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2011-08-20 12:25:49 Views : 4358 |

The Massacres of August 1933 In search of a Save Haven Past and Present

Nashwan George


Translated from Arabic by

Aziz Emmanuel Zebari

Dept. of English, College of Educaation

Salahaddin Univ. KR, Ebil Iraq .



Our Chaldean Syriac Assyrian (CSA) people have been through a lot of displacement, killing, kidnapping, treachery and suffering since antiquity. These events have torn our people up scattering them around and rendering them dead beat and defenseless.

There are many reasons behind this state. Some are religious, nationalist, and economic, while others are due to the wars waged in the areas where our people live. Some of them however, are internal. In other cases, it was our people who were the reason behind their self destruction.

In order for us to understand today the events our people went through in 1933, particularly the massacres that happened in August that year, we have to go a little back to two decades preceding those events to get a picture of  the general conditions that surrounded our people, especially when they were flung in the throws of a world war amid a world conflict in which our people gained nothing other than destruction and death. 

Our people have always strived for a homeland where they could live in prosperity and security. This demand, however, has turned into a nightmare at a time when it is only one of its rights bearing in mind that our people’s allies have always made promises they failed to honour. 

The Simele Massacre is perhaps one such outcome of treason towards our people by the allied forces. Rather it has been one of many such massacres against our people through history, especially those perpetrated during WW1 by the Ottoman Empire . Even today, we eyewitness massacres that are in no way more destructive than their precedents. They are perhaps a continuation to them.


Events before Simele

We are quite aware of the events and conditions which our people experienced during the first decades of the last century, especially during WW1 which caused the killing and displacement of thousands of our CSA people and Armenians.

A large number of our people used to live in the area of Hakari, south of present-day Turkey , where they were caught up in the middle of the warring forces during WW1 only to be a target for the Ottoman forces that accused them of treason to the state they belonged to. This led to their immigration leaving behind their homes and villages. They joined the Russian forces not far away from them on the Iranian borders. Following agreement, immigration began to Uremia to escape injustice and wrongdoing at the hands of the Ottoman forces that used to hunt them down in their homes inflicting upon them the harshest torture.

Arriving in Uremia, our people, mostly Assyrians and Armenians inhabiting the area of Hakari, cherished high hopes on the promises made to them by the Russians: to free them and re-settle them back in their former areas and grant them autonomy when the victory of the allied forces in the war became certain.

However, something unexpected happened when the Russian Front collapsed at the beginning of 1917 as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Tsar was deposed and the army in northern Iraq and eastern Turkey  was ordered to withdraw immediately leaving our people in a very critical and dangerous situation when they became surrounded from all sides in the aftermath of the Russian withdrawal.

The situation of our people living inside the Turkish territories was not much different from that of their bothers living in the mountains. Before the beginning of the attacks against our people in the mountains, those who were living in the cities and villages had already been targeted. Thousands of Armenians and Syriacs were massacred in Mardin, Diyarbkr, Tur-Abdin and Chaldeans in Seart and other areas under the Ottoman control.

The most barbarous of those massacres were those that took place in June 1915 in the areas of Diyarbakr, Tur-abdin, Jazira, Nesibis, Seart and other areas where our people lived. Following imprisonment by the Ottoman soldiers, following insults, torture and beatings, they were escorted away from the cities where they were put to the sword or shot dead. According to an eye-witness’ Al-Qusara fi Nakabat al-Nasara ( 1971), (Briefings on Christian Distresses) the soldiers abducted during a night in June 400 people, including bishops, priests, religious, and youth including Armenians Syriacs, Chaldeans, and Protestants, to the outskirts of the city in fetters, ropes, and chains, where they were tortured, stripped naked and slaughtered for alleged charges of treason against the state, with their Christian faith being a pretext.  

In Seart where more than 12 000 Chaldeans, Armenians, Syriac Catholics, and Orthodox used to live, and following a week from the start of the war ( Ibid) , the mission of the Dominican Fathers and nuns was expelled by the  Turkish forces and forced to return back to their countries. In mid June 1915, the soldiers entered the houses of our people, tortured and killed them abducting the notables and priests whom they imprisoned and bitterly tortured. Among them were 5 Armenian priests. They then attacked priest Ibrahim head of the Syriac church and beheaded him. They later abducted Father Jubrael Kabbo the Chaldean and put him in jail where he was stripped naked and took turns to beat and torture him. Finally they beheaded him and rolled him down a nearby trench. Following 4 days in jail the remaining ones were all taken by force to Wadi Zeryab ( valley of Zeryab ) to the north of Seart where they were all tortured and killed.

