Research by


(Sweden 1999)




1. Those who were in eastern Turkey and western Iran during World War I are fairly known today. That provides a good opportunity for those who intend to deviate the history for political propaganda aims under the cover of “explaining the truth”. As the time passed by after the war, the number of those died in these so-called “massacres” increased gradually.

“100 thousand casualties in Lebanon” is a good example of the gradual deviation of history. In spring 1916, a Lebanese parliamentarian stated that about 100 thousand people had died in Lebanon during Winter 1915/16 due to starvation and diseases. Cereals had been eradicated by flocks of grasshoppers, and contagious paratyphoid fever had started among people.

After 80 years now, how is this fact made known today, after being filtered out of the pages of the history of religion? Ingmar Karlsson, who is not a historian of religion but who bases his works on the books of the history of religion, wrote the following in 1991:

“During 1914-1917, 100 thousand people almost all of whom were Christians and most of whom were Maronites died due to diseases, starvation, lack of nutrition and executions (I underlined them, Karlsson, p.101). Executions have been immediately slipped in here as a major reason for death. No wonder most of those who died are Christians: two thirds of the population in Lebanon, which was far smaller than it is today, consisted of Christians. The statement “almost all” implies that more than 66,6% of the casualties were Christians.

In 1995, Giorgio Fedalto, an expert of the Eastern Churches and a well-known professor, wrote the following: “Durante gli anni della grande guerra guerra da parte ottomana si repetono I masscri di fedeli che raggiunsero cifre molto elevate, finiti solo nel 1918: si parla di 100 000 morti su 450 000 abitanti (I underlined it)”. Repeated massacres had been perpetrated by the Ottomans against Christians during World War I, and these massacres had only been stopped in 1918 (“repeatedly” here refers to the Druze-Maronite civil war in 1860). Furthermore, numbers increased considerably. Reportedly, 100 thousand people out of 450 thousand died (Fedalto, p.202). Starvation, diseases and dead Muslims are ignored here, and the massacres perpetrated by the Ottomans against Christians are mentioned instead of individual murders. Moreover, the Druzes who have been referred to, eight lines before, as the criminals of 1860 are suddenly turned into Ottomans!

As a historian, I have carried out the following research in order to give a balanced display of the tragic events experienced during that period. I have made use of today’s resources as much as possible.



When the war started in 1914, the Ottoman government signed a defense treaty with Germany. This treaty was a natural result of the Ottoman Empire’s long and close relationship with Germany. As a part of this cooperation, thousands of German officers started to come since 1913 in order to make reform in the Ottoman army. It was quite natural for the Ottomans to turn towards Germany; the British and especially the Russians were the main enemies. Since the war in 1877-78, Russia had been following a policy of instability against the Ottoman Empire. This campaign included the support given to the struggle of the Armenians for independence. After such a disastrous war with Russia in 1877-78, the Ottoman government was forced in the Berlin Conference to accept big European forces as the bodyguards of Christian Ottomans. When the war broke out, this truth got Christians into greater trouble.

Since mid 19th century, efforts were sustained to make the country contemporary despite all the violent resistance. A reform act put into force in 1856 provided all the minorities with equal civil rights; they were only exempted from military service, which was to be fulfilled by the Muslims. Although a liberal constitution was prepared in 1876, it was soon abrogated by the Sultan. As for the internal politics; there was a struggle between the liberals supported by Greeks, Armenians and Jews who were controlling the Ottoman economics and the conservatives whodid not want any change. The struggle in internal politics came to an end in 1908-1909 when Young Turks came to power by a military coup and put into force the constitution of 1876 again, thus providing everyone, regardless of their religion, equal responsibilities and obligations.

Within the framework of the process of making the country contemporary, administration of the territories was centralized in 1870’s. New and smaller provinces and states were established; and they were also divided into two or more sanjaks. Each sanjak had more than one district. For example, Diyarbekir (Diyarbakir) province included the sanjaks of Ergani, Diyarbekir and Mardin. The Mardin sanjak, on the other hand, included the districts of Savur, Midyat, Djezire (Cezire) and Nusaybin.

Provinces were under the control of governors with broad authorities. Sanjaks, on the other hand, were administered by sanjak governors while districts were directed by district governors.


External politics had more importance before the World War. In 1912, the Libyans took over the control of Italy. During the same year, first of the two Balkan wars broke out and the Ottoman Empire was forced to abandon all of its provinces in the Balkans excluding the province of Edirne.

There was Iran in the east, which had been the eternal enemy of the empire (actually it was called the Persian Empire until 1935, but I prefer to use the name of Iran in order not to cause confusion in my work). For a long time, this country had been overshadowed by the then strongest country. Penetrations were made by the British from southeast and Russians from northwest. Many of the Iranian states were almost autonomous and were directed by governors who took over control from their fathers.

In addition, the country had a problem with the Ottomans in Azerbaijan. In 1906, when Russia became weakened after the war with Japan, the Ottomans invaded the neighboring state in Iran but had to withdraw during the first war in the Balkans in 1912. This time Russia invaded Azerbaijan. This invasion was conducted in accordance with a treaty, which divided Iran between Russia and Britain into regions of interest of Russia in the north and of Britain in the south.

In the fall of 1914, a considerably weakened Ottoman Empire entered war upon the German provocations.



Religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire were divided into “nations”, populations and peoples. They enjoyed broad freedom ofmovement in their own internal affairs. The two biggest Christian peoples were the Greek Orthodox society and the Armenians. In addition to them, there were other Christian groups of people, four of them being communities of Syriac churches.

The biggest of these four Syriac churches belonged to the Nestorians who formed a community of 80 thousand people. Nestorian and Assyrian were the names given by the Europeans. They called themselves either only Christians, or Syriacs being inspired by the land on which the church had been established. (Janin p.555, Cuinet II p.648) The church was directed by a patriarch living in “Kotchannes” of the Hakkari sanjak. Since the 15th century, positions of patriarch and governor had been taken over by sons from their fathers. The Nestorian patriarch was the only head of nation not appointed by the Sultan. Since patriarchs did not get married, they were succeeded by the selection of a son of the uncle or a brother.

