1843 and 1846 massacres in Hakkari
A series of massacres in Hakkari in the years 1843 and 1846 of Assyrians were carried out by the Kurdish emirs of Bohtan and Hakkari, Bedr Khan Bey and Nurallah. The massacres resulted in the killing of more than 10,000 Assyrians and the captivity of thousands of others.
The Ottoman Empire had been significantly weakened by the 19th century, which resulted in the loss of central control over Upper Mesopotamia and Kurdistan. It seemed as if the Empire was on the brink of collapse when Muhammad Ali revolted in Egypt and took control of Syria. It was then that Kurdish Emirs found an opportunity to assert their independence. Among them was Ibrahim Pasha, a Kurdish Emir whose dominion included a region extending from Diyarbakir to Aleppo, and who fought alongside Muhammad Ali against the Ottomans and their allies from the Arab Shammar tribe in Jazira. Despite the failure of Muhammad Pasha in his Syrian campaign, the events showed the vulnerability of the Ottomans and encouraged Kurdish aghas to try and increase their control in the region.
This period witnessed an increase of British influence as well, apparently fearing another French attempt similar to Napoleon's Egyptian campaign. The British appointed Hormuzd Rassam, an ethnic Assyrian archaeologist from Mosul and brother-in-law of Britain's ambassador in the city, as a delegate to extend British influence to the areas of the independent Assyrian tribes. British and American Protestant missionaries, such as Justin Perkins and Asahel Grant, started visiting the area in the same period. They generally showed great sympathy to the Assyrian Christians. The Kurds however were wary of them, and Assyrians hospitality towards the foreigners only increased their suspicion. The "hostile intention of the Kurds towards the Assyrians "was well known to British officials". On 27 January 1842, Canning wrote to the foreign secretary, Lord Aberdeen, informing him that the Nestorians of Kurdistan have been subdued by a Kurdish Bey" acting in concert with the Ottomans.
The massacre in view of the missionaries presence and the intensifying tension between the parties
The presence and activity of the missionaries on behalf the local Christians, has been perceived, in the eyes of the tribal Kurdish leaders, the neighbors and the patrons and the rivals of the Assyrian Christians, as an activity against the Muslim Kurds and against the local tribal population. Mordechai Zaken in his PHD and forthcoming book discusses the three main clashes in which the Assyrian Christians were engaged, with the tribal Kurds (1843–46), with the Turks, the Kurds and the Persians (during and following WWI) and with the Iraqi Arabs (during 1933).
The first major clash could be attributed in part to the presence and involvement of western Christian missionaries in the tribal politics in Kurdistan. The Hakkārī region, today in Southeast Turkey, witnessed in 1843 an unprecedented outburst of animosity between Kurds and Christians. Atiya regarded “the horrors” of the massacre of 1843 as “the worst since the ravages of Timur Lane.” The massacres in Nestorian villages by Muslim Kurds were described as “the ugliest, which the Nestorians of Kurdistan had experienced since the Mongol invasion.” Joseph stressed that it was “the first major conflict between native Christians and Muslims in modern times.” Contemporary observers and scholars estimate that between four and ten thousand Assyrians in the Hakkari region were massacred in 1843, when Bader Khan the Mīr of Bohtan invaded their region. After a later massacre in 1846, the Turks who were in a midst of re-centralization policy of gaining the power back from tribal leaders and peripheral principalities, were further pushed by the western powers into intervening in the Kurdish region.
