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.
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 scriptures 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
- 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
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- 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.