Nestorians living in Hakkari were divided into tribes like their Kurdish neighbors. These tribes made thousands of Kurdish villagers, who had been living in the region without any land, work as laborers in return for what is just enough to make a living. (Rondot p.7).

The Syriac patriarch received 100 sterling per year from both the Ottomans and the British. The Anglican Church had been in an effort to gain supporters among the Nestorians since 1830. The Nestorians did notpay any taxes to the Ottoman State and were exempt from military service. They did not have schools of their own. And present schools were directed by British missionaries. They shared these two privileges with their Kurdish neighbors (Fortescue, p.131) In other words, Kurds from Hakkari were not included in the Hamidiye army (Yale-Heckmann, p.266). Because, the Ottoman official authorities could not ensure any supervision in a secluded place like Hakkari.

It would not be right to consider Nestorians as a small peninsula surrounded by Muslims in the region. The Syriac Tiari tribe was one of the main tribes and was strong enough to counter the attacks of Kurds. The relationship with Kurds was quite good. In general, (the Syriac) patriarch was consulted to have the disputes among various Kurdish tribes solved. During the revolt of Yazdan Sir (1853-55) and Sheikh Obeydallah’s great Kurdish revolt (1880-82), Nestorian units started a war in support of Kurds (Yalcin-Heckmann, p.62 and Palva p.13). Nestorians were also able to appeal to the Kurdish sheikhs to receive aid.

Catholics had been working as missionaries in the region since the 16th century. Some of the Syriacs had become Catholics and were called Chaldeans. France considered itself as the protector of the Catholics in the Ottoman Empire. The number of these Catholics before the war is believed to be 40 thousand.

Diyarbekir was the center of the Syriac Orthodox Church. At the beginning of the century, the community consisted of approximately 55 thousand people, 30 thousand of whom lived in the Mardin sanjak. The Syriac Orthodox people also lived in the state of Syria, but I should point out that there is no relation between the state of Syria of that period and the country of Syria of today. In the beginning of the 1890’s, approximately 6 thousand Syriac Orthodox people migrated to the USA. According to a census held in 1914, in addition to the above-mentioned population belonging to the Syriac Orthodox church, 7 thousand Syriac Catholics, 7 thousand Armenians and 3500 Protestants were living in Mardin. 163 thousand people, forming the majority of the population, were Muslims (Karpat, p.176 f). 90% of them were Kurds. There were also Jewish, Arabian and Gypsy minorities in the region.

Since the midst of the 19th century, Kurds’ Heverkan Federation had been in Tur Abidin, which is in the eastern part of the Mardin sanjak. This federation consisted of some members of the 24 Kurdish tribes left from the Botan Emirate. Syriac Christians and Yezidis received equal treatment in this federation. On the other hand, Christians living in Hakkari under the Kurdish rule received a quite opposite treatment. Kurds considered the interests of the tribe much more important than the difference in religion. Tribes also included Kurds who did not belong to any tribe. They did not receive equal treatment as the other members of thetribe. Kurdish tribes were in conflict, on one hand, with each other, and on the other hand, with the Ottoman leadership.

While the Celeb tribe supported Syriacs, Haco (it must be Elik, Hinno is wrong here) “contributed actively in the murder of Syriacs as well as in shedding blood against them” (Hinno, p.32). That is to say, these two Kurdish tribes protected “their own Syriacs”, but put to the sword everyone who opposed their interests without making any distinction between Kurds or Syriacs.

Kurdish tribes regarded Syriac villagers more valuable than abandoned Kurdish workers, since they had a more advanced technology of agriculture.

In the 18th century, the Syriac-Orthodox church was also divided into two as a result of the efforts of Catholic missionaries, and at the end of the same century the Syriac-Catholic church was established. The first patriarch was Efraim II Rahmani and his community in the region consisted of approximately 25 thousand people. Furthermore, there were 3500 Syriac Protestants in Eastern Anatolia. In 1912, Suleyman Bustani, a Syriac Protestant, held the office of foreign minister of the Ottoman Empire for a short while (Feroz, p.424). He became Minister of Trade in 1914 but resigned to protest the decision taken by the Young Turks on May 12, 1914 to enter war. Along with him, Cavit Bey, the Minister ofFinance who was very successful, as well as the Armenian originated minister of post and telegraph left their offices (Pomiankowski, p.88).

Before the war, there were about 210 thousand Syriac Christians 30 thousand of whom were in Iran and 10-15 thousand were in North-South America.



When war started in Europe in 1914, Enver Pasha declared mobilization. This massive and necessary mobilization caused disasters in agriculture. 1914 was a very suitable year for crops but there were no men in villages. Then, the Ottoman economy was completely dependent on agriculture. Only 69 thousand out of 25 million people were industrial workers. Insufficient food supply gave rise to starvation and thus contagious diseases. For these reasons, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives (Fromkin, p.126).

Compulsory military service for Syriac Christians in the regions where Kurds lived brought about very negative results, because their Kurdish neighbors were exempt from the military service. Some Kurdish tribes had been enlisted in the Hamidiye Army as of 1890. However, such a trial, aimed at bringing Kurds closer to the state, failed. Kurds, in possession of modern weapons, used these weapons against each other and official authorities (Bois, p.462)



Although Iran declared himself impartial during the war, first conflicts started in western parts of the country, before the war was declared officially. Azerbaijan, an Iranian province, had been invaded in1912 by the Russians. A minority of about 45 thousand Christians lived in the region between the Lake of Urmia and the Ottoman border. 30 thousand of these people were Assyrians and Chaldeans. Majority of the population consisted of Azerbaijanis who were Muslims (Shiite) and spoke Turkish and of Kurds in the border regions. There lived 30 thousand people in Urmia (Rezaiyeh), one fourth of whom were Christians. American, French and British missionaries were active there.