The interaction between the missionaries, the Kurdish chieftains, and the Assyrian Patriarch, at this critical time, had been important to the understanding of the subject discussed in this volume. Already in 1836, from the American mission in Urmia, the American missionary Justin Perkins wrote the Assyrian Patriarch in Kochanes, expressing an interest to act amongst his people. Three years later, Dr. Asahel Grant, the partner of Perkins, vested the patriarch for the first time. During his visit he treated Mir Nurallah Beg and managed to cure him of an illness. At that time Nurallah Beg resided in Bashqala while his nephew and rival, Suleyman, lived in the fortress of Julamerk. Mar Shimon sided with Suleyman, because he was an ally of his late father. Consequently, he won the hostility of Nurallah. According to Yonan "The arrival of the foreign missionaries disturbed this delicate historical balance. While the native Christians viewed their Western counterparts as a source of strength, the Kurds considered them a harbinger of decay for their autonomous feudal power. "
In the midst of this tribal rivalry, Nurallah traveled to Erzerum to mobilize the support of the Turkish pasha, as he wished to reduce Mar Shimon power. He also counted on the support of several Christian Maleks, who were against the concentration of power (both spiritual and temporal) within the patriarch family. On Dr. Grant's third visit, in 1841, he visited both Mar Shimun and Suleyman, albeit he did not visit Nurallah. The Kurdish tribesmen interpreted Grant's activities quite differently. Nurallah had Mar Shimon's residence burned down during his absence as a sign of warning. However, in 1842, on his fourth journey, Dr. Grant visited Nurallah and negotiated with him the establishment of several mission stations in the tribal region of Tiyari, in Ashita. It should be noted that Grant did not bother to ask they did not officially recognize the approval from the Ottoman authorities, as the Nestorian millet. 1842 was the year during which the alliance between Badr Khan Beg, the powerful Kurdish Mir of the Bohtan region and Nurallah Beg of Hakkari was fortified. They planned a campaign against the Turkish governor Mohammed Pasha of Mosul, from whom Ismail Pasha of Amadiya won his town back in the summer of 1842. These occurrences happened during the time that the Turkish authorities had been engaged in re-centralization campaign that aimed at re-claim the power from the princes of the principalities. Several Christian chieftains supported the Kurdish alliance, as they were in rivalry with Mar Shimon, who preferred to seek support from the Turkish Pasha. According to Yonan, an Assyrian scholar, it is possible that due to Grant's influence, Mar Shimon placed greater trust in the Turks and the European protectors, whose representatives sought contact with him ever more frequently." Mohammed Pasha of Mosul assured Dr. Grant that he would assist the Assyrians against the Kurds in case of an invasion. In the meantime, the American mission station was opened in Ashita in September 1842 in a building constructed more as a fortress than a mission station. Meanwhile, the Kurds lost out to Mohammed Pasha and were forced to retreat. As a result, their hostility towards Mar Shimon grew, while Mohammed Pasha did not feel oblige to protect him.
In the fall of 1842, the English missionary G. P. Badger., who warned him about the American mission, whose church he considered dissident, visited Mar Shimon. During his visit, a letter from Nurallah Beg arrived, asking a meeting with the patriarch. Mar Shimon refused, apparently on the advice of Badger. He was determined to depend only on the Ottoman government and its allies. Following Badger’s departure, the disaster for the Nestorians in the isolated province took its course, and the government did not provide any support at all. Nurallah Beg decided to set out on a punitive expedition against the Nestorian tribes, and he came to an agreement with Badr Khan of Bohtan, having obtained the approval of the Turkish governor of Mosul beforehand. Though he was supposedly obliged to Mar Shimon, at least morally, for the defeat of the Kurds, Mohammed Pasha gave no second thought to keeping his promise to him. Dr. Grant played a bizarre part in this conflict. He was in the company of none other than Nurallah Beg during the preparations of the attacks on the Nestorians. He looked at himself as a "neutral mediator" who should not mingle in local affairs. Yonan thinks that he "was not even aware that he himself had brought on the conflict." During ten days, he was an eyewitness for the preparations for the invasion, but he seemed satisfied with the promise that Mar Shimon's property and his residence would be spared and treated as a sanctuary. Only following Grant’s departure, the allied Kurdish tribes attacked Tiyari in an attack that wiped out fifth of the Nestorian population. A year later, Dr. Grant died of cholera in Mosul and his mission fort in Ashita was destroyed. Mar Shimun Abraham, the contemporary Patriarch (from 1820 to 1861), would spend a decade in exile in Persia. He returned