As for the Assyrians who settled down in Iran , and apart from a short period, things never went the way they wished after Patriarch Mar Shimun Benyamin, their temporal and spiritual leader, was assassinated. Iran was waiting for the right opportunity to attack them. Following many battles and wars in which the Armenians and Assyrians defeated the Iranian and Turkish forces, they ran out of ammunition and did not get any logistic support from their allies. Thus they became vulnerable to the attacks of the Turks and Iranians from all sides inflicting heavy losses on them. Forced to immigrate once again, they left Uremia accompanied by their families, properties and animals. The blazing summer heat was an additional blow to them.

This human convoy reached the area of Hamadan and contacted the British forces after they suffered a lot during their journey in during which one- third of their number was lost. Arriving in the British colonized area, they faced yet another problem as northern Iran was on the brink a starvation. So, the British moved them to a camp in the area of Baquba where they reached in a deplorable situation. The camp housed 48927 people including Armenians and Assyrians. The population of the Assyrian was estimated at 24579 people while the number of the Armenians was put at 14612.

The rise of the Iraqi state and the conditions of our people

Since its occupation of Iraq, Britain ruled the country directly following the breakout of WW1 till 1920 when the military British administration ended with the rise of a provisional Iraqi government which set the stage for crowning King Faisal for Iraq in 23 August 1921 and the beginning of monarchy in Iraq.

On suggestions from the Belgian Brentenic in 1921, the Iraqi borders were demarcated. The border line corresponded with those between the two old Mosul and Hakari Wilayat which was later called the Brussels Line to form the international border between Iraq and Turkey .

Following the Iraqi Turkish border demarcation and the annexation of most of the their villages and lands to Turkey, our people who stayed in Baquba Camp lost all hope of returning back to them, especially as Turkey refused to accept them. They were also not covered by the Turkish general amnesty and were denied entry into Turkey . Moreover, Britain was no longer able to make good the promises she made to them and help them realize their aspirations and objectives. Britain had found a decisive and durable solution that would put an end to the state of homelessness and suffering our people  experienced and that would help them settle down and secure their future as well as end its responsibility towards them.

Britain tried to exert pressure on the Iraqi government to secure a settlement area for our people inside the Iraqi territories. Baquba camp was actually evacuated and those who used to live there during the period between 1925 and 1929 were housed. The families were distributed to the plains lying near to the districts of Duhok, Amadiya, Aqra, Shekhan in the Wilayat of Mosul and the area of Harir in the Wilayats of Erbil and Barwari Bala. Some of them also settled in cities. For example, about 200 families settled in Baghdad .

The settlement plan did not please some of our Assyrian people, while others saw in it a last chance for them to settle down in an area. The latter demand was led by Malik Khoshaba the leader of Lower Tiyri Tribe while the opposition group was led by Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun and his aunt Surma Khanim who were seeking recognition of a temporal authority for Mar Shimun by the Iraqi government. Mar Shimun did not cooperate with the settlement committee formed by the Iraqi government. He refused to attend its sessions following refusal of the Iraqi government to grant him temporal authority. Meanwhile, Malik Khoshaba and his followers approved the settlement project for the Assyrians as their basic need at that time was residence rather than any thing else. A committee was therefore formed comprising those who approved the scheme headed by Malik Khoshaba and cooperated with Mr. Thomson the Englishman expert on residence assigned by the League of Nations .

On looking back at the conditions of the Chaldeans and Syriacs during the monarchy, we will see that they were in no way better off than they used to be during the Ottoman Wilayat. Rather, they used to enjoy more privileges with the Ottoman Sultans and Walis but those privileges were gradually abolished by the Iraqi government. Among the important issues that are worth mentioning here are the Christian schools when our people were the only ones to have advanced and flourishing schools run by religious men who were well conversant with knowledge and sciences. Among such schools was the Dominican Fathers School that used to comprise at that time more than 500 students and the Chaldean Shimun al-Safa School and the Syriac Al-Tahra and other schools belonging to the Chaldeans, Syriacs and  Orthodox churches for both sexes. They were all advanced and flourishing schools that enjoyed good reputation.

Following the foundation of the Iraqi government, the Directorate of Education sought to misappropriate those schools. The objections made were not heeded by the ministry which acted as if it were the absolute owner of the schools. It failed to consult anyone on the changes it made in the educational syllabi and to the status of the priests who used to work as teachers and superintendants demoting them to mere civil servants. The ministry also sent away some of them and transported others elsewhere. Based on an elaborate scheme, the ministry gradually relegated them from their posts as managers. The superintendant of Shamun al-Safa, for example, Father J Namo who ran the school for abut 25 years was dismissed from its management and replaced by a man from Kirkuk named Shukri Afandi. The management of al- Tahra school was likewise transferred from Father Rahmani who was licensed in philosophy with a Ph.D. in theology from Beirut University , to Jamil Afandi a former theology student who was not licensed. Father J. Andela, superintendant of Mar Toma school in Mosul was demoted to the post of an oral teacher following his administration of the school for 25 days. A teacher was appointed to teach Turkish language and so on. The situation continued until all the schools were under the control of the government. The syllabi were all modified to suit the needs of that period at a time when the subjects of teaching religion were drastically reduced to only a few.