In early October, Kurdish tribes attacked Urmia. Russians sent Christians reinforcement forces and weapons. After 3 days of war, Kurds were repulsed. A month later, war broke out. Russian official authorities deported both Kurds and Sunni Muslims. Russian forces and Armenian voluntary forces (druzhina) trained by the Russians entered the district of Albak. On November 9, the city of Dir was seized and on November 13, Armenians invaded Bashkale, the center of Albak. After a couple of days, Russians went there. The city was plundered and assets of the Muslim population were seized. Also, Muslim civilians had been observed be raped and murdered. On November 29, the Ottoman gendarmerie units repulsed Russians and Armenians (Allen&Muatoff, p.247).



(January-May 1915)

Russians conducted their enormous attack in northern part of the province of Erzurum. The Ottoman army under the command of Enver Pasha attacked Russian positions in Sarikamis on December 27. Mysjlajevski, commander of the Russian army, got panic and ordered his army to withdraw from Azerbaijan. General Tjernozubov, commander of the Russian army in Azerbaijan, started to withdraw his army though he was not threatened by the Ottoman forces (Allen&Muratoff, p.345). Half of the Christian population, mostly Armenians and 5 thousand Syriacs started to run away together with the army (Attention: 5 thousand Syriacs, not 50-70 thousand as Vartanov wrote! See: Bryce doc. no. 27). Missionaries reported that almost a thousand Syriacs and Chaldeans had died due to freezing.

General Myslajevsky had given the order of withdrawal too hastily, because 70 thousand soldiers of the Ottoman Army consisting of 80 thousand soldiers had frozen and died in Sarikamis on January 3, 1915 due to insufficient equipment. This defeat and its details had been kept secret for a long time, but it had been Enver Pasha’s first and last command (Pomiankowski, p.103 ff).

Two days after the departure of Russians from Urmia and Salmas Valley, Kurdish Begzade-Herki and Zaza tribes came from neighboring regions and started to invade these areas. The chief of the Shakkak tribe and frequently cited Ismail Aga, with a nickname Simko arenot mentioned in relation to the attack in today’s sources. Villages of Shiites and Christians were plundered. The Iranian people did not have enough strength to protect. Christians took shelter in the foreign missions in Urmia. In a few weeks’ time, 17 thousand people had taken shelter in the American mission and 3 thousand people in the French mission. At the same time, a unit consisting of Ottoman volunteers departed from Mosul under Kurdish support and went to Azerbaijan’s capital Tabriz via Mahabad, and took over its control on January 14. General Tjernozubov took Tabriz back on January 30 (Allen&Muratoff, p.296).

In February, official authorities in Urmia took under custody 61 leading Syriacs in the French mission for obscure reasons and demanded great amounts of money to release these people. Missionaries could only save 20 people in return for money. On February 22, the remaining 41 people were executed, having their heads cut off at the stairs of the Tscharach Gate. Those executed included the Nestorian Patriarch Mar Dinka.

The following night, the Christian village of Gulpaschan was attacked by Kurds (and Azeris; there is information in regards to both.) 51 men were killed, the village was plundered and young women were kidnapped (Bryce doc. no.27, 35 and 36).

On March 1, Russians took back Dilman (Sapur), the center of Salmas region, and expelled Kurds and Iranians. In retaliation to this, those expelled killed 720 people living in Christian villages in the Salmas Valley. At the same time, Armenian brigands killed 66 Muslims in the villages of Merkehu and Ishtuju in the district of Mahmudi in northern Hakkari sanjak (Gurun, p.197).

In early April, Turkish units under the command of Major Halil Bey, 10 thousand infantries (36 Battalion, 6 artillery) and some thousands of irregular Kurdish cavalrymen took depart from the southern coast of the Lake Van. On April 16, Urmia was taken back. On May 1, assaults were carried out against the Russians who took position in northern Dilman. Kurds started to run away from the area of battle even in the beginning. When Major Halil had a thousand casualties in 5 unsuccessful assaults, he withdrew, moving towards the northern part of the border (Allen&Muratoff p.298). In front of the Stronghold of Ismail Aga in the district of Gawar in Hakkari, Kurds running here and there killed 71 Christians whom Halil Bey had forced to carry telegraph wires (Bryce doc. 35).

On April 24, 235 Armenian leaders were arrested in the capital. Next day, the British and the French went to Gelibolu peninsula. Then, on May 26, the Ottoman Government decided to send the Armenians in Erzurum, Van and Bitlis to Aleppo, Zor and Mosul.

It is figured that approximately four thousand Assyrians died because of different diseases in missionaries between January 2 and May 24. The one thousand persons who died during their flight to Russia could also be added to the other one thousand murdered in the mentioned four massacres. According to the Macmillan Dictionary, 120 thousand non-Armenian civilians had been killed by the Armenian gangs in November-December 1914.



It is not certain when the negotiations, resulted in an agreement, between Patriarch Benjamin Shimun and the Russians took place. The Patriarch had already got in touch with the Russians before the war broke out, as he had done with the Kurdish leaders in Hakkari (Longrigg p.67). Cevdet Bey, then governor of Van, promised money and weapons to the Assyrians in Hakkari in the winter of 1914-15 in order to attract them. However the Patriarch never consented to this proposal. Many members of the Patriarch’s family, including his uncle Nestorios, were killed by their own close relatives since they were the supporters of the Ottomans (See Nikitine, Joseph p. 134).


The final confrontation between Benjamin Shimun and Tjernozubov took place in Muhandik, near Dilman. The Russians hadaccompanied the Patriarch until there. The Assyrians joined the Russians, upon the promise of a broader autonomy in the future. Nikitine cites that the Assyrians waged war on May 10, however the governor of Mosul reported that the Tiari tribe had attacked the Muslim villages in Baþkale on May 8. General Nazarbekov stopped by Baþkale on May 7, on the way to Van. The Armenians in Van revolted on May 8. The time the Assyrians waged war and the Armenians revolted was evidently predetermined (Allen & Muratoff p. 302 n.1).