embittered towards the foreigners and hostile to foreign missions. He cautioned his bishops in Jilu, Gavar, Berwar and Shamsdinan against working with them, but his influence on the diocese in Persia was too weak to prevent this. The details of the clashes and massacres of the Assyrians had been depicted by contemporary observers. The following passages are from a report of the English missionary G.P.Badger:"Early in the month of May  I received a letter from Mar Shimun, in which he informed me that the combined forces of Badr Khan Beg and the Hakkari Emeer were about to make war upon the Nestorians, or to attack the Berwari district within the jurisdiction of Mohammed Pasha of Mosul, and to charge them with the invasion. On the 4th of June I received another letter in which the Patriarch thus describes the execution of this long-projected scheme: "If you inquire after our weal, be it known unto you that the Hakkari Emeer, Ismael Pasha, Badr Khan Beg, and Tatar Khan Agha, the chief of the Artushi Coords, combined against us, and on the great feast of the Ascension made a sudden irruption [sic] into our territory, carried off an immense booty in sheep belonging to Melek Ismaeel and other of our people, murdered a number of men, women, and children, cut off their ears and sent them to Bedr Khan Beg. Moreover, we learn that they are preparing for a second onslaught, when they intend to burn, kill, destroy, and if possible, exterminate the Christian race from the mountains. From this you may see that what befell [sic] Job has fallen to our lot: our sons and daughters have been slain with the edge of the sword, and our flocks, herds, and property have become the prey of our enemies." Not long afterwards occurred a massacre in the village of Ashitha, where Layard visited the and blamed the injudicious attitude of the missionaries. He saw the ruins of the school and dwelling house, built by the American missionaries during their short sojourn in the mountains. These buildings had been the cause of much jealousy and suspicion to the Kurds. They stand upon the summit of an isolated hill, commanding the whole valley. A position less ostentatious and proportions more modest might certainly have been chosen; and it is surprising that persons, so well acquainted with the characters of the tribes among whom they had come to reside, should have been thus indiscreet.
Layard reported as well from Lizan, on the Zab River, the results of “one of the most terrible incidents of the massacre.” After the massacre, he walked on a hill covered with bones, mingled with the long platted tresses of the women and skulls of all ages. Reportedly, one-fifth of this Nestorian population was killed, about 10,000 out of a total population of 50,000. 0ther reports give lower estimates. Two American missionaries, Edward Breath and Austin Wright, estimated the casualties at 7,000, while the Anglican missionary George Percy Badger, who compiled a list of losses in each Assyrian village, indicated the number at 4,000. Bader Khan Beg, the Mīr of Bohtan and the leader of the Kurdish reprisal against the Nestorians, carried away a large number of women and children as slaves, but Sir Stratford Canning, the British Ambassador managed to release many of the captives.
Originally, the Kurdish emirates were territorial based tribal entities. These emirates had been based either on a single tribe, whose Mir was the hereditary chieftain of the tribe, or it had been based on an agglomeration of tribes, as was the case in Hakkari, where the Mir was the chieftain of a tribe that was ties with others, through intermarriage and tribal agreements. As noted above, during the first half of the 19th century, the Turks adopted a policy aimed at terminating all (semi) independent principalities in the peripheries. Even so, for a short period, two Kurdish principalities - Bohtan and Soran - grew stronger and benefited from the decline of the other principalities. By the early 1840s, Bader Khan Beg, the Mīr of the Bohtan, set up a strong confederation of tribal leaders. His reign could be the dream of some Kurdish nationalists who wish to unite all parts Kurdistan into one free and independent country. His jurisdiction included the city of Diyarbakir in Western Kurdistan, Sulaimānīya in Central Kurdistan and Mahabad in Eastern Kurdistan. Bader Khan Beg was not just another tribal ruler. He had an ammunition factory; he struck his own coins; and more symbolically, the khutba (Ar., Friday’s public sermon at the mosque) was delivered in his name, an honor reserved to the main ruler of the state. According to Rev. Thomas Laurie who wrote a biography of Dr. Grant, the "dervishes and Moolahs" amongst Bader Khan's following
"inveighed with great vehemence against the Nestorians. It was such a work of 'charity' to destroy those 'infidels' as would meet with rich reward in Paradise. 'Kill la the men,' they cried, 'who will not receive the Koran.' "
This powerful Kurdish leader, Bader Khan Beg, had not only religious personalities in his camp. But he in fact stood at the head of an alliance of tribes, who acted against the Nestorians at this critical time.
