulty, that of finding a place for the Assyrians to go to, will have been solved. But another difficulty remains, that of finance. At the time that the Brazilian scheme was being considered, it was estimated, perhaps rather highly, that the transport and settlement of each individual man, woman, and child who left Iraq would cost about £32. (The high cost of transport to such a distant place as Brazil was one of the first objections to that scheme.) As noted earlier in this chapter, it is still uncertain how many Assyrians will eventually decide to go. It is just possible that at the last moment a number will shrink from the long journey and the necessarily uncertain future in an unknown land. The quiet of the past year in Iraq, too, may have to some extent allayed their fears. In any case it is absolutely certain that at least half of the Assyrians in Iraq will wish to leave.

With regard to the remainder, one view is that either most of them will stay, or that practically all of them will go. The Mar Shimun, who has spent the last year, in the course of which he had a nervous breakdown, moving between Geneva and London - the other members of his family are still in Cyprus - will undoubtedly use all his influence to induce all Assyrians to leave Iraq, if their new home appears to be in any way suitable. It thus can be stated positively that the numbers who will leave cannot be less than 10,000, and very possibly will be double that number. On the basis of £32 a head, the total cost of settlement of 20,000 Assyrians in Brazil would have been at least £600,000. Though the cost of transport to British Guiana would not be less than to Brazil, say £120,000 for 10,000 persons, the cost of settlement may perhaps be expected to be somewhat less.

Nevertheless, the initial costs of transport and settlement for 10,000 persons cannot well be much less than £250,000, and if double that number leave Iraq, as is by no means improbable, £500,000 would be a conservative estimate of the amount of money which will have to be provided. And who is to foot the bill? The Iraqi Government has officially stated that it will assist to the limit of its financial resources, but no one has suggested that it should contribute more than £100,000, especially as the maintenance of the refugee camp and other relief works has cost Iraq upwards of £20,000 during the past year. And here it must be remembered that both in the Iraq Press and Parliament there have been protests against paying anything at all. The old arguments have been brought forward that Iraq was in no way responsible for the misfortunes of the Assyrians, and that the Iraqis had never invited them to come to their country. These arguments must have carried considerable weight had it not been for the unfortunate events of the last summer, even if it must be admitted that Iraqis are apt to forget that but for the lavish expenditure on the part of Great Britain, there would be no Iraq at all today.

The Assyrians, too, should be able to make a substantial contribution. Prior to the summer of 1933, they were, as a community, quite well off, since they are an extraordinarily thrifty people and save money in a remarkable manner. Many of them commonly carry on their person sums of £50 and more in gold. I remember once asking the Qaimaqam of Amadiyah whether he considered that the Assyrians possessed as much money as was generally supposed. He turned round to an Assyrian police corporal who was in the room, and said: “You have a £100 in gold, haven’t you?” and the Assyrian replied with a smile, “Oh yes.” Several of the prisoners who were brought into Mosul at the end of August after the fighting were found to be carrying £50 to £60 in gold, which, of course, was returned to them when they were released. Another Assyrian used to come in frequently to ask for a police escort to go out with him to help him to dig up 60 pounds in gold which he had buried in the mountains. Many Assyrians, too, had money out on loan with their Kurdish neighbours. Unfortunately, as already stated, the Assyrian losses during the disturbances, assessed in cash, probably amounted to £50,000, and possibly were much more. Nevertheless, those sections of the community which did not suffer directly, still possess a good deal of money, and it should be possible for them to put up at once £25,000 or even more towards the cost of transport. Even then, however, a considerable sum, possibly as much as £400,000 will have to be found. At Geneva, Sir John Simon has stated that the British Government is prepared to assist financially, if the other nations belonging to the League do the same.

The League Council has not yet considered this offer, but it is clear that few other countries will, in fact, be ready to contribute anything. Many of them, as is well known, have been in arrears with their ordinary subscriptions to the League. It is almost inevitable that they will point to the Declaration made by the accredited representative of Great Britain to the Permanent Mandates Commission in June 1931. This statement has been quoted in full in an earlier chapter. (See Chapter VI). The British Government may be able to claim that the unfortunate events of the summer of 1933, which have made necessary the removal of the Assyrians from Iraq, were the fault of the Iraqis, or of the Assyrians, or of both, but it may be difficult to persuade other countries that, apart from anything else, “moral responsibility” does not infer “financial responsibility” as well. (The following article from the Journal de Geneve of May 17, 1934, is fairly typical of comment on the Continent)"

-- Jeff Atto
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