The Ottoman Army left Van on May 17. Halil Bey dissolved the garrison in Urmiya on May 20; the Russians entered Urmiya four days after. After a week the Russians invaded Van with their Armenian allies.

Nikitine’s claim asserting that the Assyrians had supported the Russians fearing that their end might have been the same with the Armenians is against reality. Yonan has also asserted the same idea. Nikitine claims that the oppression and the expulsions have started in December 1915; however it all started on April 24, 1915 when 235 Armenian leaders were arrested in Istanbul. (Nikitine: Nestorianer) The idea to drive out the Armenians first appeared in a telegram sent by Enver Pasha to Talat Pasha, the Minister of Interior, on May 2, 1915. The expulsions first began on May 26, 3 weeks after the Assyrians had joined the Russians (Gurun p. 199, 206). Yonan’s claim asserting that the Chaldeans and the Orthodox Christians had been murdered before theAssyrians waged war does not have a basis in today’s documents. On the contrary, what matters is whether the expulsions accelerated after the Assyrians waged war. The first source mentioning that besides the Armenians also the Christian groups suffered from oppression was the telegram sent by Consul Holstein on May 18 (see below). One should also mention that Nikitine’s claim asserting that Enver’s stepbrother Nuri Bey massacred the Assyrians in Gawar in the summer of 1915 is not true. After all, Gawar was under Russian occupation at that time. Nuri Bey served as a commander in Tripoli from February 1915 till May 1918 (Pomiankowski p. 173).

It is certain that the only evident reason why the Assyrians waged war was that they wanted to bet for the winner horse, believing that the Russians could beat the Ottomans.

After the Assyrians had attacked the villages in Albak, the Kurdish tribes (Oramari, Berwar, Artushi and Barzani) in the southern Hakkari started a counter offensive. The clashes lasted all summer long. The Assyrians had to flee to the mountains. The Kurds leveled the villages evacuated by the Assyrians.



Following the uprising of the Armenians and the Syriacs, the two Christian minorities, and the failure at the Caucasian front, the condition of the other minorities grew more difficult. Most of the Muslims were considering the Christians as traitors, without any differentiation. On May 18, the German Consul Holstein, based on the information given by the Chaldean and the Assyrian patriarchs, reported that the enmity against the Christians increased and some massacres were perpetrated in Amadia district (a district of Van on the border with Mosul).

The official authorities discovered a huge weapons depot of the Armenians in Diyarbakir in early May. All the Armenian leaders were arrested (Lepsius no 48 p. 63).

The Kurds attacked the Syriacs on June 1, in the villages of Djezire (Cizre)—it is written Cizre in brackets, not Cezire. The biggest Kurdish tribe in the region was the Hesenan. The Syriacs fled to Beth Zabday (Idil) and defended themselves successfully for 40 days. The official authorities were using the mounted gendarmerie forces to maintain the order in the rural areas before the war. During the war when these forces were sent to the front, the Kurdish tribes considered as loyal to the regime (Deksuri, Reman and Mahallamin) were located in that region. Thus they were set free to hit the Heverkan Federation, their eternal enemy, and its Syriac allies.

The official authorities searched for weapons in Midyat on June 22. The then population of the town was around 5 thousand (Streck). 95 percent of this was Christian. The number of the Armenians was one thousand at most; the others were Syriacs of different beliefs. Around one hundred Christians, eight of them Syriacs, were arrested. They were released after their identities had been checked. The Armenians were taken out of the town and killed on June 28 (Hinno p. 60 f).

The Ottoman Ministry of Interior, on July 4, decided to drive away the Armenians in Trabzon, Sivas, Diyarbakir and Elaziz. The Armenians who converted to Islam were also to be expelled (Gurun p. 212).

Resit Bey, the governor of Diyarbakir, began to implement the decision ruthlessly. The German Embassy, on July 12, felt the necessity to forward the complaints they had received. In the letter of complaint, written based on the information provided by Holstein in Mosul, it was recorded that 2 thousand Armenians and a few Syriacs had been “slaughtered by beheading as if they were sheep” and the government was asked to stop Resit Bey. The same day the Ministry of Interior ordered the bloodshed to be ended immediately by sending a telegram to Diyarbakir (Gurun). Resit Bey was to maintain his post. Afterwards he was appointed to Ankara.

The Armenians were attacking the Ottoman gendarmerie in the rural areas (Schemsi, p. 72). According to Holstein, Resit Bey had the chief of Midyat district killed on July 15, on the pretext that he had refused to kill the Christians in the region (Lepsius 115, p. 104).

On July 15, Holstein reported that the Kurds killed the male inhabitants of the Chaldean village in Fayshkhabur on July 11. This village was along Mosul and Diyarbakir border. On July 21, Holstein reported that around 600 women and children from this village and a few Armenians from Mardin and Siirt had taken shelter in Mosul. Holstein, on his own, gave 600 pounds sterling to the provincial administration of Mosul to provide food and clothing to the refugees (Lepsius 124, p.114).

The Syriacs in Midyat, having caught between the official Ottoman authorities and the Kurds who obtained the opportunity to settle their old accounts, had no other chance but revolting. Holstein, in his reports to Istanbul, put all the blame on the Governor of Diyarbakir (Lepsius 124 p. 114). Holstein strived to make the Governor of Mosul to protect the Syriacs, however the governor did not have the authority to intervene beyond the limits of his own region.

On July 16, the Ottoman forces opened fire on the Christians in Midyat (Hinno). Several of them died during the 3-day long clashes, and thousands escaped outside Midyat. The villages against which the Kurdshad attacked previously and the ones expecting attacks were evacuated. In general, the Kurdish feudal lords in the region were protecting “their own Syriacs”, arming them and helping them to escape.

On September 2, the Kurds attacked the town of Cezire, southeast of Diyarbakir, supported by the Ottomans. Christian inhabitants were killed. The Syriacs had left the town before. The ones killed were Chaldeans and Armenians (Lepsius 167, p.152).


On September 18, Reþit Bey reported that the expulsion of the Armenians had been completed.