The Massacre of August 1933

Upon Patriarch Mar Shimun’s insistence on boycotting the housing committee, a number of his followers embarked in Spring 1933 on a propaganda campaign in the villages to support the Patriarch’s policy. The campaign was carried out in the villages of the District of Duhok and Wadi Supna. They used to roam those areas carrying their weapons causing the government to feel ill at ease. Rather, they became a source of worry for their own fellow Assyrians, especially those who approved of the housing project. So they went on condemning the deeds of the Patriarch’s followers. 

The Iraqi government tried to win the patriarch and his followers over to approve the housing project, especially when it had taken its decisive decision with regard to the Patriarch’s position or the housing project. As a measure, the government held meetings with the leaders loyal to the patriarch calling upon them to persuade him to succumb to its irrevocable decision. The government wanted to give the patriarch a message that the policy was ultimately going to be implemented whether he were in Mosul , Baghdad or anywhere else.

Amid these events a number of Mar Shimun’s loyalists crossed the borders to Syria to meet the French there and convince them to accept the Assyrians within the Syrian territories under the French mandate. The French, however, refused the request and disapproved their demand. They were thus forced to head back to Iraq . The Iraqi authorities had before that decided to deny them entry into Iraqi territories and had deployed forces from the Iraqi army in the border area of Fishkhabor and Der Abon.

The Iraqi forces charged the returnees, and a heavy battle was fought. Despite the bravery and ferocious fighting on the part of the returnees, it ended with defeat due to inequality in ammunition and military equipment. This led some of them to return back to Syria once again. The army then rounded up the remaining in the area of Derabon and shot them dead. Still another group took to the mountains as they had no desire for fighting. Rather they were overtaken by the idea of going back to their villages and families as soon as possible. The Iraqi forces tried to follow and capture them. On encountering any group of them the soldiers would capture and shoot them. This was evidence that the Iraqi army wanted to annihilate the Assyrians to the best of its abilities. In many villages the administration was found to collaborate with the army in the massacre policy. It seemed just like an emergency state for the intelligence officers did not bother themselves even to carry out an investigation with the detained Assyrians who were shot dead on the spot as soon as they were captured.

In the area of Duhok, the Assyrians were packed in lorries and taken not very far away from their villages where they were ordered to disembark only to be killed by rounds of machine guns. An atmosphere of terror haunted the villages for many days leaving a large number of families without sons or fathers. In some cases the bodies were thrown in the open without burial. But no matter how bad the situation was, it cannot be compared to what was awaiting Simele.


What Happened in Simele?

Simele lies 8miles away from Duhok on the highway to Zhakho and it used to belong to the administration of that district. It was one of the biggest nearby villages at that time with a population of 700 most of whom were Assyrians from the Baz tribe and some from Upper Tiyari and Dez. 

In the afternoon of 8 August the mayor of Zakho District appeared in the village with a truck loaded with soldiers. He entered the village and asked our people to hand over their arms saying he feared fighting might erupt in the area and that the Simele inhabitants would take part if they were armed. In what apparently seemed true words but false on the other hand, he assured them they would be safe under the Iraqi flag that was flying on the police station. On the next day more soldiers came in without the mayor this time and began to disarm those who came from the surrounding villages during that period.

The inhabitants of Simele became subject to looting and plunder. On that day they became sure they were in a trap into which they were lured. And as they were taking shelter in the police station in Simele, a sergeant ordered those who came from the surrounding villages to go back to their villages. On refusing to comply, saying they did not feel safe, he ordered them to leave the police post and stay in the village houses. They obeyed reluctantly. And as they were going down to the houses, they suddenly saw military trucks and armoured vehicles approaching the village. The soldiers suddenly opened fire on them without any early warning. Many of them were killed including women and children while the others fled to shelters. No one was left in the aisles and pathways.  The soldiers set their machine guns outside the windows of the houses where our people took shelter pointing their guns at the wretched and panic stricken people inside the rooms and opened fire on them until everyone was killed during the massacre. No one was spared standing on feet. At times the blood-thirsty soldiers were taken over by enthusiasm and so dragged the men out and shot, bludgeoned, kicked and punched them to death and then hurled them on to the piles of dead. On the next morning the soldiers returned to burry the victims whereby the bodies were gathered and thrown away down a shallow ditch to be piled up their.

