Assyrians in the
World War I Treaties: Paris, Sèvres, and Lausanne
By Fred Aprim*
The treaties of Paris 1919, Sèvres
1920, and Lausanne 1923 are important in history as they decided
the fate of many nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa post World
War I. These treaties impacted the future of the Assyrians greatly.
Great Britain Asserts Control of
Mosul Province, Northern Iraq
During World War I, Russia was supportive
of the creation of an Assyrian homeland in northern Mesopotamia.
Russia was present during the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916) that
put the foundation for the partition of the Ottoman Empire and
Middle East. Unfortunately for the Assyrians, Russia's role in
subsequent negotiations between the Allies and the Ottomans became
reduced after the Bolshevik Revolution (October 1917) when Moscow's
attitude toward earlier Tsarist secret treaties changed. The
Bolsheviks repudiated Tsarist secret treaties to gain favor with
the belligerent countries. With this shift, the major weight
in the negotiations regarding the Near East tilted towards Great
Britain. The latter favored keeping open and friendly channels
and with the majority Arab groups in the Middle East at the expense
of smaller ethnic groups.
The British occupation of Mesopotamia
began in 1914, moving from south to north slowly. On November
1, 1918 they planned to enter Mosul despite the fact that an
armistice had become effective the day before (October 30). After
much haggling about armistice terms, the British occupied Mosul
on November 10 and
the Turks withdrew. This occupation of Mosul was to be disputed
by Turkey for decades to come.
The British insisted on applying universal
ideals to a society that had functioned on tribal bases and lacked
the minimum requirement for a modern civil society. Despite the
advice of Arnold T. Wilson, the Civil Administrator in Mesopotamia
(1918 -1920), who understood the problem of multi-ethnic divisions
among Shi'ite Arabs in the south, Sunni Arab in the center and
Sunni Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, and Turkmen in the north, the
British government failed to take such issues into serious consideration.
After the end of military operations
of World War I, preparations began by Great Britain, France,
and the other Allies to dictate terms of peace to the defeated
countries at the Paris Peace Conference (1919 - 1920), the venue
for these negotiations. Eventually, five treaties resulted from
the Conference that dealt with the defeated powers. These took
their names from towns around Paris: Versailles, St. Germain,
Trianon, Neuilly, and Sèvres. At Sèvres, the Allies
dealt with the Ottoman Empire.
Assyrian Hopes from the Peace Process
Earlier, when World War I was approaching
an end, President Woodrow Wilson laid down a set of principles
for world peace called the Fourteen Points. These principles
contained his vision for how the Allies should build peace after
the war was won. The critical twelfth point states: "The
Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured
a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now
under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of
life and an absolutely unmolested
opportunity of autonomous development." Taking heart from
this key principle, Assyrian leaders prepared to argue for the
creation of an independent Assyrian state.
Three main Assyrian groups were scheduled
to participate in the Paris Conference: the United States, Mesopotamia,
and Iran. The Iran delegation included Jesse Malek Yonan, Abraham
Yohannan, Shimun Ganja, and Lazar George. Britain worried that
the Iran delegation would jeopardize its control over the Assyrians
since it could not exercise direct authority in Iran. Therefore,
the British forced the Assyrian Iran delegates to leave Paris.
Rev. Joel E. Werda led the Assyrian
delegation from the USA, representing the Diaspora community.
He accompanied Bishop Aphrem Barsoum (Patriarch Barsoum I in
1933) and his secretary, Capt. A. K. Yousuf (1866-1924).
The Assyrian Mesopotamia delegation
received conditional permission to travel from the British authorities
on July 21, six months after the Conference had begun. The condition
placed on Lady Surma, sister of the assassinated Mar Benyamin
Shimun (1887-1918) and head of the delegation, was to stop in
London first. There she was kept until the Conference ended.
Later, she was allowed to address Assyrian demands but only in
Other representatives comprised of a
deputation led by Sa'aid Namiq and supported by the Chaldean
Catholic Church patriarchate and a delegation from the Caucasus
led by Lazar Yacouboff, President of the Assyrian National Council
of the Transcaucasus (Yacoub, p. 9).
From the start therefore, the Assyrian
delegation met with obstacles, the most serious from Britain,
and the Mandate power most directly involved with the fate of
Assyrians once Russia stepped out of the picture.
The Assyrian Delegates brought two sets
of demands: The American Assyrians demanded the establishment
of an Assyrian independent territory, as the Allies had promised
repeatedly, to include northern Mesopotamia, beginning from the
lower Zab River, Diyarbakir and extending to the Armenian mountains,
with access to the Mediterranean Sea, and under the protection
of the super powers (Werda, p. 205).
A national home for the Assyrians had
been discussed earlier. In April 1917, Dr. Fraidon (Aturaya)
Bet-Avraham (1891-1926) had completed the Urmia Manifesto of
the United Free Assyria. His vision was for an Assyrian self-governing
national home in the regions of Urmia, Mosul, Tur Abdin, Jazira,
and Hakkari with economic and military ties with Russia (Melta,
Great Britain and the US delegates denied
the Assyrian right to present this petition under the pretense
that President Wilson was having strong reservations about any
plans to divide Turkey.