On February 14, 1916, the German Ambassador reported to Berlin that the clashes in Diyarbakir had come to an end. However, the internal skirmishes in the Heverkan Federation were going on. The town was suffering from famine and thousands starved to death or died from diseases.




The Russians, after being defeated in Malazgirt (10/7-2/8 1915), evacuated Van along with the Armenians. The news of the defeat caused a panic among the Christians in Azerbaijan and gave rise to migrationtowards the Russian border. However, this flight was not necessary, because the Russians had defeated the Ottomans on August 7-9 and recaptured Van on August 15.


The Assyrians, considering the winter would be tough in Hakkari, migrated to the south to Salmas Plateau over Baþkale. The missionaries determined the numbers of the Assyrians from Hakkari as 35 thousand. The Assyrians had no money at all. They needed the assistance of the Azeri population. However the Azeris were also suffering from the famine. Thus the Assyrians started to terrorize and plundered the market in Urmiya. Upon the resistance of the Azeris, the Assyrians started to kill the Muslims in the town systematically. The local Assyrians, having lived in peace together with the Azeris since then, also joined the massacres. While Sontag, the priest of the Pope in Urmiya, was trying to stop the Assyrians, Dr. Shedd, the leader of the American Mission Center incited them (Arfa, The Kurds p 51).


That winter, at least one third of the Assyrians from Hakkari died from freeze, hunger and epidemics (Bryce dok 27, Josephs p 135).



That autumn the Russians began to call the Assyrians to arms and to provide military training in order to use them in the attacks they hadplanned for 1916. The Russians, Assyrians and Armenians initiated a cleansing operation against the Muslims in order to make room in eastern Hakkari for the Armenia of the future. Agha Petrus, the leader of the Assyrians, was “a murderer, a blackmailer and an international bandit of the swindler type” (Longrigg’s description, p. 138). The Kurds, led by Sayyid Taha, defended themselves around Þemdinli, but they failed. Shemdinan district, where the “matran” of the Nestorians (the second leader of the Church after the Metropolitan) lived, and Ruwanduz were captured by the Russians on April 16, with the assistance of the Assyrians and the Armenians. 5 thousand Kurds, most of whom women, children and old people, were murdered outside the city (Mason, p.329). While visiting the region in January 1919, British Major Mason was informed that only 157 Kurdish families had been left from the one thousand before the war and that 52 of the 81 Kurdish villages had been burnt by the Russians.

Major E.W.C.Noel, another British officer, sent a report titled “The Christian Army of Revenge” to the British Foreign Ministry in 1919, after visiting the region in January. In that report he had cited the following: “According to almost the universal testimony of the local inhabitants and eye-witnesses, Russians, acting on the instigation and advice of Nestorians and Armenians who accompanied them…..murdered and butchered indiscriminately any Moslem member of the civil population who fell in their hands. A traveler through the Rowanduz and Neri districts would find widespread wholesale evidence of outragescommitted by Christians on Moslems. Anything more thorough and complete would be difficult to imagine.” (Sonyel p 415).

Within the same period of time, 3 hundred Jewish inhabitants in Gawar district, a neighbor of Shemdinan, were murdered by the Christian powers (Schemsi p 63).

A number of Moslems escaped west, however the majority had no chance but escaping to the north where the Russians had occupied before. Philips Price, the Manchester Guardian correspondent, dispatched a report to the British Red Cross from Tbilisi. He informed them on the dreadful situation of 200 thousand Christian refugees in the Caucasus. The Lord Mayor’s Fund had previously given great sums of money to the Armenians and Assyrians in the region. Price stressed that if the British government, which had previously helped the Christians, was not going to help the Moslems then, it would have difficulties against millions of Moslems living in the British Empire. However, no assistance was provided by Britain (Sonyel p 415).

When Hüseyin, the chief administrator of Mecca, appealed to the British, he was given the answer that the Russian government had not backed the attacks, and that it was just the vengeance of the Armenians who had previously been tyrannized by the Turks and the Kurds (Sonyel p 415).

During the war, 60 percent of the Moslem populace of Van, namely 110 thousand people, died (McCarthy).

All through the years 1916 and 1917, the Assyrians fought shoulder to shoulder with the Russians. The Ottoman Army had no chance but to defend themselves. Although they were able to repulse the French and the British assaults in Gallipoli, they suffered a great number of casualties. In addition, the Arabs in Hejaz revolted with the support of the British.

The Russians, in the eastern front, captured Erzurum, Bitlis, Trabzon and Erzincan respectively. In June, the Russians were expelled from Khanikin and Hamadan near Baghdad. The Russian troops in Ruwanduz and Neri had to withdraw. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk)  get back Bitlis on August 5.

The years 1916 and 1917 were very quiet for the Assyrian civilians living in the plains of Azerbaijan.



The Russian Revolution took place in 1917. The Russian Army was ordered to withdraw from Iran in June 1917. The Russian troops, while withdrawing, set the market in Urmiya on fire and plundered the town. The Assyrian troops deserted the Ottoman territories and arrived at Urmiya. Several officers who did not want to commit themselves to the revolutionary Russian leadership stayed in Urmiya and trained the Assyrian troops. With their help, an Armenian battalion (of one thousand soldiers), one Assyrian force of 3 thousand from Hakkari and a unit comprising of local Chaldeans and Assyrians were trained (Larcher, p 454). The Christians equipped themselves with the weapons the Russian troops had left behind. A Christian committee named Mutwa took over the leadership in Urmiya. Dr. Shedd, the chief of the American mission, was supporting them (Nikitine: Urmiya). The Assyrians slaughtered the Azeris in the region and intimidated the rest (Larcher, p 454).

The British, who had lost the Russian support in Iran, were trying to fill the authority vacuum by supporting the Assyrians. Several British and French officers were sent from Tbilisi to the region in order to train the Assyrian troops. Simko, the leader of the Shakak tribe, had changed sides twice during the war, was taken prisoner by the Russians for a short while and then remained impartial. Benjamin Shimun formed an alliance with Simko with the initiative of the British. When the Russians left Iran, Simko was able to obtain their light and heavy weapons.

