|The Real Story of Badr Khan....|
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...and the attack on Nestorian villagers in the 1840s. This needs to be compared with the verion in Aprim's book. Later.
Once again I turn to Dr Joseph’s account as one of the very few, if not only, scholarly accounts of this incident. I place all quotes here to save people having to look it up for themselves…they are free to check his “The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East”.
The backdrop to this story must begin with brief mention of Russian armed intervention and war with Persia and Ottoman Turkey in the 1820s, resulting in occupation by Christian armies of the Czar… followed by Western missionary intrusion into Persia and the Hakkari mountains of the eastern Ottoman lands where Kurd and Nestorian had lived side by side and intermixed for centuries…both of them at odds with the central Turkish government which longed to bring them under tighter restraints. Into this volatile situation came missionaries from European nations, mostly Italy, Germany, France and England to be joined by those from America. Not only were there national jealousies but also doctrinal wars between competing sects for influence among the Nestorians.
“The Russo-Persian conflict had already intensified Christian-Muslim animosities . Gradually through the nineteenth century, these out-of-the-way places, where the Nestorians had found refuge for the last five centuries or more, were to become a hornet’s nest, disturbed by the political and cultural imperialism of the ‘Christian’ powers.” (p. 69)
In the 1820s Urmiyah had been briefly occupied by Russian armies and a series of incursions by the Orthodox Russians into both Persia and Turkey, and the weaker countries in that region, in the coming years caused one diplomat concern: “The injury to Britain in India,” he warned, would be ‘permanent and irreparable’.
“In most of the provinces of the Caucasus that Russia conquered. Muslims had for centuries been rulers over Christians. When the role of ruler and ruled was reversed, the Christian element was favored. With their suppressed anger released, the newly emancipated Christian serfs domineered over their former rulers as they themselves had never been. Forced into submission the revengeful Muslim tribesmen fought back; for years they were in a state of perpetual rebellion, suppressed by Russia with a brutality equal to, if not surpassing, any of the Persians and Turks. Russians, we read, exterminated ‘entire tribes, burning villages, confiscating cattle and leaving smouldering ruins in the wake of her armies…Muslim leaders tried to rekindle the religious feelings of their flocks. Using the only means that they possessed, they incited their followers to fight a holy war.” (p 70)
Speaking of the Nestorians of the province of Urmiyah in Persia an American missionary wrote in 1831;
“Located as they were among the Persians, Kurds and Arabs, they would make ideal missionaries if educated and supported. Smith wrote that the missionary who would come to the Nestorians would feel the advantage of his position; he would feel that ‘he had found a prop upon which to rest the lever that will overturn the whole system of Mohammedan delusion, in the center of which he has fixed himself; that he is lighting a fire which will shine upon the corruption of the Persian on the one side, and upon the barbarities of the Kurd on the other, until all shall come to be enlightened by its brightness; and the triumph of faith will crown his labor of love.’” (p. 69)
Such heartfelt enthusiasm to overthrow their “benighted” religion must have communicated itself to the Muslim neighbors among whom the Nestorians had maintained peaceful relations for hundreds of years. Muslims could not have helped but look askance at the Western missionaries who brought these sentiments nor their Christian neighbors who welcomed them and were to be enlisted in a mission that was an insult and affront to every Muslim.
“The head of the mission, Justin Perkins, a tutor at Amherst College, who was to live and labor in Urmiyah for thirty-six years, was told by the Secretary of the Board that his main object would be to enable the Nestorian Church, through the grace of God, to exert a commanding influence in the ‘spiritual regeneration of Asia’ (the Middle East, mine)….Justin Perkins agreed with Smith on the strategic location of Urmiyah. ‘What position’, he wondered, ‘could be more important and advantageous, in its bearing on the conversion of the world , for a Christian church to hold, than that occupied by the Nestorians, situated as they are, in the centre of Mohammedan domain, and far towards the centre of benighted Asia!’” ( p. 69)
Their zeal to save the world and Muslims from their “errors” depended upon enlisting Nestorians in their proposed army of evangelicals. Nothing could have promised greater disaster for these remote Christian villagers than this Crusade, for which the missionaries arrived armed with promises and hints of support and protection; protection the Nestorians would need as never before due precisely to the presence and aims of the missionaries themselves.
