The Origins and Development of Assyrian Nationalism
Submitted to the Committee on International Relations Of the University of Chicago
MA Thesis paper by Robert DeKelaita
Dr. Marvin Zonis, Thesis Reader
Assyrian International News Agency
THEORY AND ITS
THE FORMATION OF NATIONALSIM AMONG THE ASSYRIANS
This paper is an attempt to comprehend some aspects of the phenomenon of the origins and development of a nationalism, defined here as an articulated 'state of mind' or world view that perceives the idea of the nation as central in people's lives, which may or may not lead to action on the part of some or many members of a nation,' and which may fail or succeed once it is put into practice in the form of a 'national movement' (its success or failure being decided by the goals of the movement).
The subjects of this study are the Assyrians, a Christian minority currently living on its native soil in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, as well is in the diaspora in the West, particularly in the United States. From the perspective of the regional political observer of the Middle East, the Assyrians are a small and insignificant minority. However, the recent history of this people, numbering an estimated three million worldwide, and the momentous economic, social and political transformations they have undergone, provide data that is beneficial for the understanding of nationalism and how it is that it comes to be adopted, as it were, by some or many members of a collectivity.
The Assyrian case is analyzed using the theory of nationalism presented by Ernest Gellner in Thought (University of Chicago Press, 1964), which advances some important formulations about the development of nationalism, as a sort of side effect of the processes of industrialization and modernization.
Gellner's belief that nationalism is the child of industrialization's impact on the world, it is held, is perhaps more descriptive history rather than substance for a theory which grasps and explains nationalism - though it does contribute, as shall be seen, a good deal to the knowledge of how nationalism could develop - and did develop in some cases. The Assyrian nationalist movement's growth, it is held, was not a 'natural phenomenon, one flowing fairly inescapably' from the conditions prevalent at the time, as Gellner asserts in reference to the influence of the process of industrialism on nationalism. Nor did it rely on the existence of a significant proletarian class, which Gellner asserts is necessary for the formation of a nationalism. Rather, Assyrian nationalism was the product, initially of an incipient intelligentsia (which is defined by Gellner as "a class which is alienated from society by the very fact of its [in this case, Western] education"), and later a popular movement despite its failure. Assyrian nationalism was an ideology learned from neighboring nations - mainly the Armenians - and Westerners who came into contact with the Assyrians - Americans, Russians, French and British - and who influenced the Assyrians socially, culturally and politically. Initially, Assyrian nationalism existed within small intellectual circles in the town of Urmia, and later became a more popular ideology due to the uprooting factors of the First World War.
Today, the Assyrian national movement is a complex phenomenon that involves varying groups of people and geographical settings tied together ideologically but operating within varying environments and within varying socio-political contexts. It deserves systematic study on various levels: psychological, social, and political. This, however, is unfortunately out of the scope of this study.
The Assyrians, Aramaic speaking Christians of northern Mesopotamia, may be categorized into two denominational and linguistic groupings; the "East Syrians" (members of the Church of the East - the Nestorians - and their Uniate brethren, the Chaldeans), and the "West Syrians" (members of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and Syrian Catholics, an offshoot of the former) There are additionally smaller clusters of Catholics and Protestants who converted from the above churches largely after the late eighteenth century, due to Western missionary activity. The Maronite Church of Lebanon, which is a Uniate church, is an offshoot from the Syrian Church, and possesses a liturgy that is almost indistinguishable from the Syrian Orthodox (and Syrian Catholics) but it is outside of the scope of this study.
In the early Christian centuries, all of the above churches vaguely belonged to one entity whose hierarch was stationed at Antioch in Greek dominated Syria. This was generally true until the split with the Christians living under the Persian empire, a division fostered by Byzantine and Persian antagonisms, and accentuated with the rise of Nestorianism among, in particular, Assyrians in Mesopotamia. This left an unbridgeable divide between Christians living in the area of present day Syria and those in Mesopotamia. The latter came to be known as Nestorians (and East Syrians), the former Monophysite Jacobites (and West Syrians). The roots of the theological disputes may be traced back to the councils of the early Christian leaders who gathered to address the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Christianity. In Nicea, in 325 AD, these prelates, without the presence of the Christians from the Persian Empire, established that the Son was "from the ousia (substance) of the Father," and of the same substance with the Father.1 This countered and abolished the teachings of the priest Arius, who taught that only the Father in the Christian trinity was God, the son was lesser and not of the same substance. As soon as the teachings of Arius were entirely rejected by all sides, the query regarding the relationship of the godly nature with the human element in Jesus arose.
Generally, two schools of thought addressed this issue: the school of Antioch and that of Alexandria. Whereas the school of Alexandria concerned itself more with theology, the school of Antioch emphasized historical data. Nestorius, a fifth century Byzantine bishop of Constantinople, adhered to a Christological doctrine that originated in the Antiochene school, and developed substantially by two figures, Diodorus of Tarsus and his pupil Theodore of Mopsuestia. Little is known of Diodorus, but the teachings of Theodore show that it was he who gave the basic form to the teachings of Nestorius.2
Theodore taught that for the sake of humanity, Jesus suffered as a human, that Jesus had a complete humanity as well as divinity, and that this did not lead to two Christs but a union of human and divine, an "indwelling of the word."
Thus there results neither any confusion of the natures nor any untenable division of the person; for our account of the natures must remain unconfused, and the person must be recognized as indivisible.3
Underlying the theological conflict were the tensions and power struggles inherent in a relationship between two world powers; the Byzantine and the Persian empires. When friction between these two forces increased, the Persians suspected the Christians within their realm to be sympathizers or agents of the Byzantine emperor.4 Thus even before the Christological controversies had begun, the Christians in Persian dominated Mesopotamia found it beneficial to sever their administrative ties with their Byzantine coreligionists in Syria by electing a Kotholikos, a position below the patriarch (who was stationed in Byzantine Antioch) but above the metropolitan, in order to gain the favor of their anti-Byzantine, Persian governments.
After Nestorius was declared a heretic and condemned by a consensus of Western religious and secular leaders, many of his followers and sympathizers, persecuted in the Byzantine empire, found refuge among the Christians of Mesopotamia and Persia, whose rulers found it politically expedient to tolerate and protect them.5 Thus Christians who remained in the Byzantine Empire, where the city of Antioch was situated, and had chosen, or were coerced, to condemn Nestorius and his teachings as heretical became attached to what later became the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. Only one generation after the condemnation of Nestorius, the Syrian Orthodox Church followed Monophysitism, a view to the extreme of Nestorianism, virtually denying the humanity of Christ. The adherents of this view, led by Dioskorus, Patriarch of Alexandria (444-454), persuaded Theodosius II, the dying Byzantine emperor, to hold a second Ephesian Council in 449. Known as the "Robber Council of Ephesus,"6 during which bishops were bribed and physically forced to comply with Monophysitism, it was eventually condemned, as was Dioskorus, by the new Emperor Marcian (450-457). Yet despite its condemnation, Monophysitism thrived in Syria and Egypt.7
The Syrian Orthodox Church was, and is, also known as the Jacobite Church, so named after Yacoub Bar Addai (Jacob Baradeus, c.500 AD), an early pillar of the Syrian Church. The Syrian Orthodox Church carried on its activities mostly in Syria and northern Mesopotamia (Assyria) . It was thus geographically limited mostly to these two regions. The Church of the East (known as the Nestorian church) , however, converted to its fold Persians, Arabs, Indians, Tartars, Mongols, Chinese and other Asian peoples. At the time of the Islamic conquest of the Fertile Crescent, there was no other significant church contending with the Church of the East for Christian theological hegemony in Asia.8
The Muslim conquest of the Fertile Crescent, in effect, saved the Middle Eastern "heretical" churches, both Nestorians and Monophysites, from the persecutions of the Byzantine emperors. Like the Persian rulers before them, the Arabs found it advantageous to have Christians within their realm that were at odds with the Roman emperors of Byzantium. "The hearts of the Christians rejoiced over the domination of the Arabs - may God strengthen it and prosper it," wrote one Nestorian chronicler some centuries after the Islamic invasion.9
The new conquerors also discovered early on the invaluable service Christians rendered to society as artisans, physicians, merchants, scholars and tax collectors, and treated them well in most cases, and in good times. Nestorians and Jacobites were granted civil recognition, which the Byzantines had not granted them, a step that allowed for the establishment of numerous churches and monasteries in Syria and Mesopotamia, and the subsequent development of a culture and traditions increasingly foreign to the Byzantines.
During the invasions of the Crusades, beginning in the eleventh century, the stability of Christian and Muslim relations were disrupted, leaving behind "a legacy of mistrust and antagonism that would be revived in modern times, 11 according to historian John Joseph.10 However, unlike the Armenians and the Maronites, who had formed military alliances with the Crusades, the Jacobites and Nestorians did not, and thus suffered less at the hands of vengeful Muslims once the Crusades were defeated. Nevertheless, their sociopolitical position eroded.
Inter-Christian rivalries, periodic persecutions by Muslim rulers, and, finally, the Mongol invasions of Timur in particular, devastated the Nestorian and Jacobite Churches. Timur's massacres and pillages of all that was Christian reduced the religion to an almost irrelevant state in the Middle East.
