By Dr. S.G. Osipov.
IN THE FOCUS OF
THE SOVIET PRESS
The life of Fraidoon Atouraya (Bet Avraham) has always been a deep concern with our compatriots, and as more details have been discovered recently, there is even more emphasis on such a heroic and all the more tragic personality like him. It is no wonder that his name is nothing but a legend now as it no doubt has somewhat a mystical hold on the whole nation. As it very often happens to a legendary life, it is full of myths which by the way are too far from reality and hence it is very difficult sometimes to have a true representation of life and facts as is the case with Dr. F. Atouraya’s legacy.
As a matter of fact the life of the legend in question has more than once been in the focus of the “Melta” Bulletin publications (see issues No.1,1994, No.5, 1996, and Nio.9, 1998). in the latest work I elaborated on the cause of his death trying to explain why this could happen. I believe that it was his Memorandum he had sent to the Minister (commissar) of the USSR foreign affairs, Mr. G. Tchitcherin. In his address Dr. F. Atouraya focused on the challenges that Assyrians were facing at the time. All this presumably brought him on the brink of death. I hold to the opinion that it was no other than assassination of Dr. F. Atouraya. To find the proof it is quite enough to get acquainted with the Communist Party’s press issues of the aforesaid period. The best example can be found with the newspaper “Zarja Vostoka” (ZV), the voice of Transcaucasian Communists in Tiflis. To be honest, Dr. F. Atouraya made his own publications in this newspaper as well. In fact one of his handouts was included in the “Melta” Bulletin in 1996 (No.5).
Analysing the political situation in the USSR through the ZV materials we focused on the most dramatic period which preceded the first Assyrian Congress in the USSR (Moscow, December 1925) and the arrest of Dr. F. Atouraya in Tiflis on 12 July 1926. This period featured a progressive build-up of tension in Turkey and Iran. The Soviet Union was seeking partnership in all possible ways to be finally accepted to the world. After all partnership was found in Turkey and Iran where Kemal-Pasha and Pekhlevi had strengthened their authority in the land. As the Soviets held this authority as progressive in the historical point, every action in opposition to these leaders inside or outside of the land (primarily of the United Kingdom) was automatically taken as the “fraudulent imperialistic schemes”.
Since Assyrians of Urmia and of Highland split in 1921, most of Urmian Assyrians returned to Iran, and Highlanders went off to settle down in Khamadan and in the neighbouring Northern Mesopotamia. It was in August 1924 when the British just found a way to return them to Hakkjari but it eventually resulted in a bloodshed conflict with the regular Turkish army.
Upon the return of Urmian Assyrians to Iran the local administration faced the challenge to handle them tactfully in a sense that these people should be encouraged to re-establish themselves in the places they had to abandoned three years before. This measure enabled the administration to cut out at least a couple of possibilities of a strife between Muslim and Christian communities in Urmia and of active work on the part of the foreign Christian missionaries that had come to stay there in support of local Christian Nestorians. At the same time the Assyrian community in Iran strengthened by Assyrian expatriates from the Soviet Union would possibly create even a bigger challenge to Iranians. Hence they condemned the aforesaid Memorandum where Dr. F. Atouraya demanded that Assyrians should be returned to Urmia and Saunas Meanwhile Riza-Khan had strengthened his hold on Iran in 1925 in his pursuit of the throne. In Turkey Mustafa Kemal had it all in his way to become very soon “father of the nation”.
Hence the British were vexed by all these trends in the aforesaid lands especially when the Soviet Union was apparently behind the scenes. As a matter of fact the British were launching a political campaign in Mosul to set a border line between Iraq and Turkey under the auspices of the League of Nations. In the attempt of holding over Mosul and especially after the Assyrian rebels had been overpowered in Hakkjari in August 1924 the British encouraged Kurds to rise in February 1925. As a consequence Kurds chose a son of Abdul Ghamid to be their king and took the town of Kharput. In response the Turkish Parliament took a measure to lay siege to the whole district of Malatia.
Angora was totally encouraged by the Soviets who had it drawn from the statement made by Turkey’s special envoy to the USSR Mr. Yenis-bei who made his point in his interview of February 28, 1925, “I have no doubt that this current uprising of Sheikh Seid’s Kurds will be crushed as hard as it was with Aissors a year ago” (ZV, March 1, 1925).
This time around the Soviet government made the choice of holding 3rd session of the USSR Central Executive Commitee (CEC) in Tiflis, not in Moscow, to celebrate a third anniversary of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federation that incorporated Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. The USSR foreign minister G.Tchitcherin addressed the convention making the point that “We have very close ties to Kemal’s Turkey where they try like we do to employ the principles of cooperative economic development in line with the monopoly of the state. So this way the USSR is eagerly trying to get closer ties to Persia, to Riza-Khan (ZV, March 5, 1925). As some following, the USSR foreign minister spoke for it again in Leninakan (Armenia) when he encouraged Turkey in its strife with Kurds (ZV, March 14, 1925).