This massacre was truly a treacherous crime that was carried out in cold blood and barbarity. It will remain one of the most barbarous crimes and a stain of shame on the forehead of the then Iraqi government.


Today’s Massacres and a Safe Haven ( autonomous region)

Our country Iraq is undergoing today a new milestone in its history. Following a period of dictatorial rule that worked to pile up things in one corner, Iraq lives today as if it were going through new birth labor. This new birth has once again made our people victims to futile conflicts and arguments with which our people have nothing to do. They are seen once again displaced, homeless, persecuted, killed and deprived of all their rights. History is perhaps repeating itself, especially when our people are undergoing the same events witnessed by their forefathers and ancestors. Today’s events do not differ much from the events we mentioned above. Neither do we want to recall again the sacrifices our people offered; for we live them today moment by moment as if history is being written down in front of our eyes.

It is not wise to let all these sacrifices that our people have made throughout its modern history pass by unnoticed, without demanding our legitimate rights, especially at a time when Iraq is undergoing a transitional period. We have a historical opportunity at our hand to renew our demands for a save haven for our people, because the draft constitution of Iraq offers us this right as a federal decentralized one that allows for the formation of provinces.  We have all the required elements for the establishment of such a province such as history, geography and language.

Some may see in such a demand a big problem that would lead our people to isolation from its society and weaken its existence in other parts of the country. Such an attitude is an outcome of failure in understanding the new Iraqi constitution that is a federal one. The federal system is one of the international systems whose concept is related to the sense of the right to self-determination for peoples and nations. It has many goals such as multiplicity, active and genuine participation in the political life in a just and democratic way away from dictatorship and oligarchy that violates law and rights. Such a system allows for the formation of provinces in the state in any multi-ethnic country and adopts the autonomous way of rule as is the case in Switzerland , Germany , Austria , Australia and other advanced countries.

The internal autonomous rule is a legal and political system based on the principles of constitutional law, i.e. it is a decentralized system based on the recognition of a certain province of the country that independently runs its affairs. The objective is to protect a national entity or ethnic group living in certain province with specific historical and geographical characteristics in a country whose society is characterized by ethnic and geographical multiplicity. Hence, the concept of autonomous rule is significantly and closely related to ethnic nationalities.

So, to demand such a right that categorically includes all our people, does not mean we are going to be isolated from the other ethnic nationalities and religions. Rather, we shall be like a bright light amid our society and we shall secure our rights in a country we have for long called our fathers’ and ancestors’ country and that we are the authentic people of that country.


Sarkis Aghjan Engineer of the Autonomy 

It is true, as the saying goes, that every time has its own great men. And our nation has given birth to great men whom history has immortalized for their loyalty to their people and their leadership through which they defended their people, cause and rights. All such leaders shared the same objectives they sought to realize. But the conditions and tidings of time were always an obstacle in their endeavor. The succession of great men, however, has not ended and is still going on. Despite failure in the realization of the objectives, such leaders struggling for the same objective have never stopped their struggle. Among such leaders of our people today, in whose character, are found all the traits that characterize great men, such as wisdom, valour, bravery and deep and genuine love for their people and nation, is Sarkis Aghajan who stands as lofty as his predecessors, in his zeal and concern for his people. He has been complementing what his predecessors began through his demand for an autonomous area where his people will enjoy their full rights. He has repeatedly made this demand to the leaders he met or visited them. He managed through his authority to have this demand recognized by the constitution of Kurdistan Region. He has been working hard to implement this demand and is therefore the engineer of autonomy.

His work did not stop at demanding the rights of our people. Rather, he reconstructed all the villages destroyed by the forces of treachery and treason throughout history and restored them back to their legitimate owners,  the displaced immigrants of our people who were persecuted. Besides, he carried our many works for our people that are known and praised by everybody.



Today, as we commemorate the anniversary of our nation’s martyrs and condemn the criminal acts against them, through speeches, statements and obituaries, we have to ponder about those sacrifices reflecting in what is now required from us all to prove our loyalty to those martyrs who shed their blood for us. We have to reconsider ourselves wondering: are we united today? Or division is wearing away our bones? Are we working today for the future of our people? Or we are working for our interests, agendas and political parties? And unless we give priority to the interests of our people  the Simele massacres will continue in more ugly ways than before. This is best proved by what our people have been through in terms of displacement, killing, and threats.

To be loyal to the blood that was shed in Simele and to all the martyrs of our people, we have to unite our political platform, statements and condemnations of that ugly crime. Let us be one voice to realize the rights of our people, especially when our country is undergoing political changes that  can choke our voice and exterminate our existence in this country. Let our emblem be unity in loyalty to the blood of our martyrs.






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