“Smith and Dwight gained the impression that the hope that ‘we would free them from their oppressions was uppermost in their minds’. Even the Sunni Kurds, oppressed by the Shiah Persians, were happy to see the two Americans.” (p. 69)
The oppression these people suffered was due to the harsh feudal system which afflicted both Christian and Muslim. Whether willfully or no, the missionaries saw only religious persecution and would go on to play this chord again and again making another prophecy of their’s come true. To the missionaries it was “persecution” for Christians to be in a minority position to Islam, no matter that they lived in peace and harmony with Muslims. Even more; the very act of living in peace with Muslims was almost blasphemy, as far as missionaries were concerned; a harmony and tolerance they saw as unacceptable and came specifically to destroy.
This was the backdrop of war and Russian Christian incursions and brutalities which would soon draw in British interests as well. These were the forces reshaping relations between Christian and Muslim which would play out so tragically in the attack of Badr Khan against Christian villagers. The first wholesale massacre of innocent people in that region was inflicted by the Christian nation of Russia upon the Muslims. The resentment and suspicion was already there and growing as a result of local Christian support for Russian brutality when the missionaries arrived to “save Muslims from their errors”. It’s no surprise that these zealous missionaries were seen as one more incursion; another arm of the foreign legions led by Christian nations against the mountain villagers of the Muslim faith. These just happened to be the people who far outnumbered and surrounded the Christian villagers. The peace these two sides had maintained for centuries was disturbed and then shattered not by hatred between them, but by foreign interference which soon made enemies of them.
Though the missionaries were united in their determination to stamp out Islam and its iniquities…”What was ‘still more affecting’ to Perkins, was the ‘moral degradation’ of the Nestorians themselves.” (p.. 71)
It would seem that at least this missionary cared as little for the Nestorians as he did the Muslims, his only interest being in using one against the other.
“By 1840 when the American missionaries arrived on the scene, Badr Khan in alliance with the Kurdish chiefs of the neighboring provinces, had set up an almost independent confederacy under his own rule.” (p.72)
“He struck his own coins, had a munition factory, and his name was mentioned in Friday prayers. His rule is said to have been just and peaceful. Two American missionaries who visited him before his downfall reported that under his government the guilty found no escape and that bribery and favoritism were unknown there.” (p.72)
“The ‘independent’ Nestorian tribes were given a voice in the councils of the Hakkari tribes on condition that they supply a contingent of armed men in times of crisis.” (p.73)
The missionaries’ interest in the Nestorian tribes stemmed from their desire to rekindle the apostolic traditions of the Nestorian church and send these Christians among the Muslims in order to preach the gospel and convert them away from their “devil” religion. This was an extremely dangerous thing to do and the hostility this engendered between Muslims and Christians, where none had existed before, was great. Surely such moves could only lead to disaster.
“After his visit to the patriarch Grant wrote to the Board in Boston that he had spent the two most interesting months of his life among the mountain Nestorians. He reported that he had kindled ‘a new hope in their bosoms’ as he had spoken in their councils of the possibility of their branches spreading ‘over all these lands’. They ‘eagerly drank the encouragements I presented’ to put forth untiring efforts and prayers for a return ‘of the golden days when their churches and schools would spread throughout Asia.’” (p. 74)
Not only did this American missionary raise their hopes, but he did so under the impression that the Nestorians were the lost tribes of Israel. He couldn’t even get that right…(or did he?) (p. 75)
“The Kurds must have felt threatened by the Frankish (all westerners were referred to as “Franks”, mine) influence that the Nestorians seemed to be inviting in central Kurdistan. An incident that Ainsworth narrates well illustrates how the Muslim Kurds perceived Western presence among their Christian clients. On the outskirts of Julamark a Kurdish chief had asked an Englishman: ‘What do you do here; are you not aware that Franks are not allowed in this country? No dissimulation! I must know who you are and what is your business…You are the forerunners of those who come to take this country…’ The Nestorian Christians, on the other hand, did not make a secret of their new ties of friendship with the Franks; they had even become haughty as a result of their newly-found friends. When the Kurdish agha, quoted above, had asked who had brought the visiting Franks there, their Nestorian guide had answered ‘I’, laying his hand upon his breast ‘in an undaunted manner.’” (p. 76)
Tensions were mounting.