Shortly after 3rd session of the USSR CEC Dr. F. Atouraya published in ZV in March 20, 1925, an article where he focused on “Kurdish uprise in Turkey: British grab at Mosul oil and Turkish reaction”. It is noteworthy that this work was written and sent to ZV on March 12, when the aforesaid session was in progress. Here is this article for your kind attention please. Above all, it highlights issues which are here to stay with us to the latter day. Anyway I should like to give you some account of ZV materials published prior to and shortly after Tchitcherin’s speech in Tiflis.
In the essay “The Assyrian road” (ZV of February 15, 1925) “The all Assyrian Patriarch has left off on a visit to England to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury. His voyage is linked somehow with the forthcoming “Mosul” committee of the League of Nations. Assyrians are very anxious about their future that is whether they will stay in Iraq or they will be claimed by Turkey, and in the latter case they are afraid to lose their identity.
The Assyrian Patriarch will apparently stir a discussion to set up an ‘Independent Assyria’ seeking support from the British government”. Following this ZV issued “Between fires” signed by a certain Sharif (February 18, 1925). Above all, he writes, “Assyrians are very anxious about their future is largely dependent on what decision will be made upon the border line issue between Turkey and Iraq. Assyrians would certainly like to have independence but they are afraid it is only a dream having in mind Armenia’s strive for it. Anyway Assyrians have their Patriarch on a mission in London, but they only hope for his success.
For Assyrians who are in the middle of the Muslim world it is very vital that their existence alone not be terminated. They fear Turkey, and yet they in big numbers will have to abandon their places on condition that these places are claimed by Turkey. At least Assyrians are firm on that.
In Iraq Assyrians are better off now. They make most of the local military force guided by the British officers and hence they are considered to be the best fighters with Turks in Mesopotamia. This fact alone is very important to see what Assyrians should expect if Turkey will claim them.
For this reason or another Assyrian’s would rather like to have independence in the highlands of Amadia as outlined by the British although it is clear to them that the British will undoubtfully have a finger in the pie. As a matter of fact Assyrians have found themselves caught in the cross fire and apparently the only choice they can make is where they will shift to be eventually burned down”.
The observers later on drastically changed the tune following Tchitcherin’s speech. For example, browsing through the piece “Lessons from the Kurdish revolt” (Z.V of April 3, 1925) one can find a crackdown on Kurds and Assyrians who allegedly “schemed the outbreak of violence” in Hakkjari in August 1924, and for what they were unjustly called “Christian or Nestorian gangs” in the Soviet Press. Later on there was one more attempt of a similar kind in the Z.V. paper where came out an unauthorized piece “Aissors will carry the day” (April 29, 1925), where one finds “The British have started to concentrate armed Aissors (or Nestorians) all along the border line with Turkey and Persia (according to Turkish newspaper “Hakkimiet Millie” and “Soone Saat”.
The official “Soone Saat” made the point that in consequence of the Kurdish failure the British have “spurred on Nestorians in a discreet brainwash to keep them alerted’. Also, the writer maintains that “Nestorian and Armenian gangs are trying to take over in Khoi and Dilman (Persian areas north-west from the lake of Urmia). The Turkish government is trying to check these advances of the gangs. In the political circles of Angora they believe that the government will do away with the concentration of the Nestorian military force in the aforesaid areas otherwise it would bring a damage to the neighbourly atmosphere between the two states”.
Around 16 of May 1925 Z. V. published a series of writings under the common title “Assyrians in Persia” where one discovers that “according to the source from Baghdad the British are working hard on formation of the Assyrian force in Mesopotamia where a certain David effendi, the son of an Assyrian priest who allegedly was a British undercover agent is making a call for volunteers. The target manpower is set at 15,000 men ready to fight. The aim of this force is not yet clear, but anyway it presumably might be used by the British to embark on a new military act against Turkey as a follow-up of the Kurdish unlucky strike. But this time these ignorant Assyrians will be nothing but the cannon meat”.
In the “School for Assyrians” there is a message from Urmia, “the government is opening a new school for Assyrians in Urmia. On the local budget it apparently will fall apart from any influence which is locally provided by foreign missionaries”.
Another writing is entitled as “In the name of Christ”, where “according to a reliable Assyrian source the head of the American mission working on Assyrians in Urmia has allegedly spent a large amount of charity money collected in the United States for the needy Assyrians”. In the end there is one more source from Urmia that says, “The top brass have decided to put up a military post in all Christian settlements because of occasional raids of non-Christian horsemen like nomads”.