At the end of the reign of Timur, the Nestorians had almost been eradicated. In two locations, however, they survived; in the provinces of Assyria [which had retained its name in Christian] (in the districts of Beth Garme, Adiabene, Arbil, Karkh dlbeth Seluq [Kirkuk], Nuhadra [Dohuk], Nineveh [Mosul], etc.), where the church had acquired much of its nourishment, and in the Hakkari mountains of Ottoman Kurdistan, where the Assyrian Nestorians lived largely an isolated existence until being evicted by Kurds and Turkish troops during the First World War. Additionally, a meager number of Indian Nestorians remained faithful in the Malabar district in southern India. All of the other diocese of the Church of the East were lost forever.
Toward the end of the thirteenth century, the, Jacobite Bar Hebraeus found "much quietness" in his diocese in Mesopotamia. Syria's diocese, he wrote, was "wasted."11
In 1553 the Church of the East met more misfortune in the form of a split that eventually left one side under Roman Catholic domination. Over a period of four centuries, the Catholic (Uniate) side of the Church of the East, the Chaldean Church - as it came to be known -eventually grew to outnumber its parent church, and was recognized as a separate Millet by the Ottoman Porte. In Iraq today, Assyrian Chaldeans outnumber Assyrian Nestorians roughly two to one.
Among the Syrian Orthodox Jacobites, there was also a split that resulted in Roman domination as well. Unlike the Nestorian case, the Catholics among the Jacobites remain relatively small.
We will discuss conversions to Protestant churches in the next section.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Aramaic speaking Assyrians; Nestorians, Chaldeans and Jacobites may be categorized into geographical and religious segments or populations. Chaldeans and Nestorians, the 'East Syrians' referred to earlier, lived in the Mosul villayet, the Hakkari mountains north of it, and in Urmia to the northeast. The Jacobites and their offshoots the Syrian Catholics, both 'West Syrians, I lived largely in northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey, west of the Hakkari mountains in the area of Tur Abdin. Due to geographical difficulties, there was little interaction between these various Christian communities of common cultural and ethnic origins.
Members of the Church of the East, Nestorians, lived primarily in the Hakkari mountains of southeastern Turkey, and in the Urmia region of Northwest Iran (Urmia's Nestorians had for the most part become Protestants and Catholics, with only a minority still retaining their ancient faith. Nevertheless, Protestant Assyrians identified with their ancient church). The Assyrian Nestorians of the Hakkari district, like the Kurds with whom they lived, were tribal in social structure, with each tribe under the jurisdiction of a Malik (chief, or Kurdish Agha), who was subject to the Patriarch of the Church of the East. The Patriarch, in theory, was a subordinate of the Amir of the Hakkari, a Kurd.12
The largest Assyrian tribe, the Tyari, lived in a district which accommodated over seventy villages, each with its own rayis (village headman). Along with other Assyrian and Kurdish tribes in the Hakkari mountains, the Tyari were 'semi-independent'. They did not pay tax directly to the Ottoman government, were seldom - if ever - in contact with Ottoman officials, and swore allegiance to the Mar Shimun, patriarch of the Church of the East, who lived in the tiny village of Qudshanus in the Hakkari. Mar Shimun ruled his flock through traditional authority and by being a mediator between the various tribes. Although the Nestorians possessed the characteristics of a millet, a religious minority, they were not officially considered one in Ottoman records.
Generally, Assyrian inhabitants of the mountains lived a meager existence. A modest number had marketable trades, such as weaving and bricklaying, and some, in particular members of the Jilu tribe, were world travelers who returned to their mountains with exotic gifts from Europe and America.
After having made contacts with British and Russian representatives during the latter part of nineteenth century, the Patriarch Mar Shimun was hopeful that political and eventually military protection would soon reach the Assyrians. In 1843, Mar Shimun sought the assistance of the British in endorsing his wish to be recognized and confirmed as the sole civil ruler of the tribal areas of the Hakkari, which he was in reality, independent of any Kurdish Amir and subject only, and directly, to the Sultan. This wish, however, did not materialize.13
The Nestorians of Azerbayjan were, unlike their Hakkari brethren, subjects of Iranian authorities, or, in unusual cases, of Kurdish lords. Most lived in villages that surrounded the main town, earning their subsistence by cultivating the fertile plain that yielded much-coveted orchards and vineyards. Since villagers were part of a loose feudal system, they were expected to pay their village master (Agha) part of their harvest as well as two days' labor annually.14 Despite the payments the villagers made to their Agha, they were expected to defend themselves from the periodic raids of Kurdish mountaineers. The villagers, as Christians, also suffered inferior social and legal status and often lived in fear of the Muslim populace. The Nestorians who lived in the highlands of Tergawar, Margawar, and Bradost, to the west of Urmia, were sedentary pastoralists.15 Although the majority of the Nestorians in and around Urmia had, at the onset of the First World War, become converts to Western and Russian churches (that considered the Nestorian doctrine heretical), they nevertheless did not completely sever their ties to their former Patriarch, and often sent annual contributions to him to his village in the Hakkari mountains.16
Members of the Chaldean Church, Uniate Catholics, lived in and around the Mosul Villayet. Like the Nestorians of Urmia, the Chaldeans lived in Villages and towns and were non-tribal in social structure. Villages were relatively substantial in size, the largest of which was, and still is, Tell Kepe ('Mound of Rocks' in Aramaic). The Chaldeans were subject to the governor of Mosul and other lesser Ottoman officials. The Chaldean patriarch, whose official seat was in Mosul, was both the religious and secular leader of his people. Today, Chaldeans are the largest Assyrian sect in Iraq.17
The Orthodox Jacobites, like the Chaldeans, were largely nontribal and subordinate to Ottoman officials, with whom they were in constant contact. Numbering about 250,000 before the War, they were, as other Syriac speaking peoples, under the jurisdiction of their patriarch, who was finally represented in the Sublime Porte in 1882. Their geographical centers were Diarbakir, with six villages; Mardin; Mosul, with five villages (which were intermingled with Chaldean villages) ; Aleppo; Harpoot, with fifteen villages; Edessa, with fifty villages; and Tur Abdin, their center and stronghold, with over one hundred and fifty villages.18
Although illiteracy was widespread among Assyrians in the Ottoman empire, the Jacobites and Chaldeans were, as a rule, relatively more literate and cosmopolitan than the Nestorians, who were largely geographically isolated. With the increase of missionary assistance, however, the Nestorians of Urmia established a great number of schools and began to publish the very first periodical in all of Persia, Zahreera d'Bahra (Ray of Light), as early as 1848.
Assyrian Nestorian ethnicity and culture, in general, were considerably more pronounced and novel than in the case of the Jacobites (both the Orthodox and the Catholics) and the Chaldeans, due to their geographical and socioeconomic isolation. Among the Jacobites, Arabic sounding names such as Fath Allah, 'Abd al Karim, 'Abd al Masih and so on, were widely prevalent. Such names were unknown to Nestorians, who used biblical or traditional names. The Chaldeans and Jacobites were generally more economically dependent on Turkish and Arab authorities. Such factors, along with historical upheavals to be encountered, aided the Nestorians in forming a more solidified cultural community and well-defined and separate ethnic/national identity. The Jacobites and Chaldeans, on the other hand, were more irresolute as to their own ethno-cultural uniqueness. It is not uncommon to encounter Chaldean and Jacobite leaders who refer to themselves and their people as Arabs, rather than as Assyrians.19
With Russia gaining a dominant position in eastern Anatolia and northwestern Iran early in the nineteenth century, there resulted a transformation in the position of the Christians of the area.
By the 1860s, the Armenians, who were neighbors of the Assyrians, began to acquire a cosmopolitanism and a strong national consciousness. A number of Armenians returned from Europe and soon translated the literature of the French revolution, among them Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, into their language. They were, in the words of one historian, "experiencing a literary and national renaissance."20
In their zeal to strengthen Christianity in Asia, American evangelical missionaries did much to buttress the social and economic position of the Armenians in Anatolia. They established missionary institutions such as churches, hospitals, dispensaries, and schools of all grades in such places as Van, Erzerum, Bitlis, Mardin, Kharput, among others. Institutions of higher learning soon emerged as well. In Kharput, where a community of Jacobites lived, the Euphrates College was established in 1876. It was in this college that one of the earliest Assyrian nationalists among the Jacobites, Professor Ashur Yusuf (1858-1915), was educated and later taught.
Assyrian intellectuals were well aware of the advances being made by the Armenians, as well as other ethnic groups within the Ottoman empire, and often sought to emulate them. As we shall discover in the pages ahead, this was particularly true among the Assyrians of Urmia, who, under the prevailing rivalries of their various newly adopted churches, were becoming increasingly aware of the necessity to secularize their community, and later nationality. Importantly as well, they were acquiring a Western education and an awareness about the Western world through the increase in communication and printing.