Simko, thanks to the Armenian mediators, united with the Assyrians. The local Azeris felt righteously anxious about this alliancesince they had been living under the terror of the Assyrians from Hakkari for two years. The ineffective official authorities in Iran made a useless initiative to take the Assyrians’ weapons. On the contrary the Assyrians attacked the Moslems in Urmiya on February 22, 1918, and carried out a mass slaughter (Nikitine describes the events rather different than Joseph, however they reach the same conclusion).

It is obvious that the Assyrians in Urmiya were making up a new future for themselves. Simko, who invited the Patriarch for a meeting, was also of the same opinion to his own account. On February 25 (or March 4, both dates had been referred to), Simko and Patriarch Benjamin Shimun met in Kohneh Shahr, 20 km close to Dilman. After the apparently peaceful meeting, when the Patriarch was about to get into his car, Simko suddenly drew his rifle and shot his guest dead from his back. The Kurds immediately killed 140 people who had accompanied the Patriarch. Only a few of the Assyrians, including Benjamin’s brother David, could manage to escape to Urmiya and saved their lives. Simko, being aware that his forces were not able to compete with the Assyrians, withdrew his forces to his headquarters resembling a bunker in Chehrik.

Several sources (e.g. van Bruinesseni 1983) cite that Simko killed Patriarch Benjamin Shimun with the instigation of Mukht-i Sham, the governor of Tabriz. Iran and Simko might have wanted to purify the Urmiya region from the Assyrians (though they had different reasons). While Simko was  striving to found an independent Kurdish state in western Azerbaijan,  the official Iranian administration desired to establish its authority in the region.


The Assyrians, having heard the murder, killed hundreds of Azeri civilians in the town and plundered their houses. They sent 3 thousand people to Kohneh Shahr and slaughtered the Azeris there. Then they entered to Chehrik where Simko had deserted before. Simko’s headquarters were pillaged. The group, which also attacked to Dilman, returned to Urmiya when they failed to capture the town (Arfa, The Kurds p 53 f).

Simko, on the other hand, was killing each and every Christian around Khoi. Arfa, when he was a young Iranian officer, reported that he saw the corpses of around 2 thousand Assyrians who had been killed by the Kurds in the valley of Shakar Yazi in 1922 (Arfa, Under…p 136).

Paulus, the brother of Benjamin, became the new Patriarch of the Assyrians.

A peace treaty was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Russia in Brest-Litovsk on March 3. The Russians were to evacuatethe Eastern Anatolia in 6-8 weeks. The Russians were supposed to take the weapons from the Armenian guerrillas and to control the regions where they deserted until the Ottoman Army arrived. However, the Russians withdrew from the regions where they had occupied before the Ottoman Army arrived and therefore violated the treaty, and these regions were left to the disposal of the Armenians.

The Ottomans took back Van on April 7. Approximately 20 thousand Armenians took shelter in Urmiya, which was already in a grave situation. Joseph describes the chaos in the region as follows:

“During this period Christian brigands terrorized Christians as well as Muslims, but especially the latter. A missionary described this period as e reign of terror for Muslims hard to imagine” (Joseph p 141).

On the 14th of April, the Ottoman Army crossed the former Russian border and arrived at Kars on the 25th. They were chasing the Armenian units. The fundamental aim of the Ottomans was to get hold of the Baku oil reserves. In early June, the 4th Ottoman Army consisting of three battalions manned by 15 thousand infantry privates, entered Azerbaijan through the Kotur Passage (Pomiankowski p. 365, Larcher p. 455).

The British units, which conquered Baghdad, were 100 km away from Mosul. They were encouraging the Armenians to go to Azerbaijan and join the Assyrians. The Armenian units reached at Khoi but could not conquer the city. Upon the arrival of the 4th Army of the Ottomans, the Armenians withdrew to Yerevan. Meanwhile, Petrus Agha’s units had already arrived at Dilman, in the northern part of Urmia. This time they succeeded in conquering the city. They massacred most of the people and the rest fled the city. Petrus Agha withdrew to Urmia when he heard that the Ottoman Army was coming and that the Armenians had withdrawn to the north.

By July 24th, the 4th Army conquered Khoi, Dilman and Tabriz. At the north of Urmia, however, they faced hard resistance of the Armenian and Assyrian forces. At the north, they were also facing the threat of the Armenian forces, which had previously withdrawn from the region.

It was obvious that the Christian forces would not be able to survive at the front without receiving any external assistance. The ammunition shortage was increasing. In the spring of 1918, Baghdad sent to the region a small military unit under the command of General Dunsterville with the aim of organizing a resistance against the Ottomans and protecting the Baku oil reserves. Dunsterville was willing to get in touch with the Armenians and the Assyrians in Urmia. On the 8th of July, aBritish commander came to the city and proposed British assistance to the Armenians and the Assyrians. It was decided that two weeks later the Armenian, Assyrian and British units were to meet at the Castle Shahin (Shahin Dezh). There the British forces were to provide the Armenians and the Assyrians with arms and ammunition. Petrus Agha was late since he had to fight to be able to come. Finally, they could meet at Bijar, where the British forces could reach while withdrawing.

The delay in achieving assistance caused concern in Urmia; and the dispatch of rumors claiming that Petrus Agha was defeated and his soldiers were killed, caused panic. The Armenians and the Assyrians immediately began to evacuate the city. Almost all of the Armenian and the Assyrian civilians (approximately 60 thousand) set out on 31st of July together with the cattle and belongings they can carry. The Ottoman and the Kurdish units were after them. Simko, who was neutral since May, now took part on the side of the Ottomans and his Kurds also joined the tag. Only two thousand of the Assyrians and Chaldeans remained at the Urmia plateau. On the 1st of August, an American missioner and Patriarch Sontag, sent by the aforementioned Pope, have been killed. On the 2nd of August, the units of the 4th Army entered Urmia together with the Kurdish people led by Simko.