Later on there appeared one more analysis of the current situation in the area, signed by a certain Neahr and entitled as “Strife of Mosul” where he concluded, “The Iraqi Parliament hurried to ratify its political link with the united Kingdom under some certain pressure from McDonald’s office on condition that the British should bring Mosul into the hands of Iraq. Meanwhile, Highland Aissors who have constantly been victimized by the British have begun to stick out again. As a consequence, the administrator of the Hakkjari district was kidnapped during his unwanted trip to an Aissor-controlled place. Then Kurds became rebellions too. More bombs were dropped on the rebellions Mosul. Very close to Turkey controlled areas the British openly were making a real war on the local tribes in a vast territory they occupied due to the Moudross ceasefire accord but not following the warfare operation. Just think!” A totally different view was given space in the press only with reference to “Times” correspondent to Mosul (Z V., July 11, 1925). “Turkey concentrates its forces near the frontier with Iraq. Turks came too hard to Nestorian Assyrians and Kurds who traditionally were close to Iraq. So one of the Nestorian priests was taken to Jezirett-ibn-Omar to be hanged. Assyrians were forbidden to abandon their homes. Local communities had to bear a high domestic toll as well”.
So it happens that the communistic regime designed to support the oppressed people in their liberation ride was working up to impose on the public the opinion that the choice is the authority power designed to suppress small nations in their struggle for freedom. It is odd that Assyrian leaders just seemed enchanted by the British. Anyway paternalism of our people is definitely expressed in its clerical-feudal leadership which had no clear targets as yet but trying to ignore intellectuals who work out the basis for the national liberation movement.
Dr. F. Atouraya was such a nationalist who was capable to create the ideology of national revival which could bring back Assyrians to their national hearth In the course of the analysis of this crucial moment in the whole Assyrianism it is very natural to draw a historical parallel with Zionism, which should be set as the best example for Assyrians in terms of its successful work to keep national identity. Zionists won their battle primarily because they were just bound to win. This movement as is known was not started in the regular Jewish hot minds nor even in the synagogues. On the contrary, it was conceived by egg-headed intellectuals such as Theodor Hertzl, Vladimir’Zhabotinsky, Moses Hess, Max Nordau, Khaim Weitzmann, etc., all those who dominated in the conception work for the movement philosophy when objective, strategy and tactics were just blueprints. At the next stage the key role was transferred to executive level people who were capable to translate all these big plans to life. Among them were David Ben Gurion, Joseph Trumpeldor, Moshe Sharett, Golda Meir, Izkhak Ben Zvi, Levi Ashkoi and a multitude of unknown workers who were born to make the Zionist dream come true.
By the year of 1914 the intellectual potential of Assyrians was in no way less than that of Jews in 1897, when the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel. The presence of such prominent Assyrian figures in Urmia as metropolitan Mar Tuma Odu, Dr. Josef Israel, Rabbi Shlimmun d’Salamas, Dr. Malik Jonan, Dr. Fraidoon Atouraya, Rabbi Benjamin Arsanis, Dr. Baba Pharhad, Dr. Iskandar Khan and others in fact gave an opportunity to work out a good conception of national revival and creation of national hearth as well. In those years Tiflis or St. Petersburgh where Assyrian intellectuals were many could well have become the Assyrian “Basel”. Alas! It all became just a mess when the world war broke out. New practical workers and organizers were called to life. The former ideologists and theoreticians were to leave the scene as they were not able to fit for fast growing world situations. In the absence of ideological foundation as well as strategies Assyrians eventually have entered the blind alley where apathy and even disbelief were there to grow in them so much that national tragedy was just around the corner. So they are still in the deadlock now. New generations of intellectuals come and go without a trace of spiritual power that would urge them to chose the way of self-sacrifice working toward national ideals which are so hard to believe in today. The standards once set by Mar Shimmun Benjamen and Fraidoon Atouraya seem so high that it is hard to believe that this time around it is possible to achieve this goal, but hope dies last as we know. In his work that is presented here in the current issue Dr. F.Atouraya obviously made a very accurate analysis of the Mosul conflict between Great Britain and Turkey predicting the repatriation of Assyrians.
At the time returning to its homeland the nation would have been able to avoid such heavy assimilation that we have witnessed in the last 70 years. But in their policies major countries like the Soviet Union and Turkey took not much account of small nations so that they had not any perspectives. Nor there were any perspectives for their leaders. One of the first in the ranks Dr. F Atouraya fell a prey to violence and terror of the communistic regime in the Soviet Union. To a great pity some of our compatriots joined this ride of terror refusing to understand the grandeur of the man who made the choice of Golgoth for the sake of his beloved people. People that we used to think of as true patriots turned out to be traitors. Among those was Lazar Yakubov, an outstanding Assyrian delegate to the Versailles world peace conference.