Lady Surma demanded basic freedoms and
the release of all prisoners and the punishment of the criminals
responsible for the atrocities committed against the Assyrians
during the Great War (Matviev, p. 119). These demands included
allowing the Assyrians of Hakkari to return to their homes. Although
there was nothing about the establishment of an Assyrian autonomous
area, even these modest demands were ignored over the coming
Post Paris Peace Conference Events
The League of Nations was conceived
in 1919 as an instrument to maintain the peace and security thought
achieved in World War I, and to promote international cooperation.
Its Charter, called the Covenant, consists of the first twenty-six
articles of the Treaty of Versailles.
On August 23, 1921, Great Britain brought
to Baghdad Faysal (son of Sharif Hussein the Hashemite ruler
of the Hejaz) who had lost his throne in Syria, and proclaimed
him king of the newly established Kingdom of Iraq. It included
the three Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, although
the status of the latter had not been decided internationally.
Besides the diplomatic efforts at the
Peace Conference, other Assyrians, such as Agha Potros d-Baz
(1880-1932), continued to pursue steps to establish an Assyrian
autonomous state. In confidential letters written (April 1921-March
1922) the office of the British High Commissioner in Baghdad
and the Director of Repatriation and the Divisional Advisor in
Mosul discussed Agha Potros' comprehensive proposal, which was
accompanied by a map (Yusuf Malek, pp. 212-213). The two officials
discussed the difficulties and complications with a plan that
demanded the inclusion of territories within Iraq, Persia, Turkey,
and Syria. This involved the French as well. The efforts of Agha
Potros were giving the British troubles; they decided to get
rid of him. He was called to Baghdad, accused of collaboration
with the French, and exiled to France in 1921 (Nirari, p. 147).
San Remo and the Treaty of Sèvres
The Paris Peace Conference did not succeed
in resolving the partition of the Ottoman Empire. The denunciation
of the secret treaties by the Bolsheviks and the attitude of
President Wilson had forced the Allies to leave Paris with agreements
on the principles of partition and revision in the issue of British
and French mandates. The interested parties gathered in April
1920 at San Remo for further deliberations. Great Britain's Lloyd
George dominated the meetings and dictated demands: the Turkish
government in Constantinople, having lost the war, capitulated
to Allied demands. Turkey gave up its rights in all the regions
it had dominated, including Mesopotamia (Howard, p. 243).
Bishop Aphrem Barsoum addressed the
delegates through his memorandum dated February 1920. In his
address, he mentioned that he was instructed by his patriarch
with the task of laying before the conference the sufferings
and the wishes of our ancient Assyrian nation that resides mostly
in the upper
valleys of Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia. The bishop asked
for the emancipation of the vilayets of Diarbakir, Bitlis, Kharput,
and Urfa from the Turkish yoke. He protested against any plans
to establish a Kurdish authority or state and demanded compensations
for all loses the Assyrians had suffered as well as guarantees
for the future survival of the Assyrian nation and its religion.
A month later, Bishop Barsoum addressed
the conference by letter again. He repeated the earlier demands
and reminded the Conference that the massacres were not against
the Armenians alone; but against all Christians, and that half
of the Assyrian people were victims of the Turkish sword and
Kurdish dagger. He
protested against the return of Turkish rule in Diyarbakir, Mardin,
In August 1920 the Treaty of Sèvres
was signed. The Fertile Crescent came under British and French
mandate. Mosul was awarded to the British Mandate in Mesopotamia
and made part of the new Iraq in keeping with an earlier agreement
regarding Mosul reached between Britain and France. France gave
up its interest in Mosul, granted under Sykes-Picot, in exchange
for a twenty-five percent share in Mosul's oil and a free hand
in the whole of Syria.
Racial and religious minorities received
mention in Treaty articles 62, 63, 140, 141, 142, 147, 148, 149,
and 150. Article 62 declares: "The Scheme shall contain
full safeguards for the protection of the Assyro-Chaldeans and
other racial or religious minorities within these areas, and
with this object a commission composed of British, French, Italian,
Persian and Kurdish representatives shall visit the spot to examine
and decide what rectifications, if any, should be made in the
Turkish frontier where, under the provisions of the present Treaty,
that frontier coincides with that of Persia."
Treaty of Lausanne
Three years after signing the Treaty
of Sèvres, Turkey began to demand reconsideration of the
Mosul frontiers and amendment of certain articles in the Treaty
of Sèvres. A new round of deliberations commenced on November
20, 1922, between Turkey and the Allies that concluded with the
Treaty of Lausanne signed on July 24, 1923.
The reason for this drastic change in
Turkish policy stemmed from the success of the Kemalist movement,
both military and political, based in Ankara, the capital of
the new Republic. However, it was the Istanbul government and
Sultan Mehmet VI that had participated in the Paris Peace Conference
and signed the Treaty of Sèvres. With the change in both
the form of the Turkish state and its leadership, the Treaty
of Sèvres became a dead letter.
During negotiations for this second
treaty, the issue of the many national minorities in Turkey,
addressed in the Treaty of Sèvres, remained unresolved.