“…Nurallah began to assert his full authority as the feudal lord of Hakkari…he offered peace to the Nestorian patriarch on condition that he lay aside all claims to civil authority and settle down as spiritual head of the Church; that he leave political matters to the tribal chiefs (Maliks) and to the Amir himself. Many of the Nestorian maliks sided with the Amir accusing their primate of overreaching his power.” (p. 76)
Added to the competing missionaries from competing nations, was the competition among the Nestorian leadership itself. With so many openings for intrigue it would not be hard for them all to find themselves speaking and working at cross purposes arousing suspicion among themselves and everyone around them.
“With the patriarch’s brother he (Grant, mine) toured the Nestorian villages speaking of the benefits that they might hope to gain as a result of missionary labors among them. He apparently had in mind only religious reforms; he was annoyed by the patriarch’s brother who had spoken of ‘benefits of a temporal nature.’ Grant saw no connection between the two.” (p. 77)
This was both at the heart of the many tragedies to follow and their cause. The missionaries, as representatives of their powerful Western nations were seen, in the eyes of the poor villagers, as having access to vast resources. It was most often for this reason alone that they received an enthusiastic welcome by those hoping to benefit in material ways. Before the arrival of the westerners the Nestorians had no sense that they were despised “heretics”, or had any need of doctrinal reform or spiritual regeneration. They felt just fine spiritually, albeit poor materially. They did not need spirituality taught to them by the missionaries but were in great need of the material benefits they could supply. They went along in hopes of temporal benefits such as the patriarch’s brother coveted. Surely this was known to and used by the missionaries, who would then react with surprise and indignation, perhaps conveying the sense that this “greed” and hunger for material benefits was exactly what they meant when they said the Nestorians needed spiritual reform…forgetting that they came form far more prosperous and secure backgrounds in wealthy nations where their religion safely dominated.
“Soon after Grant departed for Mosul, Nurallah began his effort to subjugate the Nestorians. In a show of strength he sent a party that attacked and burned the residence of the patriarch….To Grant, who heard of these incidents while at Mosul, what had taken place were merely temporary disturbances which would make the Nestorians more receptive to the word of God. ‘In their affliction,’ he quoted Hosea 5:15, ‘they will seek me early’”. (p. 77)
The shocking indifference to the suffering and pending tragedy of the Nestorians, who’d welcomed him to their homes, thereby risking the enmity of their Kurdish neighbors which had been the direct cause of the recent “disturbances” is bad enough. But to think that this sort of thing was welcomed by Grant as a prod to bring the Nestorians clamoring to his side…so he could bring them the faster to his God, was reckless if not despicable.
Disregarding the actual violence the Nestorians had just tasted and were likely to receive more of, as a result of his presence and work among them, Grant sees another danger entirely…
“He brought to the attention of the Board the true ‘enemy’ of the Nestorians: the Catholic missionaries. These ‘enemies of truth,’ he warned, ‘stand ready to penetrate the Nestorian country the moment the existing obstacles are removed.’ It was, therefore, necessary to do ‘all in our power to prepare (the Nestorians) for the approaching conflict with the powers of darkness.’” (p. 77)
In the light of his statement that the violence recently visited on the Nestorians was a good thing because it might bring them to God faster, one wonders if he perhaps welcomed more of the same…so the Nestorians would hurriedly come to him before being “lost” to the Catholics. Grant returned a year later to visit the Kurdish chiefs.
“He had spoken to the two Kurdish chiefs of introducing associates, building houses, and establishing schools in the midst of Nestorian territory. ‘Our character and objects had become so well known to them, that they appeared not to entertain a shade of suspicion’”. (p 77)
One wonders if he was deliberately goading the Kurds to further action against the Nestorians. The last thing the Kurds needed to hear was that even more missionaries were on the way to set up schools and build themselves permanent homes. And just what were the Kurds unable to form “a shade of suspicion” about? What was Grant and the rest of them really doing there…or, what were their secondary aims?
“He made partial arrangements for establishing two stations, one at the largest Nestorian village of Ashitha, and two other stations to be started as soon as men could be found to occupy them.” (p. 77)
The Kurdish move to block incursions by the Ottoman armies into their territory, had not only received no help from the patriarch, but he had even betrayed the planned resistance to the Ottoman government.