On November 1, 1914, Russian troops crossed the Turkish border, in retaliation for an earlier Turkish attack on Russian installations in the Black sea.21 Soon after fighting between Russian and Ottoman troops intensified, the Armenian massacres by Turks were in full swing. Although the Jacobites and Chaldeans remained noncombatants during the War, they nevertheless incurred heavy losses. According to one source, in the Jacobite city of Mardin alone, 96,000 lives were lost.22
Unlike the Jacobites and Chaldeans, who remained neutral, the Nestorians did not. On September 18, 1914, the Russian Consul in Urmia, Vedeniski, along with his military attaché, Colonel Andreviski, promised the 'Assyro-Chaldeans' (Nestorians and Chaldeans) autonomy if they would join the ranks of the allies. Thousands of young future soldiers paraded the streets and demonstrated their support for the allies, pulling the German flag down and destroying it. In the middle of April, 1915, after being both lured and pressured by Russian and British representatives, and enduring a number of Turkish and Kurdish attacks, Nestorian maliks, under the direction of the Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun, decided the time was ripe to ally themselves formally with the Russians, who re-entered and took control of Urmia in May, 1915.
By October of 1915, the position of the Nestorian mountaineers became vulnerable. After having fiercely fought off countless attacks by Turkish troops and Turkish armed Kurdish irregulars, the Nestorians, severely in need of arms and supplies, were unable to hold their defenses. Led by the Patriarch of the Church of the East, Mar Benyamin Shimun, the Nestorian mountaineer irregulars, along with their families, made a hasty retreat from their mountain strongholds down to Russian controlled Urmia. Passing through hostile territory, they lost thousands of lives, endured hardships and sufferings, but eventually made it to Urmia.
Although the Nestorian Assyrians, both the natives of Urmia and the Hakkari mountaineers, were able to take over Urmia and form a town council under the leadership of their patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun, the intensity of Turkish, Kurdish and Azari attacks on Assyrian positions soon took their toll. Also, early in 1918, the Assyrians incurred a further setback as the Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun was assassinated, under orders of the Iranian authorities, by Kurdish Agha Simko. The Assyrians were cut off from the Russians and surrounded from all sides. On August 20, 1918, the panic stricken people of Urmia gathered what they could of their belongings and fled southward to reach Hamadan in central Iran, where the British promised to assist them. Over 15,000 men, women and children perished from massacre, disease and famine before reaching safety in Hamadan. From Hamadan, British troops assisted in transporting the refugees to camps set up in central Iraq, mostly in Ba'quba. The Nestorian Assyrians were to remain here, waiting to return to their homes, or to secure a favorable outcome of a new settlement arranged by the British authorities inside Iraq.
Agha Petros, the Assyrian general who had, under the authority of the Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun, led the Assyrian forces and irregulars against the Turks and Kurds, proposed a plan to form an Assyrian fighting force from the refugees in Balquba and to retake Assyrian villages abandoned during the War. Sir Arnold Wilson, then the British Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, with much reluctance, allowed Petros to establish the force (as did Sir Percy Cox, who replaced Wilson later), and even aided the troops with some rifles.
"It was interesting," noted Lt. Col. R. S. Stafford, with dissatisfaction, "to observe how rapidly the Assyrians picked up the new ideas which just after the war deluded so many people in an exhausted world. Their hopes of reviving the ancient Assyrian Empire rose high. And as the days passed their claims grew more and more expansive."23
No one among the Assyrians, of course, ever realistically sought to realize anything resembling the Assyria of old. Agha Petros and his supporters, however, perceived an opportunity to gather Assyrians (mostly Nestorians -- but also Chaldeans and Jacobites and even non-Muslim Yazidies, some of whom joined the Assyrian force) in one area, in a time of relative confusion on the part of the Turkey and England. The Assyrians were now, due in no little part to their war experiences, more cohesive than before, and were receptive to the idea of establishing something resembling a state.
By October, 1920, the Assyrian troops began to advance north from the village of Aqrah through Kurdish territory, largely unopposed. They soon fell into disarray, however, as a large faction of the mountaineers rebelled against Petros and took an alternate rout to their former territories - instead of proceeding with the main body of troops. Unable to continue, Petros and his loyal troops returned empty handed. After another try at a plan for Assyrian statehood, this time in cooperation with the French in Syria, Petros was exiled by the British to France, where he died.
Mar Eshai Shimun, the Patriarch who succeeded Mar Rouel Shimun, the successor to the assassinated Mar Benyamin Shimun, was a young man of about twenty when he was confronted with the task of negotiating with Britain and Iraq on behalf of his people, as the British mandate was nearing its end in Iraq in 1932. Concerned about the end of the British mandate, and not knowing what would befall their people once the British troops had withdrawn from Iraq, leaders of the Assyrians were uneasy. In response to these tensions, Mar Eshai Shimun called a meeting of Assyrian notables in October, 1931, in Mosul, and petitioned Britain and the League of Nations to find a solution to the Assyrian question. Mar Shimun then ordered the Assyrian Levies, serving as the bulk of British military power in Iraq, to halt their active status until some sort of agreement was reached. In addition, the Patriarch, in conjunction with Assyrian bishops and maliks, had prepared a plan for the concentration of the whole Assyrian nation in the Dohuk/Amadiyah area, according to British sources24, where they would be joined by the Assyrian Levies, who had formerly served the British. A petition was forwarded to the British, to be submitted to the League, in which the Assyrians set out their demands as follows:
b) That this new home should be arranged to include the whole of the Amadiyah district and the adjacent parts of the Zakho, Dohuk, and Aqrah districts, and that it should be made into a sub-liwa under the Mosul liwa with its headquarters in Dohuk under an Arab Mutasarrif and a British Advisor.
c) That existing settlement arrangements should be wholly revised by a committee provided with adequate funds, and that the land chosen for Assyrian settlement should be registered in their names as their own property.
d) That preferences should be given to Assyrians in the selection of officials for this sub-liwa ...25
Other demands focused on the recognition of Mar Eshai Shimun as head of the Assyrians and financial and administrative points for the proposed sub-liwa. King Faysal of Iraq, who had formed good rapport with the Chaldean and Jacobite hierarchy, visited Mar Shimun and sought to dissuade him from continuing to internationalize the Assyrian question, and to seek a solution with Iraq.26 Faysal failed in his attempts to muffle Assyrian demands, a fact which angered other members of his Ikha party government - who wanted to see a more uncompromising position taken against the Assyrians. Unable to work out any mutually satisfactory plan, the Iraqi government placed Mar Shimun under arrest and sent troops against Assyrians loyal to him. After a few skirmishes between Assyrian irregulars and the Iraqi army, in which the Assyrians inflicted a number of casualties, the Army, under the leadership of General Bakir Sidqi, and with the tacit approval of the Ikha government, began to round up unarmed Assyrians for summary executions. This episode ended with the massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women, children and unarmed men (who had surrendered to the Iraqi army) in and around the Assyrian village of Simele. A similar massacre was planned by Bakir Sidqi for the Assyrian Chaldean village of Alqush, north of Mosul, but failed due to the embarrassment caused to the Iraqi government and Britain. Thousand of Assyrians, mostly those who were loyal to Mar Shimun (and who had engaged in combat against the Iraqi army) , had crossed the border of Iraq and settled in French controlled Syria. These remained in northeastern Syria and formed a relatively homogenous Nestorian community there.
With Mar Shimun exiled to Cyprus and the British in compliance with the Iraqi government, the Assyrian nationalist movement was halted.
While the voice of Assyrian nationalists was silenced, and the world press became disinterested in the Assyrians, the movement for unity and autonomy continued. Various Assyrian secret organizations were formed in Iraq and in Syria. One of the most prominent, "Khait Khait" (abbreviation for Assyrian Love and Unity), had hundreds of members in the Habbaniya British military base and settlement, where thousands of Assyrians came to work and live.27
It was most likely this group that submitted to American diplomats visiting Iraq in 1945 a petition entitled the Assyrian Problem. It was similar to other petitions in that it first sought recognition and then appealed to the West - in this case to the United States -for various forms of political assistance. The petitioners asked that
(a) We may be considered a separate and distinct people (nation) which joined the Allies in both wars and made great sacrifices losing its political Autonomous Status...28
No record of any serious interest on the part of any American political body in the Assyrians has been discovered, prior to and after this petition. Having submitted a similar appeal to the newly established United Nations in the same year in San Francisco with no success, the exiled Patriarch of the Church of the East, Mar Eshai-Shimun finally decided to change his policies and withdraw from nationalist politics formally. By 1948, Mar Eshai Shimun decided that the Church would formally relinquish its nationalistic role, and make direct contact with Middle Eastern countries. The Patriarch contacted the representatives of the Iraqi, Iranian, and Syrian governments in Washington, and subsequently called upon his followers to live as loyal citizens wherever they resided in the Middle East. Although church activity continued one way or another to buttress nationalist sentiments, particularly in Iraq - where political groups could not exist in any official capacity - the move by Mar Eshai Shimun left a vacuum for another organized effort at the forefront of the movement.