Around the same time, in the early 1840s, the Assyrian patriarch Mār Shimon acted, at least twice, against the main tribal Kurdish leaders of Hakkārī. The Nestorians in Hakkārī had been for centuries under the nominal rule of the Mīr of Hakkārī. Around 1841, the Mīr of Hakkārī died and his brother, Nūrallah Beg, became the new Mīr, depriving Sulaimān, the rightful heir according to the tribal Kurdish tradition. A feud broke out between Sulaimān and his uncle Nūrallah Beg, and the patriarch, who was a friend of the late Mīr, supported his son, Sulaimān. Several Nestorian Māliks, on the other hand, supported Nūrallah Beg, who eventually won the Mīrship of Hakkārī. This vote reflected a disagreement within the Nestorian leadership. Another conflict between the patriarch and several Māliks was related to the leaning of the patriarch for independence, while some Māliks preferred to continue the previous arrangement according to which they paid allegiance merely to the Kurdish Mīr of Hakkārī. These conflicts have weakened the Assyrian unity prior to the clash with the Kurds. Wigram, a keen observer of the Assyrians, expressed his view about Assyrian disunity, in light of the consequences.
Had the Christians held together, they might have been able to resist the attack ... As it was, each clan hoped to save itself by remaining neutral while others were destroyed, and each of the Christian ‘Ashiret districts was ravaged individually, from end to end. Kurdish chiefs were concerned with the leaning of the patriarch towards independence. They were also worried from the pro-Turkish and pro-western position of the Patriarch, who refused to give in to the demands of the new Hakkārī chief. Indeed the new Mīr, Nūrallah Beg, offered Mār Shimon XVII a peace treaty with one condition – that he should forsake his temporal authority, and leave it to the Nestorian Māliks - most of whom supported Nūrallah Beg. This demand is indicative of the political participation and split within the Assyrian tribal leadership. It could insinuate as well on the real-politic, more practical approach of the Maliks in comparison to their Patriarch.
The tension between the Kurds and the Nestorians led to “petty feuds” between the two parties in the early 1840s. Soon afterwards, Nūrallah mobilized the support of several Kurdish chieftains, notably of Bader Khan Beg. The missionary physician Dr. Grant visited the Kurdish camp just before the attack on the Nestorians. As strange as it may seem, both Bader Khan and Nūrallah spoke with Dr. Grant “without the least reserve” of their plan to achieve “the complete subjugation of the Nestorians.” The Nestorians were doomed and the only way they could be saved, was by the payment of a tribute. When Dr. Grant asked to save his house in Ashitha, the Kurdish chieftains promised to “spare the whole valley of Ashitha, as far as Lizan, “if the inhabitants would only submit and pay tribute.” The Assyrians never met this condition and the massacres that followed had two immediate results. First, the Turks decided to terminate the rule of Bader Khan.