The representative of the League of Nations at the round of negotiations,
Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, Director of the League of Nations High Commission
for Refugees, raised the issue of the minorities on December
1, 1922. He had traveled to the region and reflected the League's
concerns regarding minorities in Turkey. These concerns lingered.
According to the Nansen International Office for Refugees, there
were still thousands of Assyrian refugees in the early 1930s
(League of Nations, p. 180).
In response, the League of Nations formed
a sub-committee to address the issue: its report was made twelve
days later. Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Minister emphasized
the interest of the international community in the welfare and
protection of the Greeks, Armenians, Assyrian Christians, and
minorities in Turkey. Mr. Child, the American observer, agreed
that strong measures ought be taken to protect those minorities.
The sub-committee presented its report in which it asked for
written guarantees for the protection of minorities in Turkey
and suggested a League commission in Constantinople to supervise
the process. However, after further deliberations and with strong
Turkish opposition, a revised report was submitted. "The
report of the sub-committee on minorities was presented on January
9, 1923. In essence, it was almost a complete Turkish victory,
for it provided guarantees by treaty, but abandoned the plan
for an international commission... under supervision by the League
of Nations." (Howard, p. 302-304).
Assyrians, yet again, were not allowed
to participate at Lausanne, as Great Britain stood in their way,
but Agha Potros attended the opening ceremonies of the conference.
Agha Potros did not give up. He tried again by submitting a letter
to the British authorities, dated October 26, 1923. Agha Potros'
suggestion for the Assyrian enclave was the land between the
Rivers Tigris and Zab, and Mount Sinjar (Nirari, p. 191).
The Assyrian state proposed by Agha
Potros covers in reality the Assyrian Christian historical homelands,
lands that have been inhabited by Assyrian Christians (Nestorians,
Chaldeans, and Jacobites) for 2000 years. The well-known Father
Jacques Rhétoré (1841-1921) comprehensively described
the region of the Assyrian Christians and visited all their churches
and monasteries as he traveled the region in 1891. According
to Rhétoré the Assyrians lived in an area confined
generally within these boundaries: north to
an imaginary line running from Lake Van to Lake Urmia, west to
a line just west of the forty-second longitude near Seert, where
the rivers Tigris and Bitlis meet, south to the thirty-sixth
latitude, east to the Great Zab (Sanders, p. 31).
In Lausanne, the U.S. backed Great Britain
because the latter promised concessions regarding American companies
sharing in the Mosul oil fields. Turkey lost its appeal to win
Mosul back based on Great Britain's claims that this region would
be saved as the future home for the Assyrians and Kurds. No final
agreement was reached.
The Lausanne Treaty under Section III
- Protection of Minorities, Articles 37 - 44 contained many stipulations
with regard to "the protection of minorities" and specified
that the minorities were the "non-Muslim minorities."
The Turkish government never respected those provisions. This
is why it refused to have a special League Commission oversee
minority rights in Constantinople.
Speaking at the Lausanne Conference,
Lord Curzon said: "In so far as they are now settled within
the borders of British influence, they [Assyrians] are assured
of our friendly interest and protection." As history has
witnessed, when within a year of its independence, the Iraqi
army in 1933 slaughtered
Assyrians, the British promise of protection had vanished. In
hindsight, the minorities, Assyrians or Kurds, became an excuse
in the Turkish-Iraqi frontiers (Mosul Vilayet) negotiations to
cover British desire to control Iraq's oil fields.
The status of minorities in Turkey had
been internationally certified by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne,
according to which they included non-Muslims in Turkey. Turkey
had become a unitary state where "Turkish citizenship"
was an all-embracing juridical concept encompassing all citizens,
granting them equal rights and obligations. Thus, theoretically,
constitutional citizenship was one of the most basic principles
upon which the Turkish Republic had been founded. All constitutions
of the Turkish Republic to date have envisaged equal rights to
all citizens. But the extent to which this principle is respected
issue that has arisen with regard to European Union entry discussions,
some 80 years after the Treaty of Lausanne. The Copenhagen criterion
of "respect for and protection of minorities" should
be applied not only to the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities
defined by the Treaty of Lausanne, but also to the
Assyrians and many other ethnic groups, religious sects, and
minorities that make up Turkey's cultural fabric.
The Iraqi-Turkish frontier was left
for future negotiations to settle. Article three of the treaty
gave Turkey and Great Britain nine months to resolve the frontier
dispute and, if that failed, the issue was to be referred to
the Council of the League of Nations. Thus, a solution to the
Assyrian settlement problem lingered on.
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wa al-Nashir wa al-Tawzee'a, 1989).
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Alpha Graphic, 1989.
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in Eastern Turkey and Iran: Their last homeland re-charted. (The
Werda, Rev. Joel A., The Flickering
Light of Asia or The Assyrian nation and Church. (1924 Rpt. Chicago:
Assyrian language and Culture Classes Incorporated, 1990).
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Second Edition 1993. Chicago: Alpha Graphic, 1986.
*Fred Aprim was born in Kirkuk. He holds
a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Mosul University. He has
done extensive research on Assyrian history and culture and has
published two books. He is currently going to press with his
third history book.