In 1968, the Assyrian Universal Alliance was formed by mostly Iranian and American Assyrians, a fact which led the Iraqi regime of Ahmed Hassan al Bakr to conclude that the organization's demands were nothing more than a front for a conspiracy by the Shah of Iran to undermine Iraqi unity, just as the British had perpetrated upon Iraq earlier, again using the Assyrians as their proxies. Regardless, for a few years, the AUA became the central Assyrian organization worldwide, in particular for Assyrians in the diaspora. While the AUA did manage to put forth some practical demands upon the Iraqi government, its message to Assyrians seemed to be concerned more with biblical prophecy than with political practicality. It continued to insist, for instance, on a "national home" for the Assyrians in north Iraq, despite the impossibility of such a plan - evident to the central personalities of the AUA itself, who were not surprised that it was never even considered by the Iraqi government. In one of its articles on a political rally, the headline read "Assyria is Coming back."29
The AUA, despite its grandiose slogans, did become a gathering and unifying force for nationalistic members of other Assyrian sects besides Nestorians. It may be considered the first major Assyrian secular organization with members from the Chaldean and Jacobite communities. Two of its prominent members were Aprim Rayis and Ninos Aho, a Chaldean and a Jacobite respectively.
Though the Iraqi government of Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr did invite the AUA to discuss its demands, no agreement was reached, and the leaders of the AUA, among them Sam Andrews, its Secretary General, were eventually accused of betraying the Assyrian cause by accepting payments by the Iraqis. These accusations were made by Assyrians, and some in the AUA, and caused the organization to split into various antagonistic factions. Bakr's government did, in April of 1972, grant the "Syriac Speaking" people (Al Natiqeen bilugha al Siryaniya) some cultural and religious rights, and a pardon to the Assyrians who left Iraq in 1933, but these acts were more rhetoric than substance. The organizations and publications which were produced were so heavily monitored that they often became the mouthpiece of the Ba'ath party.
Today, a number of Assyrian political movements have rivaled, and surpassed the popularity of the AUA. Foremost among these is the Assyrian Democratic Movement, established in Iraq in 1979. It is a political party striving for the cultural rights of Assyrians, and democratic rule for all Iraqis. Armed and in the struggle to topple Saddam Hussein of Iraq, the ADM is a member of the Kurdish Democratic Front and has four representatives in the Kurdish Assembly, which governs territory north of the American imposed 36th parallel in Iraq. In addition to having a number of offices, including its headquarters, in Dahouk, Iraq, the ADM has established centers in Syria, where it enjoys support from Jacobite Assyrians, and Iran. In the United States, thousands of Assyrians have supported the ADM, contributing financially and morally to its cause, considered much more coherent and realistic than that of the AUA.30 The ADM has reoccupied and restored a number of destroyed Assyrian villages in north Iraq in the past two years.
"For the first time since the fall of Nineveh [the ancient capital city of the Assyrians] in 612 BC," stated one of the ADM's leaders in a fund-raising dinner in Chicago, "Assyrians are building homes in Assyria."31
Although religious divisions still continue to divide the Chaldeans, Nestorians and Jacobites, political animosities and differences have lessened, as various social and political organizations have formed links and alliances with each other. A good example of this is the Assyrian Federation of Sweden (Huyada) , an umbrella body which has a majority of Jacobite and a minority of Nestorian organizations as members. Informal integration among the members of the various churches, however, has yet to be fully realized.
In reviewing Gellner's theory of nationalism below, the focus will be on the Nestorian Assyrians, from whom the overwhelming majority of Assyrian nationalist activists have come from, with the focus being mainly on two historical periods to show the two stages of the nationalist movement among the Assyrians. The first period, from the 1890s to 1914 in Urmia, is that which saw a blossoming of intellectual output, as it were, of nationalistic ideas and conceptions; books and periodicals were published, and an Assyrian council was formed. The second period encompasses the First World War and its aftermath up to 1933, the year in which the Assyrian national movement was formed and later crushed violently by the Iraqi government.
Ernest Gellner's theory has been characterized as possessing elements of functional and psychological theories of nationalism.32 The psychological theory's usual point of departure is to assume that the need to identify with or belong to a entity larger than one's self becomes important in times of change, when previous systems of identification are undermined.33 One's identification with one's role in a village, for example, becomes undermined when that village undergoes an industrial transformation, which disrupts all traditional ties between the inhabitants and changes the roles they once possessed. In such as case, people of the changed village can no longer identify with their roles, which have disappeared, but must find another identity - which is ethnicity or nationality.
In functional theory, nationalism is perceived to be guiding the rapid process of modernization, by bringing the various divided factions - tribal, religious, regional, etc. - together to build a significant population ready to be mobilized by the state. Nationalism, in other words, exists because it serves a purpose, a function.
Gellner begins his theory by postulating that society has a 'structure' and a 'culture'. He defines relations concerning the role of a person in society as part of structure, and those governing expressions, such as dress, as part of culture:
The fact that, for instance, property passes in the male line and that co-operating groups are determined by agnatic descent, are facts concerning the structure of a society; the fact that membership of a group is signified by wearing a certain kind of cloth, and that marital status is reflected in the manner of taking part in collective dances, is part of the culture of the society in question.34
Both culture and structure exist in all societies, but in small and simple societies, Gellner notes, there is a much more developed structure, "i.e. individuals are ascribed roles (often conceived in kinship terms) which determine and circumscribe their activities and relationships to others: fairly little is left to choice and fancy."35 Simultaneously, such societies have an extremely developed culture as well, and this tends to symbolize social position in manner, conduct, ritual, dress, and so forth.
Where relations between members of a society are fairly well known, 'all know their place I as a result of the small size of the community, shared culture is not indispensable, according to Gellner. It is "not a precondition for effective communication." That is, if each person knows where he belongs in the social order, he does not have to communicate this fact about whom he is (what he does) to get along. "In the stable, repetitive relationship of lord and peasant," states Gellner, "it matters very little whether they both speak (in the literal sense) the same language. They have long ago sized each other up..."36 As long as people know about each person's role in the social ladder, runs the reasoning here, there is not much need for communication. This is why peasants do not have difficulty, for instance, accepting the fact that their lord is of a different nationality. They understand his position and he knows about their status.
In larger societies, on the other hand, structures tend to be less developed, but they are not missing all together. Bureaucracy serves as kinship for modern man, according to Gellner. And the intricacies of modern bureaucratic terminologies, relationships and symbols rival the kin networks of complex tribes. Yet in modern societies, one's role in the community is less a part of one's self; " ... man is a man and not fully identified with his role..."37 And although within organizations there are ascriptions of roles, persons living in the wider society are free to embrace organizations of their choice and change when the desire arises. Gellner notes that the majority of relationships between people in larger societies are "ephemeral, non-repetitive, and optional." They are more encounters than relationships.38
This has an important consequence: communication, the symbols, language (in the literal or in the extended sense) that is employed, become crucial. The burden of comprehension is shifted from the context, to the communication itself: when interlocutors and contexts are all unfamiliar, the message itself must become intelligible - it is no longer understood, as was the case in traditional societies, before it was even articulated - and those who communicate must. speak the same language, in some sense or other. 39
Whereas in smaller and more structured societies, communication was not as important, due to each person's knowledge of the other's position - 'before it was even articulated' - it is vital in larger societies, as a person's attachments to an identifiable and established role fade. This leads to an incoherence in understanding the self and other persons in society, which then necessitates the emphasis on communication, which identifies persons to each other. Since communication is culture, culture becomes increasingly relevant as a form of cognitive stability in the face of the process of industrialization, which has caused the erosion of the various traditional roles and structures. This erosion, states Gellner, is "inherent in the size, mobility and general ecology and organization of industrial society, or even of a society moving in this direction."40
The underlying assumption made by Gellner here is that people need to comprehend each other - and toward this end communication and culture serve a primary purpose: to allow people to understand each other now that roles within structures no longer seem certain and defined. This the case particularly because industrialization brings about the changes that alter and transform roles and break traditional ties between people.
Industrialization and modernization proceed in two ways. First, they erode traditional agrarian societies, as we noted, disrupting the intricate network or structure of relationships, and, second, they strike various regions and territories of the globe in an uneven manner, at dissimilar times and with dissimilar impacts. It is this uneven and disorderly process of modernization and industrialism, its "uneven diffusion," that is associated with nationalism.41
To better explain his theory, Gellner presents a model which outlines the processes by which nationalism attains relevance. He visualizes modernization as a tidal wave sweeping over the world, "a devastating but untidy flood, aided or obstructed by pre-existing currents, deflected or canalized by the rocks and sandbanks of the older social world."42 As this tidal wave moves, it passes over territories A and B, which are under one sovereignty. The wave hits A first, which undergoes the necessary changes. By the time A is approaching affluence as a result of modernization, B is undergoing the peak of dislocation and misery that are the symptoms of the approach of modernization. Now B is under the same political umbrella as A. What happens to B in this case?
Gellner postulates two consequences depending on the conditions. In the first case, the people of B are culturally the same as A. They cannot be physically distinguished as a collectivity - they simply live in a region of their own. In this case, the men of B will become the lower working ranks of the total society of A & B. Since the people of B are culturally similar to A, they will not be excluded from the total society, because there are no distinguishing traits that the privileged members of A can locate in the members of B. Regardless of the class differentiation that exists, no separation will occur.