Second, the American Board of Commissionaires as well as the Anglicans decided to suspend the mission to the mountain Nestorians, therefore actually admitting their failure to prevent blame in the tragic events, if not their partial blame in the occurrences. As is any war in this region at the time, there was booty looting and captive taking, especially young women that were taken to be slaves and perhaps later wives of the chieftains. The following is from a report of Layard:
"It may be remembered, that Bedr Khan Bey, in 1843, invaded the Tiyari districts, massacred in cold blood nearly 10,000 of their inhabitants, and carried away as slaves a large number of girls and children. But it is perhaps not generally known, that the release of the greater part of the captives was obtained through the humane interference and generosity of Sir Stratford Canning, who prevailed upon the Porte to send a commissioner into Kurdistan, for the purpose of inducing Bedr Khan Bey and other Kurdish chiefs, to give up the slaves they had taken, and advanced, himself, a considerable sum towards their liberation. Mr. Rassam also obtained the release of many slaves, and maintained and clothed at his own expense, and for several months, not only the Nestorian Patriarch, who had taken refuge in Mosul, but many hundred Chaldeans who had escaped from the mountains. . ."
Kurdish internal conflicts
War broke out in Hakkari in 1839 between Nurallah, brother of the former Emir, who governed from Bash Qal'a, and Suleyman his nephew whose capital was in Gullamerk. The Assyrians were also split in their allegiances, according to their distribution. Most of them, including the Patriarch of the Church of the East Shimun XVII Abraham, supported Suleyman as the rightful successor to his father.
The conflict turned into a massacre when Nurallah defeated his opponent and retaliated by attacking Assyrian villages and the Patriarchate of Qodshanis in 1841. This led to a permanent rift in relations between the Kurds and Christians in general. However, not all Assyrian allied themselves with the Patriarch, some took advantage of his weakness to join Nurallah.
The region descended into another war after a disagreement between Ottoman Vali of Mosul, Mohammed Pasha, and the Kurdish Agha Ismael Pasha of Amadiya. The latter resorted to Nurallah of Hakkari and Badr Khan, the ambitious emir of Buhtan. The three formed an alliance and called Assyrians to join them. The Patriarch however refused to do so after receiving promises from Mosul to protect them in case of the Kurds decided to retaliate again. War between the Kurds and Ottomans broke out in summer 1842. The next months were particularly calm in Hakkari with the Kurds busy with the war in Mosul, and missionary Asahel Grant commenced building a large religious school in the Christian town of Ashitha and provided it with Syriac books and scripturs from Mosul in September 1842. The Kurdish campaign ended the same month with failure, and Assyrians were blamed for refusing to intervene in the war. Rumours spread that Grant built a castle to be used against the Kurds, and Nurallah protested to the vali of Erzurum. In addition, Ibrahim Pasha of Mosul was also alarmed by the rumours and the increased missionary activities in the region. He described in a letter to the Porte how Grant and the Christians built a huge building containing 200 rooms at least.
In early 1843 Nurallah sent for a meeting with the Patriarch and the latter apologized using the weather, his religious duties, and the presence of a guest, the British missionary George Badger, as a pretence. It seemed that the Patriarch made his decision after being convinced by Badger to distrust the Kurds and to request assistance from the English or the Porte if the Kurds were to attack. Once Badger left, Nurallah renewed his alliance with the Badr Khan and Ismail Pasha, and requested permission from the Ottoman Vali of Mosul to subjugate the Christians.
In July 1843 the Kurdish alliance, led by Badr Khan attacked the Assyrians in Hakkari, destroyed their villages and killed many of them. Hormuzd Rassam tried using his influence with the Vali of Baghdad Najib Pasha to pressure Badr Khan for the release of prisoners which included close relatives of the Patriarch of the Church of the East who had in the meantime taken refuge in Mosul. His attempts only led to the release of about 150, one of whom was the sister of the Patriarch, while the rest were distributed as war booty between Kurdish and Turkish Agha's and Mullahs.