“…of the two he preferred Turkish rule probably with the secret hope that European powers in Istanbul would in that case interest themselves in his protection. Early that year we know that Grant had received a letter from the British Consul at Baghdad to whom the American missionary had forwarded a letter from the Nestorian Patriarch asking for foreign intervention. The consul had promised to do all he could to help and had advised that the patriarch ‘at all events address a letter to the Queen of England and send it to me without any unnecessary publicity.’” (p. 78)
It needs to be kept in mind that a subject of the Ottoman Empire was being encouraged by foreign missionaries to appeal directly to the monarch of the nation that would soon lead the attack against his very own country . Which is exactly what the Turks suspected and feared and what came to pass. It’s no wonder the British wanted no publicity; they were fomenting treason.
“While the Kurds and Turks were busy fighting, the Nestorians were temporarily forgotten and Grant was able to start building an extensive establishment at Ashitha….The Kurds blamed their defeat partly on the refusal of Mar Shamun to cooperate, if not his betrayal. By this time also, rumors were spreading that Grant was building a fortress (qal’ah) in the Nestorian country. Layard (Austin Henry Layard, mine), a friend of the American missionaries, had seen the American houses and school a few years later. He described the station as standing upon the summit of an isolated hill, commanding the whole valley. A position less ostentatious and proportions more modest, he wrote, might certainly have been chosen. He was surprised that persons, ‘so well acquainted with the tribes among whom they had come to reside, should have been thus indiscreet.’ Nurallah himself was beginning to suspect Grant. He and his fellow Kurdish chiefs had for years feared the growing European influence in nearby Mosul, often used on behalf of the Christians.” (p. 79)
The alarm among the Kurdish chiefs was certainly reasonable and, as events turned out, fully justified. The work of the missionaries, including the building of what was essentially a fort, made them suspect and their closeness to the Nestorians and their active solicitation of increased contact placed those innocent people under a cloud as well. Forgivably the Nestorians saw in the European powers a friend they could appeal to for help against their feudal overlords. It was this harsh feudal system, which Muslim and Christian suffered alike, that caused the Nestorians to seek European influence and not any special animosity directed at them as Christians. This was resented by their Muslim neighbors, who had no such friend to apply to and had moreover suffered cruelly at the hands of Russian soldiers whom these same Christians had seconded. The missionaries, for their own reasons, often encouraged the Nestorians to make bogus or vastly exaggerated complaints to the representatives of the Christian powers stationed nearby who used threats of intervention or sanctions on behalf of the “persecuted” Christian villagers as a tool with which to pry more concessions from an unwilling Ottoman government which saw itself trapped into granting almost free access into their lands to what they saw as foreign agents and all because of the presence and compliance of their Nestorians subjects.
The Pasha of Mosul, “’could not brook the idea,” wrote Grant, that foreigners should have the opportunity of acting as spies or reporting upon his projected rule in Kurdistan”. (p. 80)
More missionaries arrived to bargain for the loyalties of the Nestorians. It must be remembered that these were sought out not to benefit directly, as was hinted to them, but to be enlisted in a campaign to convert Muslims to Christ. Along with everything else that would follow from such a dangerous undertaking, were the steps by which the missionaries proceeded to lead the Nestorians to that precipice from which they were supposed to leap, willingly, to do their Christian master’s bidding in carrying out their misguided mission to save the souls of Muslims who would be damned otherwise. No care or thought was given to the actual trials and suffering such efforts and goals would bring to the Christians themselves. The missionaries were protected by the magic charm of their nationalities and gunboats in the harbor while the Nestorians, who allowed themselves to foolishly believe their friends would take a Christian interest in saving them, on earth and not in heaven, placed themselves in increasing danger. The labor of the missionaries was not intended to benefit the Christians directly, these villagers were, rather, a means to an end, although their spiritual regeneration would be served in the process of saving Muslim souls and they too would be saved from damnation as heretics or, worse; as damned and “evil” Catholics.
