Support for Chaldean
Nestorians was boosted with the archaeological discoveries of
Nineveh and Assyria and with the growing belief that the
Chaldean Nestorians were descendants of the warrior race that
had lived there.
British interest in them was
aroused at the highest level of government and the Ottoman
government was urged to safeguard the Nestorians interests and
heritage in the face of increased Kurdish aggressiveness. When
British efforts failed them, the Nestorians did not hesitate to
turn to the Russians for protection after the latter had
expanded southward into the Caucasus . To gain this support, the
bishop of Urmia promised to renounce "error" and return to
Christian orthodoxy. Petersburg church authorities dispatched
priests and monks to Azerbaijan in 1897 to aid in the process.
When Japan defeated Russia in 1905, however, one Nestorian
congregation joined the United Lutheran church, demonstrating
the political nature of the Nestorians' move. Meanwhile, the
Anglicans moved their headquarters to Van. The German Orient
Mission established an orphanage in Urmia, and various
denominations of Baptists followed.
The Ottomans were growing
suspicious of all these Western missions and began to refer to
the Armenians as the "Americans," which only aroused opposition
to the American missionaries. The American missionary Benjamin
Labaree was killed by a Kurd near Urmia in 1904. World War I
brought the retreat of the Russians, and American missionaries
found themselves caring for refugees of all denominations,
Muslim and Christian alike. The Nestorians held out in their
mountain fastness, by 1917, Allied forces dispatched a unit to
Tbilisi, which aroused Muslim opposition. The Hakkari Christians
held them off until outside help could arrive, but the Patriarch
and forty five of his followers were assassinated, the region
lapsed into a state of anarchy. With Lionel Charles Dunsterville
in 1918 leading an expeditionary force north to occupy Persia,
thousands of Kurds, Chaldean Nestorians, and Persians fled south
to British lines, driven by starvation. Many perished en route,
but many more were saved.
When the dust had settled on
World War I and the ensuing peace process, the Chaldean
Nestorians, like the Kurds and Armenians, found themselves
without the benefit of self-determination or a state of their
own. Mar Shmoun Chaldean Nestorian patriarch sought permanent
British protection for his communicants.
Nestorians(Assyrians) of America pressed not only for security
but also for an independent state for Nestorians, Jacobites, and
Chaldeans under the protection of the European mandatory
regimes, independent of the Kurds.
Four Assyrian Evangelical
churches resulted from the reopening by the Presbyterian Board
of their missions and schools around Urmia after 1923. The
British, under Winston Churchill as colonial secretary,
recruited fit Chaldean Nestorian Christians for service in a
newly formed Iraqi army consisting of Arabs, Turkomans, and
Kurds. Nestorians had been included in the gendarmerie in order
to protect their own refugees and defend the Mosul frontier with
the establishment of Kemal Ataturk's Turkey in the 1920s, the
Nestorians were resettled in the Mosul area, ostensibly so that
they could be under the protective umbrella of the British. When
the British announced the end of their mandate over Iraq in
1930, however, the Assyrians voiced concerns about the
safeguarding of their rights, and, after the Kurdish uprising
that year, the British insisted on using Assyrian levies against
them to give proof of their loyalty to the government with the
same faithfulness they have served His Britannic Majesty.
Mosul Commission met in 1925
to find some means to ensure the security of minorities in Iraq
and some autonomy for the Assyrians (Chaldean Nestorians) but to
no avail. Mar Shamoun The patriarch and his followers had voted
for Iraq's establishment when a plebiscite was held in Mosul at
the end of the war, but they gained no autonomy for themselves.
They had cast their lot with the British and the British could
not deliver on their promise to the Chaldean Nestorians. Mar
Shmoun was warmly received by King Faisal of Iraq and his prime
minister, Nori al-Saeed, but the message he received from them
was that religion and state were to be henceforth separated.
Christians were to mind their churches and the king the state.
The millet system, with its stress on autonomy for ethno
religious entities during the Ottoman era, had now given way to
the national state. Appeal to the Council of the League of
Nations yielded a negative reply on the issue of autonomy.
The faction of Chaldean
Nestorians that supported the patriarch sought refuge in Syria
after coming to blows with their opponents, but when some 700
armed men decided to re-cross the border into Iraq, troops
barred them entry; some 20 men were killed. General Bakr Sidqi
followed up with the massacre of some 300 men and boys at their
village of Simail, two days after they had surrendered their
arms. The British did not stand by them; their policy now was to
buttress the Arab government in place at Baghdad, not to support
minority issues. Eventually Chaldean Nestorians of Hakari were
settled in the Mosul and Erbil districts of upper Iraq. At the
end of World War II, the Nestorians of Urmia were dislocated
most of them resettled among relatives and friends in the major
cities of Iran.
Forty six Protestant missions
that had aroused the hopes of the Chaldean Nestorians were asked
to leave the country. With their departure, the native
Christians (Nestorians, Chaldeans and Jacobites were placed in
relatively favorable positions in both Iraq and Iran.