... all in all, it is likely that region B, though discontented, will remain within the larger society, either awaiting the moment when the high tide of prosperity reaches it as well, or anticipating events by large-scale migration. 43
Thus the people in B, despite, their economic difficulties and inequalities in light of the people of region A, choose to remain a part of the same collectivity, striving and hoping for change. They do not possess enough cultural differences to set themselves apart.
In the second case of Gellner's hypothesis, the people of B are radically differentiated from the people of A. They are racially, and religiously distinct, and so can be easily physically distinguished by and from the people of A. In this case, the people of B will begin to form, or reform, their own collective identity, "their discontent can find 'national' expression: the privileged are manifestly different from themselves, even if the shared ,nationality' of the under-privileged men from B starts off from a purely negative trait, i.e. shared exclusion from privilege and from the 'nation' of the privileged."44 Furthermore the privileged of A seek to exclude from their realm the ill-trained and poor people of B. The small intellectual class in B, which cannot easily pass into A, will profit from a detachment of land B from land A. If it succeeds in bringing about a separation, it will monopolize the most desirable posts in the newly independent B land.
The above model points to two factors which are necessary in the formation of nationalism. The first is the presence of economic and urban competition between workers who either living are or have come to live in an urban industrializing or industrialized center, where competition for resources is strong, the second is the existence of a noticeable and novel culture, from which a collectivity may draw its national identity, and which may serve to exclude this collectivity from and by another. A collectivity goes on to exclude another because A) it has been excluded by a more privileged one, or B)it is the one that has greater privilege and does not want to share it. Culture and pigmentation, etc. (factors which render one group distinguishable from another) have, of course, always existed. Their elevation in society, however, has come with the penetration of industrialization and the growth of competition for resources among people - as illustrated in the above model by Gellner.
This is where culture, pigmentation, etc. become important: they provide means of exclusion for the benefit of the privileged, and underprivileged ... Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist -but it does need some pre-existing differentiating marks to work on, even if ... these are purely negative (i.e. consist of disqualifying marks from entry to privilege, without any positive similarity between those who share the disqualification and who are destined to form a new 'nation').45
Our focus will be on the role of a novel culture and that of the causal relation between industrialism and nationalism, and how it relates to the role of intellectuals and proletarians - factors which Gellner perceives as vital for the establishment of a nationalist movement.
The combined influence of the Western missionary activities and Russian military advances into Iraq and Ottoman Anatolia affected the status and outlook of Eastern Christians, particularly Nestorians. The Western missionaries provided opportunities for education and economic advancement, and the Russians gave the Nestorians a new political confidence.
Over the latter course of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth, the Assyrian community in Urmia gained predominance as the number of merchants, professionals and intellectuals grew. In the outlying villages of Urmia, hundreds of schools were established, and two colleges were built in the town of Urmia. Just as they had done with the Armenians, the American missionaries played a decisive role in the economic and educational advancement of the Assyrians.
"Gradually," states Arian Ishaya, "a professional class of Assyrians became visible," staffing the various missionary establishments.46 By 1920, the Assyrians in Iran had the highest rate in literacy of any ethnic group, 80% according to Charles Issawi.47 As early as 1848, the Protestant sponsored periodical Zahrira d'Bahra (Ray of Light) was published in Assyrian. This periodical, among its religious essays, featured news clips from all over the globe, bringing cosmopolitanism to its readers.
It was among Western educated elite, including priests and bishops, such as the French educated Catholic Mar Tuma Oddo, the Chaldean Bishop of Urmia, that the espousal of nationhood took place in the 1890s. Pamphlets and articles about the "Oumta" (nation) began to appear in the neo-Syriac language. A number of nationalists advocated, and succeeded in, reapplying the name of the Assyrians - by changing it from Syriacs (or Syrians - not related to present Syrians) to Assyrians [Suryaya to Aturaya], a change which symbolized the desire of the intellectuals and leaders of the community that it was necessary to move away from the religious constitution of the 'nation' and towards its secular character. one of the best available source of information on the state and perspective of the Assyrians - particularly the well educated - prior to and during the First World War in the area of Urmia is the periodical Kukhwa (the Star), a bi-weekly newspaper which ran from June 1906 to the Autumn of 1914, and then on and off again from 1917-1918. Although other periodicals existed in Urmia, Kukhwa was the only independent - not published through or sponsored by a Western mission. Kukhwa was the first periodical to carry overt nationalistic messages; news from Assyrians in the diaspora, lessons on history, essays on the importance of national identity and the detriment caused by the existence of a variety of Churches, to which the majority of the previously Nestorian Assyrians had converted. It represented the voice of the nascent Assyrian intelligentsia of the time, a group of American and Russian educated young professionals; Dr. Fraidoon Bet Oraham, Benyamin Arsanis, Dr. Baba Parhad, and Mar Tuma Oddo, among others. In various articles and essays, these advocated a separation of church and state,' a new sense of nationhood and national unity, and an awareness of national history. It is worth quoting some of the essential goals of the periodical here, as they were published in the first issue of Kukhwa. The aims of the editors, it is clear, resemble the goals and aspirations of nationalists everywhere; espousing national unity and loyalty, condemning various 'subnational' (tribal, religious) allegiances, and encouraging communication and education.
1. The primary aspiration of Kukhwa is to unite the Millet, through love and unity, which are the cornerstone of the Millet. Today we are not one church, as we were 70-100 years ago. We no longer have nationalistic [unifying) sentiments ...
Even in spelling and publishing we are divided. This [unusual] case is not found in any nation that perceives itself civilized ... there are hundreds of such deficiencies that pertain to us Assyrians...
2. To unite the nation through letters (communication), essays, and news that find their way in this paper. Our people are scattered in Turkey [Ottoman empire], Iran, Russia, and America. There are signs that this diaspora will greatly increase, and year after year it will decrease the numbers of those who still reside in their own homeland.
3. kukhwa will strive to be a catalyst for the advancement of education and culture; a forum for the exchange of nationalistic ideas and discussions.
6. kukhwa will not become a device for arousing and strengthening denominationalism. We will not have the place or the opportunity for the theological arguments - no room will be provided for polemics about the greatness of one denomination or faith, and the weakness of another. We are aware of [secular, nationalist) ideas and want these to take greater hold in our hearts and minds: we are all the sons of one nation, from the same flesh and blood and possess one language.
It is our intention to elevate the ethics of our people, to indoctrinate them into accepting the foundations and pillars that uphold our faith, and which we accept without opposition.48
To 'unite the Millett' became an important endeavor for the intellectuals once they had become aware of the 'advanced' nations around them, and once the weakness which they possessed as a result of their divisions became apparent. It was not so much the 'need for identity' as the desire for empowerment by gathering.
Secular and nationalist ideas had taken root among the intellectuals. Well aware of the new political ideologies in the world, Assyrian intellectuals felt that nationalism was a sentiment that would empower a people -much like it seemed to be doing in the seemingly secular West. It was the norm in the world, in particular among Europeans, who were modernized and powerful. Not unlike the Arabist Christian Syrians of Lebanon, the Assyrian nationalists sought to enlarge their 'base' of operations, as it were, to transcend the religious and tribal confinement, and reach the 'nation.'
What made the nationalist ideas of the intellectuals all the more appealing was the fact that denominationalism antagonisms had paralyzed their community. An instructive example in how detrimental denominationalism could be was is the case of the Assyrian Council formed in Urmia in 1906-1907. For the first time in Urmia's history, the various Assyrians that lived in the city and in the hundreds of villages that surrounded it, joined together and formed a council, consisting of 9 elected members, to administer to temporal matters of the community and send an Assyrian delegate to the Iranian legislature in 1907. Disagreements and conflicts between the various religious groups within the council, particularly between members of the Russian Orthodox faith and other's, brought the council to ruins.49 Members of Kukhwa editorial staff referred to the involvement of "foreigners" in Assyrian affairs, and condemned denominationalism. Nationalism, with its promise to transcend sub-national and religious barriers by making the 'nation' the focus and not denominations or tribes, was the perfect solution.
"They learned anew," states John Joseph, of Assyrian intellectuals disturbed by religious divisiveness, "to cherish their language and historical traditions in spite of the fact that their small community was split into denominations antagonistic to each other."50 Indeed, a result of denominationalism, Assyrians concerned with the state of their community began to refer to a mythologized history as a savior of sorts. The language and 'traditions' which were cherished were modernized to become compatible with and aid nationalism. Glorious episodes in Nestorian history became a point of pride for the now Protestant Assyrians.51 Later, Akitu, an ancient Assyrian religious festival, was revived as a nationalistic reminder. As Edward Shils points out in an essay on the nature of intellectuals, the process of enhancing a culture entails a rejection of the very cultural values in various degrees of comprehensiveness.52 Ultimately, what this means is that for nationalists, traditions are worthy only as they fill their role to buttress nationalism, and history is as good as the good it does to those who gain knowledge of it.