“After the turmoil of the two years that followed Ainsworth’s visit, the Patriarch must have been especially pleased with the arrival of George P. Badger. As a citizen of the superpower of the day (Britain, mine), Badger was not timid as Grant had been in discussing political matters with the Nestorian patriarch. One of the many letters of introduction that Badger brought with him (dated August 15, 1842) opened with these words: ‘It is one of the pleasing signs of the times in which we are privileged to live, that a desire is felt in the different Apostolic churches of Christ to hold out to each other the right hand of fellowship, and to endeavor by word and deed to promote each other’s temporal and eternal welfare’… and ‘the desire which is felt in England to see their Churches restored to a flourishing condition as branches of the True Vine.’” (p. 81)
That “flourishing condition” of “temporal and eternal welfare” meant, not the welfare of the Nestorians themselves as they themselves took it to mean, but rather the benefits that would come to their eternal souls from going among the Muslims to convert them to the “right hand of fellowship” in Christ. The Nestorians longed for help and better conditions on earth, being until then completely satisfied with their spiritual condition. The missionaries, however unwittingly, gave them such hints and promises only to enlist them in their real aim for coming among them; their campaign of converting Muslims for which they planned to use the Nestorians as front- line troops.
“Displeased at the presence already of Grant and the American ‘dissenters’ Badger advised, “Mar Shamun against cooperation with them. ‘I did not fail to acquaint the patriarch how far we are removed from them in doctrine and discipline,’ Badger admits in his book. ‘I showed him moreover that it would be injudicious, and by no means satisfy us, to have schools among his people by the side of theirs and pressed upon him to decide what plan he would pursue under existing circumstances.’” (p. 81)
The heat was being turned up. British missionaries were undermining American missionaries. Beset on all sides by missionaries competing for alliances, dangling benefits before him, with the tension over the presence of the missionaries and the interference they urged by their respective governments through pressure on the Ottoman government, the Patriarch can be forgiven for proceeding rashly. It’s doubtful if he could even have remained aloof and done nothing with so much pressure being brought to bear against him. For centuries those far removed mountain villages had gone their way with little change or interference from the outside world; in isolation from the agitation then gripping the bustling and ambitious western nations who were choking in air filled with coal dust and smoke and eager to charge into the most profitable stage yet of the Industrial Revolution.. None of these powers were oblivious to the petroleum fields lying just below the lands on which this battle for the souls of Muslims, to be fought by Nestorian troops led by their missionary generals, was about to commence.
“The jealousies and quarrels that the missionaries were perhaps unwittingly fanning would turn into a massacre only five months after Badger’s arrival.” (p. 81)
“While Badger was with the Patriarch, two Kurdish messengers, perhaps spies, had brought a letter from Nurallah in which he asked Mar Shamun to appoint a place where the two chiefs might meet and confer on their differences. The brother of the patriarch had spoken to the messengers first, saying that his people would have nothing to do with Nurallah; that the land of Hakkari belonged to neither Kurds nor Nestorians, but to ‘these’, pointing at Badger who was carrying a Turkish fez with him.’” (p. 81)
This was a colossal mistake. Not only was it a British subject the Nestorian claimed was now the owner of their lands, but Badger was sporting a Turkish fez on top of that. It is somewhat understandable that the Nestorian leadership was swayed by the presence of these powerful allies who were, after all, using all their charm and persuasiveness, not to mention the material wealth at their disposal plus hints of protection, to lure them into partnership. But their past experiences should have reminded them that Christian friends had a way of disappearing when they’d gotten what they wanted, leaving their local allies-of-the-moment exposed to retaliation which only came their way as a result of those tragic misalliances and not any inveterate hatred felt by Muslims for them or their Christian faith.
“The version of one of the messengers of the incident, as related to an American missionary, was that when he delivered his message Badger recommended that ‘the Patriarch not to seek the friendship of the Kurds, but to apply for aid, if he needed it, to England, which was willing and able to grant him the fullest protection…’ A German traveler has also reported that the Kurdish emissaries attributed the Patriarch’s refusal to negotiate to Badger, who was believed to have advised the patriarch ‘to apply to England for help.’” (p. 82)
Rather than forestall the coming confrontation, the missionaries were making things worse by encouraging the Nestorian Patriarch to go even further in making alliances with the very foreigners whose presence was threatening what had been decades and centuries of peaceful co-existence between neighboring tribes. Their very presence as well as the immunity they seemed to enjoy and, with the deeply felt resentment of their government’s interference on behalf of the Nestorians, the foreign missionaries were seducing the Nestorians into a fatal course of action.