The Christians flying out of Urmia, congregated at the Kurdish region of Saudjbulak. They plundered all the places they have passedthrough and killed all the Muslims on their flight to the south (Karlsson, p 29). Neither the Kurds nor the Assyrians had the custom of taking POWs. All the enemies had been killed without discriminating sex or age. On the 12th of the same month, an Iranian force sent by the pro-Ottoman Governor of Tabriz, attacked this fleeing and plundering Christian group at the vicinity of Miandoab. (Arfa, The Kurds p. 55 f).

After a 19 days of rout, the Christian group suffering big casualties, was able to reach at the British units deployed near the castle of Sayin. They walked 200 kilometers. The British forces took them to Hamadan. On the way 10 thousand of them died. The British established the total number of the coming refugees as 50 thousand. It was impossible to take care of those people in Iran that suffers severe famine. The British decided to send the refugees to the south, to Bakuba at the vicinity of Baghdad. There the food supply was better. During the vacation and in the following years, approximately five thousand Assyrians, including the Patriarch Shimun who died of tuberculosis (1920), have lost their lives. Most of the 15 thousand Armenian refugees were willing to be sent to Europe by a ship and the same year, they departed from Iraq.



In the autumn of 1920, Petrus Agha attempted to return to Urmia with the silent assistance of the British. Due to bad organization and theresistance by the Kurdish gangs in the region, the only thing they could succeed in was to plunder the Muslim villages near Akra and kill the peasants (Longrigg, p 138). In the wake of this new failure, the British had exiled Petrus Agha to France where he died in 1932.

In the term 1921-24, approximately eight thousand Assyrians returned to Hakkari. According to the statement made by the Turkish sources, on the 3rd-4th of September, a group of Assyrians in Van had killed the police chief and kidnapped the Governor and took him to Iraq (Edmonds, p 387, Olson p 205 no: 39). The Turkish units chased after the rebellious group to Mosul. In June 1925, Koshaban, the “Malik” (owner) of the Tairi Tribe, applied the Turkish officials for permission for a few thousand of Assyrian to return Lizan, near Hakkari (Olson p 121).  When the Iranian Army exterminated the short-lived Kurdish State of Simko (1922), almost 10 thousand Assyrians and Chaldeans have been able to return Azerbaijan (Palva, p. 18).


The Number of Casualties

How many Assyrians and Syriacs, i.e. Chaldeans, Orthodox Syriacs and Catholic Syriacs died in the wars?

If we are to start with the Assyrians, before 1914 the sum of their population was about 80 thousand. In 1915, fights, hunger and contagiousillnesses caused the death of 20 thousand people. It is not known how many people died during the peaceful years of 1916-17. However, it is estimated that during the last year of war, 10 thousand people died whereas, in 1919-20 in the Bakuba Camp, an additional five thousand people died. The total number is 35 thousand.

The Catholic sources (see Vaihé, CE, Janin) say that before the war, there were around 40 thousand Chaldeans. Most of them, approximately 28 thousand of them were in Mosul and five thousand Chaldeans were in Azerbaijan. Further information is as the following:

According to the 1914 census, there were 4.356 Chaldeans in Bitlis and 5.994 Chaldeans in Siirt and Diyarbakir. The British carried out census in 1920 in Mosul and Amadia. It has been revealed that, apart from the Armenians and the Syriacs, 55.470 Christians were living in the region. In Mosul there were 10 thousand Armenians (1907 census), 5-6 thousand Orthodox Syriacs (1907 census), seven thousand Catholic Syriacs (Vailhé DC), 28 thousand Chaldeans (Vailhé DC) and in the north a few thousand Syriacs (Cuinet II p. 646, Longrigg p. 11). The number of the ones who died in Mosul and Amadia cannot be more than a few thousand.

It is impossible to determine the exact number of the dead people in Bitlis and Diyarbakir because, in the 1920 census, carried out by theTurkish official authorities, the religious beliefs had not been taken into consideration.

The 1914 census, carried out by the Ottomans, revealed that there were 45.142 Syriacs (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) in Diyarbakir and 36.550 of them were living in Mardin Sanjak whereas 3.992 of them were living in Bitlis (Karpat p. 188 f). The nonexistence of an Orthodox Syriac and /or a Catholic Syriac Patriarch was the proof of the accurateness of these numbers. However, the Chaldeans had a Patriarch in Siirt.

There are various numbers regarding the dead people in Suleyman Hinno’s book. However, the information was conflicting within itself. For instance, the people who were killed in one region are mentioned as refugees in another region. The statements saying, “all who could not escape have been killed” do not reflect the truth. As an example, while talking about the massacre of the Syriacs in the village Bote, Hinno says that these two thousand people had flied into the Church. The largest church in Tur Abdin in Hah was Mar Sabak Church and outer dimensions of this church were 27.30m x 11.10m (Sélis, p. 151). Assuming that the inner dimensions are one meter less at each side, there must be 8 people on one-meter square! Hinno’s figures are absolutely not reliable. Hinno mentions the events that had not took place in 1915, as if they did. To give an example, in the events that took place at Nusaybin, Mohammed Abbas (Mehimed Ebbas) has been deemed appropriate to be the “bad guy” (p. 39) however; he was already dead 20 years ago. Similarly, his “kind hearted” brother Suleyman Abbas (p. 42) has been mentioned to make a well-known speech to the Syriacs but at that date he also was dead for many years.  In Hinno’s book the “tyrant” Hasan Haco appears in 1915 but at that date he was even not born yet! That incident possibly took place in 1940’s.

Hinno mentions the events that took place throughout a half century as if they took place in one year. It says that together with his Kurdish and Syriac men the Kurdish leader Elik (mentioned in Hinno’s book as Ali Batte) attacked Beth-Debe, the village of Celebi tribe (p. 53). It is no doubt that Hinno did not mention that there were Syriacs in both sides. In his opinion all of the wars took place only between the Christians and Muslims. The information regarding the year 1915 and provided by Hinno could at least be called unreliable.