In 1911, Dr. Fraidoon Bet-Oraham (known as Fraidoon Atooraya, 'Fraidoon the Assyrian') , wrote a polemical essay "Who Are the Syrians, and How Should Our Nation Be Uplifted?, " in which he argued that the national consciousness of a people grows in proportion to the young generation I s knowledge of its forefathers, which was, in Dr. Bet-Oraham's opinion, lamentable at the time. Bet-Oraham was educated in Russia, and for some time lived in Tiflis, Georgia. Here he became familiar with the advancement nationalism was making among the people of the region, in particular the Armenians. In 1917, he wrote the "Urmia Manifesto For a United and Free Assyria," published in a Georgian Socialist newsletter.53
Bet Oraham's life was marked by discontentment, which manifests its self in all of his numerous poems and polemical writings. A romantic and a socialist, Bet -Oraham was an advocate, as were most of his colleagues, of changing the ethnic designation of the Assyrian from 'Suryaya' which had a religious connotation to it, to 'Aturaya' which was the term largely used for the ancient, pre-Christian Assyrians. Aturaya came to symbolize the process of secularization and renewal, both a search for the 'lost past' and an abstract restructuring of the 'nation,' to fit into the framework of nation states.
"If we write truthfully," wrote Benyamin Arsanis, who was also, like Bet Oraham, a Russian educated nationalist living in Urmia, "we as a nation are nothing; we do not even possess a name. we very much resemble the inhabitants of the forest, existing without pondering our identity."54 Arsanis, like Fraidoon Bet Oraham and other Assyrian nationalists and educators, sought first to rethink or 'reconstruct' what it was to be 'Assyrian, I a step towards more appropriately fitting into the world that surrounded them, a world dominated by 'nations' and denominations or divided nations. Once Assyrians transform their thoughts and ideas, Arsanis and Bet Oraham, their actions will accordingly become transformed for the better.
Although Assyrian nationalistic sentiments were more prevalent among the Nestorians (particularly those in Urmia) than among Chaldeans and Jacobites, nationalists were to be found among the latter as well. Among Jacobites, one of the earliest nationalists, Ashur S. Yousif (1858-1915), propounded nationalistic ideas similar to Arsanis, Bet Oraham, and other intellectuals in Urmia. Educated by American missionaries, he was probably influenced by both American evangelism and Armenian nationalism. In the following passage, quoted by numerous Assyrian magazines up to the present, Ashur Yousif's urgent call for change is clear.
To attain cultural development and progress among the Assyrians, both as individuals and as a people, it is necessary to have the highest ideal in life and to seek to realize it. And to reach this goal, families also must bring forth children with a Christian and national character who will serve the nation; and schools must produce leaders. The church and the clergy should revive the pulpit, and with fiery language and divinely inspired message extol the life of the soul. And the wheels of the press should grind out newspapers and books to promote the intellectual, spiritual, and national life of the Assyrians.
Let family, church, school, and press unite in this spirit, cooperate and render mutual assistance, for it is only then that this nation, which has embarked on the journey to self enlightenment, will attain the supreme ideal in life, which it must of necessity pursue.55
Among Jacobites and Chaldeans, nationalism did not become a significant movement early on. Other than a few intellectuals and professionals, such as Ashur Yousif, adherents to it were too few. Among the clergy, there was grave concern that nationalism would mean ruin. Chaldean and Jacobite hierarchs possessed institutions that were too close to Ottoman, and after the First World War Arab, seats of power. Members of the Jacobite and Chaldean churches, unlike the Nestorians, were much more integrated, both economically and culturally, within the larger societies that surrounded them. For a time, after the First World War, the Jacobite and Chaldean church leaders did seem to desire an alliance with the Assyrian nationalists, particularly when President Wilson encouraged new freedoms for various nationalities. The Jacobites of America joined delegates of the Assyrian National Associations of America at the peace conference in Paris. Mar Afram Barsoum, Jacobite Bishop of Syria and later Patriarch of the Jacobite Church, was a member of the delegation, but soon became disillusioned and began to defend Arab rights instead of representing his people, and was subsequently known as 'Qass al 'Urubal (Priest of Arabism) among Arab nationalists.56 It was Mar Afram Barsoum, who also stated his church's position on Assyrian nationalism.
"The 'Assyrian' name," wrote Barsoum, "is an English Protestant invention going back to 1900 AD. It was bequeathed to the Nestorians in the regions of Mosul in 1919-20 AD for a malicious political purpose ... the Syrians have no interest whatsoever in taking to themselves this strange name..."57 He further added that the sufferings the Nestorians have endured are a result of their nationalism, and if Jacobites wished to avoid the same fate, they should dissociate themselves from Assyrian nationalistic activity.
It is difficult to assess the influence of nationalist sentiment among the ordinary Assyrian Nestorians of Urmia. The data on this subject has not yet been found. Interviews with ordinary people done by Western missionaries focus on religious matters and daily living habits. Among the Hakkari Nestorians, no evidence of nationalist sentiments existed - none were articulated in any known sources at any rate. Those who wrote in Kukhwa and produced books and pamphlets in Urmia, however, displayed their nationalism most clearly and articulately. Though the nationalism of the intellectuals did not lead to any significant nationalist movement - with foot soldiers so to say - it existed to propound its ideas and perspectives, to be taken up by the leadership of the Assyrians after the First World War.
The First World War devastated all Aramaic speaking Christians; Maronites, Jacobites, Chaldeans, and -- in particular -- Nestorians. Although the Nestorians had fought over 14 victorious battles against the Kurds and Turks, the annihilation of their homeland was an inevitable outcome. The people; maliks, bishops and peasants alike, suffered tremendously, and thousands perished by the end of the War. In 1918, the majority of the Nestorians had either fled to Russia or were living in British "tent cities" in the central plains of Iraq.
Such experiences of collective suffering gave the Nestorians a broader perspective on who they were and why they had suffered. Horror gave way to sorrow and then to feelings of injustice and betrayal by their Western allies, who continually encouraged them, but failed to support them in times of desperation. Tribalism began to dissipate as it became clear that it was the entire "nation," not just a tribe, that was at the brink death. Members of the various tribes, for so long isolated, came into contact other tribes. marriages took place across tribal and denominational lines at unprecedented numbers. A transformation of culture - perhaps one could say its very birth - took place at this time. Tales and folk songs told of persecution and injustice, and reinforced feelings of solidarity among the refugee population. And if, as Majid Khadduri words it, nationalism thrives on bad administration and propaganda, then these two also came to intertwine at this time.58 The War had uprooted the very social and economic existence of the Assyrians, both mountaineers and Urmians. Homeless and destitute, their anguish manifested itself in nationalistic demands placed before the League of Nations and the British government.
In 1919, Assyrian maliks and community leaders elected Surma Khanim, the sister of the Patriarch of the Church of the East, to represent the Assyrian case before the League of Nations. Though she was received most graciously, particularly by the British, she returned empty handed back to her people. The opportunity for Agha Petros, the renowned Assyrian military leader during the War, had presented itself.
Agha Petros put forth a military plan that was accepted by a large number of Assyrians. The plan, which many observers at the time considered unrealistic, called for retaking the town of Urmia, turning West and retaking the abandoned Hakkari mountains in Southeastern Turkey, and from there heading West to the Mediterranean to form a thin stretch of territory to include the Jacobites - all of this would form a small Assyrian Christian state with access to the sea. The Assyrian troops were to gather at Aqra, an Assyrian Chaldean village in north Iraq, and from there proceed northwest to Urmia, station themselves at Urmia for a short period, and head into the Hakkari mountains and reclaim the former Assyrian territories.
With British guns and ammunition, the 8,000 Assyrian troops began their march in October of 1920. Kurdish resistance was easily overcome and the road was clear toward Urmia. Unfortunately, a conflict between Agha Petros and Khoshaba, commander of the Tyari tribe, caused a split in the ranks. Khoshaba took the finest of the mountaineer warriors and headed toward the Hakkari mountains, leaving Petros with a smaller body of Urmian troops to fend for themselves. Unable to continue, Petros turned back his failed expedition.
The Assyrians remained hopeful that some sort of settlement regarding their lands would be reached, and looked toward the British and the French for assistance. Though they lived in relative peace in Iraq from 1920 onward, the Assyrian leadership's eyes were on British designs and actions, as well as fearful of Iraqi Arab intentions. As the British mandate in Iraq neared its end, Assyrian concerns about the future state of their people were heightened.
In 1931, as noted earlier, the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church, Mar Eshai Shimun, called on all Assyrian bishops and maliks, as well as other representatives, to a conference in Mosul in north Iraq to address the future of the Assyrians. A petition was drawn up and submitted to British authorities within Iraq (quoted above) . Soon after, a letter was presented to the British Brigadier commanding the Assyrian Levies, signed by all of the Assyrian officers, stating that all of the men had decided to stop serving, because "the British Government had failed adequately to ensure the future of the Assyrian nation after the termination of their mandate over Iraq."59 The Assyrian Levies stopped serving on July 1, 1932, and the British were forced to arrange for the First Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment to be transported to Iraq from Egypt, to temporarily staff Assyrian positions. The petition drawn up by the Assyrian leadership was forwarded to the League of Nations in Geneva, and Mar Shimun soon followed things up with a visit there. He was, however, unsuccessful and managed to earn the wrath of the Iraqi government and the displeasure of the British, whose interests now rested with the stability of the new Kingdom of Iraq.