“After Badger’s departure, we find Nurallah earnestly cultivating the friendship and alliance of fellow Kurdish chiefs, especially those with a grudge against the Nestorians, such as Ismail Pasha and Bdar Khan of Buhtan. The latter was especially concerned with the threat that the independent Christians now represented; he was infuriated by the Patriarch’s communication with the Pasha of Mosul. Well versed with Turkish intrigues, it was Badr Khan’s turn to collaborate with the Pasha of Mosul. He asked his permission to subjugate the mountain Christians. Permission was granted; what an opportunity to have the Kurds and the mountain Nestorians destroy each other and pave the way for the extension of Turkish authority over them both.” (p. 82)
It was this threat of Turkish authority entering their mountain fastness which concerned the practically independent Kurdish chiefs. And many Nestorian Maliks were equally alarmed for they too had known virtual autonomy from the central government. The Patriarch, however, was eager for closer ties with the central government as a way to remain in close contact with the European powers then stationed in Istanbul. His refusal to cooperate, or even meet to discuss the situation plus his appeals for help to foreign powers, encouraged by the missionaries, left him and his people in a precarious position wherein they came to be viewed by their Kurdish neighbors as collaborators with a planned Turkish government offensive threatening to subjugate Kurdish and Nestorian near-independence. There were political reasons behind the hostility brewing and not “typical” hatred for Christianity.
“Just before the Nestorians were attacked in 1843 Dr. Grant had visited Badr Khan for professional reasons and there he found his old friend Nurallah. Before Grant’s departure from Ashitha, Nestorians by the hundreds had come kissing his hand, hoping that as a result of his visit to the Khan there might be some hope of security for them.” (p. 83)
Well aware of the brewing trouble which had recently resulted in the burning down of the patriarch’s residence, the Nestorian tribes believed their friends, the missionaries, their brothers in Christ who’d often expressed their love and devotion to their welfare, would diffuse the situation and avert greater hostilities.
“Grant, true to his principle of noninterference in local politics, would promise no such thing; he found it strange when these poor frightened people could see no ’inconsistency in an ambassador for Christ taking part in passing political events.’” (p. 83)
The missionaries, having traveled hundreds of miles for the express purpose of “interfering” in the lives of the Nestorians and their relations with their Muslim neighbors, would not interfere in what concerned their welfare the most i.e., the growing tension between the Kurds and themselves brought about by these very missionaries themselves. Grant’s conclusion that these were “passing political events” betrays a total lack of awareness on the part of these ambassadors for Christ…or perhaps not. Perhaps, as he admitted when quoting Hosea ; the threats and attacks would bring the Nestorians to his camp the faster, for shelter and comfort if nothing else, which the missionaries would then magnanimously and with great piety distribute among them as their “saviors”.
“Grant spent ten days with the Kurdish chiefs and witnessed the preparations that were being made for the invasion of the Nestorian country. The two chiefs had spoken ‘as freely to me on the subject as though I had been one of their own number’. Grant was relieved, however, by Badr Khan’s assurance that, ’our house and property should remain entirely safe and that all Nestorians who might take shelter with me should remain unmolested.’” (p. 83)
This is an incredible admission. Grant, a Christian missionary to the Nestorians, spent ten days witnessing preparations for an attack on Christian villagers, even to the point of admitting that he was as “one of their own number”. This statement contains more truth, one should think, than he would have liked to admit openly. His concern, from what he obviously knew would be great violence to come, was only that his property should be safe…while the houses and lives of the Nestorians would be destroyed. Additionally, the assurance he received from his friends, the Kurdish chiefs, that all Nestorians who applied to him for safety would be spared, seems to underline his participation in the upcoming attack, or at least an appreciation for the benefits he knew would come to him if he were seen as the “defender” of the soon-to-be desperate Nestorians. This casts a new light on the praise we’ve been conditioned to pile onto the missionaries who “saved” us elsewhere from Muslim attack. Perhaps it was an intended policy after all; to arouse animosity between Christians and Muslims resulting in attacks by the more dominant Muslims which would result in the Christians running to and being saved by the missionaries, who were immune behind their national flags, and who would become the benefactors and saviors of the terrified and defenseless Christian villagers, thereby winning them over to serve as evangelicals in the missionary position of converting Muslims to Christianity. Perhaps nothing could have driven the hapless Nestorians into the various missionary camps better than attacks by Kurds, from which only the missionaries could then “save” them.