On 3 August, the Kurdish forces had succeeded in "subduing the tribes and it was reported that 'still the slaughter is not yet ended, and several who have attempted to flee have been murdered...'". Then the invaders had turned "against the district of Tiyari, where they had succeeded in occupying the villages and indulged in the cruelest acts against its people". Even "those who had not opposed the Kurdish invasion had been treated in the same way as the fighters." The patriarch's mother's body was chopped into four pieces. Many women and young children "were taken captive to be sold as slaves." On 21 August 1843, the British consul Abbott reported on "the role of the Persian Kurds" in the massacres of Assyrian and Nestorian tribes. The "prime agitator for the attack from the Persian frontier was the 'Shaik'" of the Kurds of Bradost". The Kurdish tribes were "marching in large numbers directly to the Assyrian provinces."
It was reported that the "killing and destruction continued apace. Corpses lay everywhere. The surviving men and women were forced to carry unbearable loads of booty for very long distances, while being lashed all along the way until they fell from torture and exhaustion". Ross wrote, '[T]hey were tortured in an awful manner to force them to expose what they call hidden treasures, while others were killing them just for entertainment and as sport and games'. The tribes "were all but encircled and left with no safe route to escape" the slaughter. Those that tried to flee had to take a route that passed through the hostile Kurds of Berwar. One group after another was caught and slaughtered "while trying to escape". It is estimated by contemporary sources that the victims of the assault of 1843 numbered ten thousand, but according to Adoona, that figure "cannot represent the total victims of the attack".
Another massacre was inflicted by Badr Khan in 1846. This massacre received international attention through western press; it also woke European politicians and public opinion to the plight of Ottoman Christians. This led the European countries to pressure the Porte to intervene and stop the massacres. An Ottoman army was sent to the region in 1847, and clashed with the Kurds in several battles that ended with the arrest of both Badr Khan and Nurallah, and their exile in 1850.
More than 10,000 Assyrians perished during the massacres. The Kurdish massacres were a precursor to the later Ottoman incursions which ended both the semi-independent status which the Assyrian tribes enjoyed in the mountainous areas, and that which the Kurds had as well. The Ottomans saw the communal conflict as an opportunity to overthrow the last semi-independent Kurdish Emirates in 1847, establishing direct control of the entire region.
Due to the massacres of 1843-1846 committed by the troops of the Kurdish leader Bedr Khan Beg against the independent Assyrian tribes, "the long-Iasting existence of the Assyrian people as an independent body" was ended.
- Gaunt & Beṯ-Şawoce 2006, p. 32
- Gaunt & Beṯ- Şawoce 2006, p. 30
- Gaunt & Beṯ- Şawoce 2006, p. 31
- Aboona 2008, p. 218
- Joseph 2008, p. 75
- Joseph 2008, p. 76
- Aboona 2008, p. 199-212
- See his phd Dissertation: Mordechai Zaken, “Tribal Chieftains and their Jewish Subjects in Kurdistan: A Comparative Study in Survival,” The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2003), in which he compares between the two non-Muslim communities
- Joseph 2008, p. 74
- Joseph 2008, p. 78
- Joseph 2008, p. 79
- Joseph 2008, p. 82
- It was reported that the "Kurdish leader Bedr Khan had invaded the country of the Christian tribes, bent on destroying them through a campaign of terror, in which large numbers had been killed and others taken captive to be sold as slaves." Aboona, 2008, p. 199-212
- Aboona 2008, p. 219
- Joseph 2008, p. 85
- Aboona 2008, p. 284
- Stafford, R (2006) , The Tragedy of the Assyrians, Gorgias Press LLC, ISBN 978-1-59333-413-0.
- Joseph, J (2000). The modern Assyrians of the Middle East: encounters with Western Christian missions, archaeologists, and colonial powers. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-11641-2.
- Gaunt, D; Beṯ-Şawoce, J (2006), Massacres, resistance, protectors: Muslim-Christian relations in Eastern Anatolia during World War I, Gorgias Press LLC, ISBN 978-1-59333-301-0.
- Aboona, H (2008), Assyrians, Kurds, and Ottomans: intercommunal relations on the periphery of the Ottoman Empire, Cambria Press, ISBN 978-1-60497-583-3.