It is needless to recount the historical episodes that occurred next, after no agreement was reached between the Assyrians and Iraq. In summary, the conflict came to a head in August of 1933, and ended with the exile of the Mar Shimun to Cyprus, and the massacre of hundreds (according to the British and Iraqis) , perhaps thousands (according to Assyrian sources) of unarmed men, women and children - who had been previously made to pledge allegiance to the Iraqi government.
The Assyrian case was out of the public realm in Iraq. Within the Assyrian community, however, nationalism, particularly as a cultural expression in literary and artistic endeavors, continued to grow and propagate a nationalist creed in the Middle East and in the diaspora, as well as attract members of the Jacobite and Chaldean communities as Assyrian nationalists, partaking in one history and culture - something previously unimaginable, though all sects shared one ethnicity.
That the Assyrian nationalist movement failed in Iraq does not nullify its existence or its importance among the Assyrians, prior to 1933 and subsequent to it. The Nestorian mountaineers and plainsmen of Urmia, divided by tribe and denomination, now existed under one national name and espoused a nationalist vision of someday having their homeland - though many Assyrian nationalists understand this is unrealizable at present
Having recounted the above nationalistic episodes in Assyrian history, let us now turn to three points made in Gellner's theory. First, the rise of the significance of culture and the need for identity; second, the role of a novel or unique culture in the formation of nationalism; and third, the impact of industrialization on the development of nationalism, specifically as it relates to the involvement of intellectuals and proletarians.
As noted earlier, Gellner postulates a causal relation between the erosion of the traditional order of roles, of the structure in a society, by the impact of industrialization and the subsequent increase in the importance of 'culture,' which he defines essentially as "the manner in which one communicates in the broadest sense."
This heightened relevance of culture in people's lives is linked to the incoherence experienced by individuals in an environment that is changing or has changed under the impact of the wave of industrialization, which disrupts life by disintegrating traditional ties and roles which people had.
Why does culture become so meaningful to people? Gellner's thesis is contingent upon the existence of man's need to understand himself and those around him in some way or another, and man's need to belong to a collectivity - a community - to have a nitch in society, a view he shares with Elie Kedourie. Either one will have a position, a place, in society, or he will seek it in other ways, according to Gellner.
If a man is not firmly set in a social niche, whose relationship as it were endows him with his identity, he is obliged to carry his identity with him, in his whole style of conduct and expression: in other words, 'culture' becomes his identity.60
Man, then, is "obliged" to possess an identity so as to fulfill his need to understand himself and 'fit' as it were into some collectivity. There are numerous authors, including many whose writings are on national histories, who agree with Gellner. Albert Hourani, in writing on Arab Christian intellectuals prior to the turn of the Century, noted that upon separation from their native community, Western educated young men desired to 'belong' to another community, one that would be recognized by authorities and which they could comprehend as their own - the secular "Arab nation" was that entity for many.61 A similar argument could be made about the Assyrian Nestorians of Urmia who left their native church for a number of Western churches, and from whom came forth the intellectuals who formulated the idea of the Assyrian nation stretching in time from the depths of history to the present time, because they sought to identify with that entity, since they could no longer identify with their church. The Indian example cited by Nehru, about the Indian middle class, is illustrative as well:
They wanted some cultural roots to cling on to, something that would give them assurance of their own worth, something that would reduce the sense of frustration and humiliation that foreign conquest and rule had produced. In every country with a growing nationalism, there is this search apart from religion, this tendency to go back to the past.62
There is little doubt that the above cases hold truth, particularly in some situations; an international gathering where the flags and symbols of nations are displayed, for example. A person may feel that he must belong to one nation or another, and that he is somehow less than others if he cannot so classify himself - and in modern times, nations have been the legitimate categories of the world system. The difficulty, however, is that the concept of this need to belong, or this search for an identity, are not specific to nationalism. One can also be a member of a Church, a cult, a club, and still satisfy this need for identity and belonging in one way or another. Too, as Anthony Smith points out, such notions ought to be viewed as habits and desires rather than concepts upon which theories are built.63 The need to belong may of course be prevalent among peoples, but the difficulty in rationally analyzing it, states John Breuilly, is what renders it unacceptable as a historical explanation.64
The next two points, according to Gellner, are essential for the promotion of a nationalist movement. The first is the existence of a unique or novel culture, and the second is the participation of intellectuals and proletarians in the nationalist movement; the "two prongs" of the movement.
A unique culture provides, states Gellner, "some pre-existing differentiating marks [for nationalism] to work on..."65
There is something to be said for the role of a culture which may set one collectivity apart from another, both in the abstract and physical sense. Of course this is not to say that cultural differentiation breeds friction between collectivities, but that any type of collective sentiment, nationalism included, will profit from the existence of a cultural "wall" one collectivity may have around itself, which may also be buttressed by economic relations.
In his critique of Gellner, Anthony Smith is of the opinion that culture does not disqualify a collectivity from building nationalism. Clearly, however, one cannot cite an example of a nationalism which has no culture/language (any pre-existing differentiating marks to work on). It is difficult to imagine the Nestorians developing any sort of nationalism without having distinguishable cultural traits; religion, language, dress, and so on, to build on. There are, however, examples of states that have (or will) over time 'forge' some collective identity from the various ethnic and religious collectivities that exist within them, by promoting popular festival, inventing traditions and sponsoring various cultural programs. Modern Iraq is a good example of both the success and failure of state sponsored national identity. Iraqi nationalists have managed to promote a coherent idea of what it means to be an Iraqi, yet efforts to bring together various ethnic groups have also fostered rejection and rebelliousness, particularly among Kurds and Assyrians.
Of course it does not follow that one who is more "culturally and ethnically" attuned, would make a better nationalist or a nationalist at all. Nationalism, however, draws upon ethnic and cultural themes and symbols to make its appeal; on historical glory, language, a unique and truthful religion, the nobility of tradition, the beauty of the land, and so on (leaving aside the very consequential matter of economics for a moment) If these are not present in the 'collective mind' of the people, they would have to be invented or conjured up. These are factors which promote public interaction and communication among individuals, and are thought to lead to a commonality - a oneness, even if only figuratively - among members of a society or country.
The Assyrian case illustrates how intellectuals evoked "memories" of a pre-Christian past that transcended the religious, tribal and factional divisions existing among the Assyrians of the twentieth century; the very stress on the use of the name 'Aturaya' (which denotes ancient Assyrians), by the intellectuals of Urmia, and the gradual abandonment of the formerly common term 'Suryaya' (Syriac) is a manifestation of this attempt by nationalists such as Fraidoon Bet Oraham, Benyamin Arsanis, and Mar Tuma Oddo, among others, to rally around common symbols of loyalty and abandon sub loyalties, such as tribe and denomination. The nationalistic message was strengthened as the Assyrians underwent the sufferings of the First World War, where the collective experiences were bound into national symbols, as they related to very real and impressionable experiences; nationalistic writings, poems and folk songs predominated collective Assyrian circles.
The reason for the involvement of intellectuals and proletarians in the nationalist movement, reasons Gellner, is that nationalism arises from the uneven impact of industrialization/modernization, which causes social and economic chasms.
The uneven impact of this wave generates a sharp social stratification which, unlike the stratifications of past societies, is a) unhallowed by custom, and which has little to cause it to be accepted as in the nature of things, which b) is not well protected by various social mechanisms, but on the contrary exists in a situation providing maximum opportunities and incentives for revolution, and which c) is remediable, and is seen to be remediable, by 'national' secession. Under these circumstances, nationalism does become a natural phenomenon, one flowing fairly inescapably from the general situation.66
What Gellner is referring to here is the consequences of the, perhaps reasoned, interests of the intellectuals and the proletariat, to which he refers as the "the two prongs of nationalism," which arise from the change wrought by industrialization. For the intellectuals, the idea of a separation, entailing independence or autonomy, means intellectual opportunities, "jobs, and very good jobs."67 In most, if not all nationalist movements, the intellectuals - specifically the intelligentsia (for Gellner it is "a class which is alienated from its own society by the very fact of its education") - have played a vital role. Among the Assyrians, this was certainly the case. The proletarians, on the other hand, "will exchange hardships-with-snubs for possibly harder hardships with national identification."68 It isn't made clear as to why the proletarians will take greater hardships for national identification, since it is perhaps not in their economic interests to do so.
At any rate, Gellner's lack of empirical data throughout his theory leaves his emphasis on the role of the proletariat open to doubt. Anthony Smith argues that although the proletariat may join a nationalist movement, it is not a factor which if lacking would threaten the nationalist movement.
The Greek, Armenian, Serb, Czech, Italian, Hungarian, German, Turkish, and Arab movements, generally led by the intelligentsia, comprised various combinations of other social groupings officers, peasants, civil servants, small traders, the haute bourgeoisie, priests, artisans, gentry, and even aristocrats ... The peasants of Burma, the officers in Egypt and Turkey, the priests in Rumania, the pig dealers in Serbia and the Philike Hetairia in Greece founded by wealthy merchants, are familiar examples of enthusiastic supporters of nationalist movements ... One looks in vain for a Kurdish, Naga, Burman, or even Palestinian proletariat, playing a decisive role in these highly developed secessionist movements.69
Smith cites empirical data based on a survey [done by Lerner, p. 124, in Anthony Smith's Theories of Nationalism, 1983] on Syrian and Egyptian workers who flocked to the cities in 1950-54 period. It was found that these workers were relatively indifferent to the goals of their nationalistic leaders, wanted economic reform and found the symbolism of class more meaningful.70
Further, John Breuilly notes that it is dangerous to rely on the idea of urban proletarian competition as an important component in the formation of nationalism.
