|Re: THE GREAT WAR|
- Monday, October 4 2004, 2:52:41 (CEST)|
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The Russians, on their return to Urmiyah and on their capture of Van in April 1915, made further attempts to induce the Assyrians to join them. They promised arms and other material assistance. Finally, though not without reluctance, the Mar Shimun yielded to the pressure of the tribal maliks, who, infuriated by the massacres of Assyrians at Albaq, ardently desired to fight to Turks. Some members of the patriarchal family, who favoured neutrality and who were suspected of treachery, were murdered in cold blood.
The Assyrians decalred war on Turkey on May 10, 1915, and that was the beginning of their terrible Odyssey. The Turks who brought in the Kurds to help attacked them and burnt the villages in the valleys. They evdeavoured to exercise personal pressure on the Mar Shimun by threatening the life of Hormuzd, his brother, who at the beginning of the war was being educated in Constantinople and was now in Mosul. The Governor of this town sent word to Mar Shimun that if the Assyrians dared to rebel Hormuz would be executed. The Patriarch replied that he had to consider his people rather than his brother and Hormuzd was duly hanged at Mosul, as brutal a murder as any in the bloody annals of the Turks.
The Assyrians then found that the Russian help never came, for the Russian forces were, at the moment, in difficulties elsewhere. All that the Russians sent were four hundred Cossacks, who were treacherously ambushed and annihilated them, the Assyrians took to the high mountain, whither pursuit was difficult. At 10.000 feet and more life was out knowing that the first snow of October would drive the Assyrians down to their doom. A heroic journey was then undertaken by Mar Shimu himself, who to relieve the sore straits of his people made his perilous way with two companions down to Urmiyah. The Russians there told him that no help would be given and they advised him to remain in Urmiyah and so save himself. With true nobility he refused and made his way back to his people in the mountains. Even in such an apparently hopeless position the Assyrian did not despair but decided that if the Russians would not come to them they would force a way down to Urmiyah themselves. They succeeded, to the astonishment of Russians and Turks alike. Taking an unexpected route, they were able to avoid pursuit-indeed, the Kurds did not pursue with any ardour-and after great hardships the whole people, perhaps forty thousand in all, safely reached Urmiayh.
At Urmiyah they were at first secure, but their presence was a thorn in the side of the Persian authorities. These could hardly be expected to welcome the wild Christian highlanders. Fortunately they were too frightened to do much, though one brutal and unprovoked massacre of hundred Assyrians did take place. The Assyrians themselves,
on the testimony of Dr. McDowell, and American missionary at Urmiyah, behave rather better than might have been expected. They were guilty of some looting certainly, but little in view of what they had just suffered. They were employed as irregular troops by the Russians, two battalions being organized under Russian officers and a third under the direct command of the Mar Shimun. In the course of their counter raids against the Kurds, they obtained on more than one occasion a bloody revenge for their lost villages. The Mar Shimun was sent to visit to Tiflis, where he was received and decorated by the Grand Duke Nicholas. Other decorations were given to other leaders. On the whole from January 1916 until the spring of 1917 the Assyrians led a quiet life. The situation was, as already related, to put it mildly, anomalous. Persia was an independent and neutral country, and yet the Russians were in complete control of Urmiyah. To all intents and purposes the Persian Government did not exist there.
Early in 1917 the Russian front collapsed as a result of the Revolution. The Assyrians were once again deserted by their Allies. In one way they were, however, much better off than before. They had plenty of food, while ample ammunition and rifles had been left behind by the retreating Russians. They were, however, completely and entirely isolate. An attempt to form a front from Baghdad to the Caucasus with the help of Armenians, Kurds, and Assyrians came to nothing. The Armenians, as usual, could not agree among themselves. Simco, Agha of the Shekak Kurds, whom it was hoped to use, was a self-seeking and treacherous scoundrel. He could only be trusted as far as his personal interest were concerned. Persia, though far from belligerent, was passively hostile. The news from the Western Front became at the end of 1917 more and more unfavourable to the Allied Powers. Simco, with his sole desire of being on the winning side, soon deserted, and in February 1918 the Persian authorities plucked up courage to order the Assyrians to surrender their arms. Naturally they refused.
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