Claude Sélis, the Belgian expert on Dominique and Orient, gives the number of the dead people without any reference. It says that during the war, one third of the Christian Syriacs were killed (p. 40 f), which means approximately 18 thousand people. Following the war, the Orthodox Syriac Patriarch submitted the American King-Crane Commission a list of dead people, involving the names of 90.313 persons. The allies did not take this list serious because this number was 50 % morethan the number of the Orthodox Syriacs who lived in the region in 1914. (This list takes place in Hinno’s foreword.)

On August 1915 in Urfa, an Armenian deserter shot three policemen dead, who were trying to arrest him. Two hundred people have lost their lives during the incidents that took place after these events. Yonnan boosts this number immediately to two thousand!

Finally, we can say that during the years of war, 55 thousand Assyrians/Syriacs have been killed. This constitutes one fourth of the population in 1914. Most of them died of diseases and hunger. The rest have been killed primarily by their Kurdish neighbors and by the local Ottoman authorities, taking the advantage of authority vacuum in the region. The Assyrians have also killed Muslims, whose number is unknown. Arfa says that in Azerbaijan alone, the Assyrians have killed at least 100 thousand Azerbaijani (Arfa, The Kurds, p. 63). During the war, at least 100 thousand Azerbaijani died but most of them lost their lives because of diseases and hunger, similar to the Assyrians/Syriacs. The number of the ones who have been killed by the Assyrians was at most 30 thousand.

The present claims, alleging that the Turks have mass murdered half million Assyrians and Syriacs, are baseless.






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Officiellt 18804)


i. u.







Hrimyan 18805)


i. u.







Trotte 18807)


i. u.







Cuinet 18929)









Léart 191212)





i. u.




Census 191416)









Toynbee 191419)





i. u.





1) Bitlis became a province in 1882 with the unification of the sanjaks of Siirt and Bitlis separated from Diyarbekir and Van respectively. In 1880 census, Siirt was assumed to be subordinate to Diyarbakir and Bitlis to Van. (the three numbers designated as i. u. stand for “information unknown”)


2) The official name of Harput was Mamuretulaziz, however, it was using the name of Harput due to its being close to the Capital.


3) The Aleppo province consisted of the sanjaks of Aleppo, Urfa and Maras.


4) Every year, the population was issued in a State calendar called ‘Salname’ but, since these numbers included only men, the official numbers have been achieved by multiplying them by two.


5. Hrimyan was the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul. With the aim of convincing the British that the Armenians, together with the other Christians, consist the majority of the population in the six provinces in the eastern part of the country, Hrimyan gave these numbers to the British Ambassador in 1880.


6. The Patriarch claimed that in the Aleppo province, there were 40 thousand Nestorians and 66 thousand Catholic Syriacs. Trotter interpreted this claim as follows: “In point of fact, there are no Nestorians and the number of the Syriacs generally appears to be vastly overestimated.”


7) Major Henry Trotter was the British Consul in Kurdistan. He frequently wandered through the region and determined the Christian and Muslim population.


8) As for Van’s population, Trotter accepts the numbers determined in 1879 by General Baker, the British staff officer, then working at the disposal of the Ottomans. However, he opposes the number 53.940 given by Captain Clayton, his consul colleague in Van.


9) Vital Cuinet was a French official who worked in the region for 12 years on behalf of the “Debt Accounting Committee” established in Europe.


10) Cuinet determined 92 thousand Nestorians and six thousand Chaldeans in Van.


11) Cuinet mentioned that there were 15.300 unorganized Chaldeans in Van. This information belongs only to Cuinet.

12) Marcel Léart, is an alias for an Armenian in exile who lived in France under the name of Krikor Zohrap. In 1913, a book titled as “La question arménienne a la lumiere des documents” has been published in Paris and this book used the numbers Léart received from the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul.


13) Léart did not include the “southern” Diyarbakir (Nusaybin and Cizre?) since the Armenian population living there was too small.


14) For the same reason he did not include Hakkari.


15) Only Léart mentions that there were so many Assyrians/Syriacs in Sivas. The fact that no Syriac church has been found in Sivas, proves this claim to be baseless.


16) The 1914 census was the fourth one in the Ottoman period. When compared with the Christian population in the sanjak of Aleppo (apart from the districts of Kilis and Antep, that have been included within the boundaries of Turkey by the Ankara Treaty) and governorate of Zor in 1914, it is possible to see that the results of the 1914 census were extremely reliable. (in 1914, 53.152 Christians and in 1921/22 52.447 Christians).

17) The population of Diyarbakir also included 3.500 Protestant Syriacs. The Protestants were counted in the census without taking their ethnic origin into account. Thus, this number is the result of my estimation.


18) Seventy thousand of them were Nestorians and 1.128 were Chaldeans.


19) Toynbee used the numbers provided by Léart in “Treatment of Armenians” (1916).


20) See note 21.


21) Toynbee mentions in part IV of the note 60 that in 1914, 90 thousand Nestorians lived in “The Bothan District”, in Cizre and in Zakho in the Mosul province. Toynbee defines the Nestorians as follows: “Nestorians (from their religion), Syriacs (from their language) or Chaldeans (from their race)”. It is obvious that Toynbee considers the Nestorians and the Chaldeans as the groups of the same nation. I added 30 thousand to the number Léart mentioned to be in the Van sanjak, and 20 thousand to the number in Diyarbakir. I included the remaining 10 thousand to the population of Mosul.



Cuinet, Vital: “La Turquie d’Asie”, Paris 1892

Karpat, Kemal : “Ottoman Population 1830-1914, Demographic and Social Characteristics”  

Madison, Wisconsin 1985 (I Karpats bok finns 1880 ars officiella siffror, census 1914, Hrimyans och Trotters siffror fran 1880)


Nordisk Familjebok, 2:s upplagans supplement, artikeln “Syrien”, Stockholm 1926 (har finns den franska folkrakningen 1921/2 redovisad)


Toynbee, Arnold: “Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire”. London 1916 (I Toynbee bok fins Léarts siffror fran 1912) 



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