Urban competition among different cultural groups can sustain communal nationalism, but equally it can undermine territorial nationalism. Such divisive urban nationalism is certainly inimical to nationalism as a religion of modernization and, in fact, can give rise to precisely those 'sub-national' loyalties which Gellner argues it is the job of nationalism to combat.71
In the case of the Assyrians of Urmia, there certainly was no significant worker group to speak of, a group that would lend itself to the nationalist cause. Nationalist sentiments and expressions remained mostly within intellectual circles, manifesting themselves in various periodicals, booklets, and flyers of the day. At any rate, nationalism is never a movement that involves in any comprehensive and ardent way more than a relatively small segment of the populace. As John Breuilly points out, it "is usually a minority movement pursued against the indifference and, frequently, hostility of the majority of the members of the nation' in whose name the nationalists act."72 The lack of a significant proletariats group did not seem to have hindered the formation of nationalistic sentiments among Assyrians, nor the attempts to acquire a homeland or autonomy after the First World War. No doubt, the arrival of nationalistic ideas and views among Assyrians had much to do with the dramatic changes that were taking place within the community and outside of it. Some of these changes could be perceived as part of the process of industrialization, but most were the outcome of regional and international political movements and maneuvers. One example, cited above, was the Russian advance against Persia and Ottoman Turkey prior to and during the First World War.
The nationalism of the Assyrian intellectuals of Urmia prior to the First World War, furthermore, was not the natural outcome of the process of industrialization and its consequences per se, but a conscious articulated view learned and assimilated from the nations neighboring the Assyrians, namely the Armenians, and from the Europeans whose contacts with the Assyrians grew over time. The idea of the nation represented empowerment in an age of rapid change, and later the upheaval of the First World War. The reception and adoption these nationalistic sentiments were certainly made easier by the changing environment - the growth of schools and other educational institutions - and the collapse of the traditional Assyrian church in Urmia. Later, the First World War and its tragic aftermath for the Assyrians added real dimensions to the rhetoric of the nationalists, who had been calling for the unity of the nation; the Assyrians were now a displaced people in need of a homeland.
There is a difficulty with speculating that nationalism - or even the concern with identity - arises out of the process of industrialization. Change, however, in a myriad of forms, causes intellectuals to evaluate and re-evaluate thoughts. This is no guarantee that nationalistic sentiment will result - it is not a natural outcome of a given set of factors. Nationalism, rather, is one historical phenomenon which is aided by change - one form of which is industrialization - but which must be learned by example, and received depending on the ripeness of the social, economic and political conditions.
Nationalism is the product of social, Political and economic change - but the idea of it,, in some form must be previously articulated. It cannot merely arise from a set of given conditions - as outlined by Gellner - if it is undetected and unheard of previously. That nationalism did originate in Europe as a result of the arrival of industrialism (which led to the disintegration of traditional structures and the subsequent creation of new structures) described by Gellner, is not an applicable theory to any nationalism, it is merely a good description and historical lesson - a truism - and may or may not occur again given the same circumstances.
The idea of the 'need for identity' or 'belonging' to a group, though it may have existed in some cases of nationalism, does not contribute to a theory of nationalism. In the Assyrian case, as pointed out, the desire - perhaps the need - of the intellectuals and leaders was to unify and modernize the people; to empower them in a new age. There is not the evidence to show that nationalistic sentiments were a search for identity, per se.
The propagation of nationalism does not depend on a particular class or a coalition of classes. There is no evidence to suggest that the proletarian class can somehow comprehend, or adhere to, nationalism more than peasants, for example. Nationalism can be the rallying point for the poor and wretched as well as the rich who would like to preserve their distance from a poorer people, seeking to use their wealth to exclude, as pointed out by Gellner. For this to come to pass, the distinguishing factors of culture, religion, pigmentation, and so on, need to be present.
There seems to be an exception to the relation of class and nationalism. From all examples cited, intellectuals seem to be needed for the articulation of national consciousness, at least in the initial stages, as they possess certain skills which can be employed to formulate ideology and organization. In the Assyrian case -- as well that of the Armenians, Arabs, Jews, among others --the intellectuals played important, if not crucial roles, in the development of a nation's national consciousness.
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2 Vine, Aubrey; The Nestorian Churches, p.26
3 Kelly, J.N.D.; Early Christian Doctrine, p.310
4 Arberry, A.J. (Ed.); Religion in the Middle East, p.477
5 Joseph, John; The Nestorians and their Muslim Neighbours, p.25
6 Betts, Robert; Christians in the Arab East; A Political Study, p.4
7 Betts, p. 4
8 Arberry, A.J. p. 522-23
9 Joseph, John; Muslim-Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries in the Middle East; The Case of the Jacobites in the an Age of Transition, p. 11
10 Joseph, p. 15
11 Ibid., p. 17
12 According to Malik Yaqub Ismael of Upper Tyari, the patriarch of the Church of the East gained prominence in tribal affairs after the Badar Khan massacre of Assyrians, as Kurdish-Assyrian relations deteriorated and Assyrian maliks increasingly came to rely on the mediation of the patriarch (In Yaqub Ismael's Aturave-oo-Tre Plashe Tweelave (Assvr.ians and Two World Wars), Tehran, 1964, p. 15-16.
13 Coakley, J..F.; The Church of the East and- the Church of England; A History of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian Mission, p. 39
14 Coakley, p. 14
15 Ishaya, Arian; "Ethnicity, Class and Politics: Assyrians in the story of Azerbayjan" Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society, October 1990, p.4
16 Ishaya, p.4
17 Betts, p.107
18 Perly, David; "The Jacobites" in Yusuf Malek's The British Betrayal of the Assyrians, p.107
19 Mar Raphael, the Chaldean Patriarch, and Mar Sakka, the Jacobite bishop of Syria have made often stated that their people e part of the Arab nation.
20 Joseph, John; Muslim Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries-in the Middle East, p.81
21 Joseph, p.98
22 Ibid., p.98
23 Stafford, R.S.; The Tragedy of the Assyrians, p.39
24 Toynbee, Arnold; Survey of International Affairs 1934, p.142-43
25 Toynbee, p.143
26 A number of prominent Assyrians attributed the subsequent difficulties that Assyrians were to have in Iraq to Mar Eshai Shimun's refusal to negotiate directly with Faysal, and instead rely on the British.
27 Baaba, Youel; Assyrian Democratic Movement (booklet)
28 Andrews, David I.; The Lost Copies of the Middle East, p.30
29 Reported in the Assyrian Star, March 1974
30 The Assyrian Democratic Movement publishes a periodical in Dohuk, Iraq, by the name of 'Bahra' (Light), and 'Aghoona' in California, USA.
31 Announced at Venice Banquets in Chicago, September, 1992
32 Breuilly, John; National the State, p.28-35
33 Breuilly. p.28
34 Gellner, Ernest; Thought and Change, p.153-54
35 Gellner, p.154
36 Ibid., p.154
37 Ibid., p.155
38 Ibid., p.155
39 Ibid., p.155
40 Ibid., p.157
41 Ibid., p.166
42 Ibid., p.166
43 Ibid., p.167
44 Ibid., p.167
45 Ibid., p.168
46 Ishaya, Arian; Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society, Volume V. No.1, Spring, 1991. p.11
47 Ibid., p.11
48 Kukhwa, Volume I, no.1, 1906. p.1-2
49 Ishaya, Arian; "Ethnicity, Class and Politics: Assyrians in the History of Azerbayjan 1800-1918" in Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society, October, 1990. p.14
50 Joseph, John; The Nestorians and Their Muslim Neighbors, p.123-124
52 Shils, Edward; The Intellectuals and the Powers, p.7
53 Elia Vartanov, Assyrian journalist from the former Soviet Union, personal communication.
54 Kukhwa, Volume I, no.2, 1906. p.27
55 Nineveh, Volume 15, no-4, 1992. p.44
56 Joseph, John; Muslim Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries-in the Middle East, p.101
57 Mar Afram Barsoum; The Syrian Church, (pamphlet, reprinted in Holland, 1979 - date of original unknown)
58 Kadduri, Majid Independent Iraq 1932-1958, p.2
59 Toyanbee, Arnold; Survey of International affairs, 1935. p.142
60 Gellner, p.157
61 Hourani, Albert; Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1793-1939 p.96
62 Emerson, Rupert; From Empire to Nation, p.152
63 Smith, p.145
64 Breuilly, p.32-33
65 Gellner, p.168
66 Ibid., p.166
67 Ibid., p.169
68 Ibid., p.172
69 Smith, p.122
70 Smith, P.124
71 Breuilly, p.33
72 Ibid., p.19