“…soon after Grant departed, the Kurdish army descended upon the Nestorians. Ashitha and three other villages in that valley were spared at first perhaps because the promise made to Grant. Nothing was spared except the missionary station which ironically was later converted into a Kurdish fortress. About one-fifth of a population of some fifty thousand( 10,000(?) people, mine)were estimated to have been killed when the flames of a ‘petty feud’ were fanned into a conflagration.” (p. 83)
“Reporting the massacre, Grant concluded with this ‘consoling’ thought; ‘In our own trials for that people, let us have the great consolation that we have been instrumental, in some measure, of awakening an interest and a spirit of prayer for them’. Sadly, he had also been instrumental in inspiring fallacious hopes and exciting dangerous prejudices. ‘A new hope seemed to kindle in their bosoms’, he had written, and they ‘eagerly drank the encouragement I presented.’ In the name of non-interference in local politics, the zealous missionary, a mutual friend of the Kurdish chief and the Nestorian Patriarch , never offered his good offices to mediate their differences.” (p. 84)
“Differences”, one might add, which were brought about for the first time because of missionary meddling; greatly inflamed by missionary interference and their avowed mission to “use” the Nestorians in their aim of converting Muslims. The Nestorians were at no time seeking or felt the need of being converted to the vying Protestant sects who sent their missionaries to them. Rather they were hoping for the help and security they were led to believe would be theirs from fellow-Christians they sincerely believed only wanted to help them; if only they would sign on the dotted line. It was not merely a tragic error but a deliberate and willful betrayal of a people who never did them any harm but would suffer for decades to come for their naïve trust.
It also appears that then, as now, nothing could be “gained” by the foreign Christian missionaries if the local Christian tribes remained at peace with their Muslim neighbors. Only through violent attacks against them by their aroused and antagonized Muslim neighbors could the missionaries hope for influence and converts among the Christians. This has hardly changed when we see today our own nationalists doing all in their power to spread disunity and hatred between Christian and Muslim Iraqis: for their peaceful coexistence is as harmful to nationalist goals as was peace between neighbors frustrating to the earlier missionaries.
“In an interview with the Patriarch after the storm was over , Englishman Layard found Mar Shamun more bitter against the American missionaries than against his Muslim oppressors.” (p. 85)
Perhaps he realized too late that he’d been seduced by the Americans and lured by the British into actions which earned understandable, though terrible, reprisal from the Kurds. The bloody actions of Badr Khan must be seen in their wider context, one which would soon involve Christian nations in a great war that would lead Christians to kill Christians by the millions and devastate whole cities and turn farmlands into mass graves all across Europe. And furthermore that this war would hardly be over for twenty years before another and an even more destructive world war would consume many more millions of Christians as well as Jews barbarously murdered for their religion alone. One does not need to excuse anyone, but a sense of proportion and justice may point out who was least willful in bringing death and ruin to their fellow human beans .
“The Board decided to discontinue the mission in Kurdistan and to concentrate their efforts on the Nestorians of Urmiyah.” (p. 85)
Nothing succeeds like failure. It was time to move on to the next Christians who were living in unacceptable peace with their Muslim neighbors. The missionaries had yet to “save” a single Muslim soul…though they’d caused the deaths of thousands of Christians.
“By 1850 both Badr Khan and Nurallah Beg were captured and exiled; a shaky Ottoman rule over Kurdistan was established.” (p. 85)
One last note:
“The Anglican mission was also withdrawn, to be resumed about forty years later.” (p 85).
“About forty years later”, brings us to 1887…27 years before the outbreak of World War I…a time when Nestorians once again suffered retaliation from their Muslim neighbors for their alliances with foreign missionaries, based once again on promises of help and security. Security, as we have seen, which they never needed until those missionaries brought suspicion, disruption and a haughty resolve to end the influence of Islam, the cherished faith of millions of people but a “devil religion” to the missionaries. One wonders if the missionaries moved back primarily to begin to lay the groundwork for their next missionary successes.
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