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          Jan 10, 2012


Anglican and Protestant Missions Impact on the Church of the East

Part 5


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.

The Chaldean 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.