The 1933 Simmele Massacre of Assyrians in Iraq
August 7 was chosen to become the official Assyrian Martyrs Day. Here is an account of the massacre.
The 1933 Simmele Massacre of Assyrians in Iraq
(AINA) — The Simmele Massacre of Assyrians occurred between August 7 and August 11, 1933, in the town of Simmele, North Iraq, and its surroundings. It was carried out by the Iraqi Army, led by General Bakir Sidqi, a Kurd, and Kurdish and Arab irregulars. The report below is presented in original form; some spelling may be non-standard. The number of victims has been subsequently determined by researchers to be 3,000, since the massacre was not confined only to the village of Simmele.
The Simmele Massacre
As Reported by Colonel Stafford of the British Army
Simmel is on the main road to Zakho, about eight miles from Dohuk, under the administration of which qodha it came. It was the largest village in the neighborhood and consisted of over one hundred Assyrians and ten Arab houses. The total population would have been about 700, most of the Assyrians belonging to the Baz tribe, with others of the Upper Tiyari and the Diz. The headman was a strong supporter of the Mar Shimun and with fifty others had followed Yacu into Syria. These fifty were almost entirely Tiyari, hardly any of the Baz being among them. The feeling of unrest in the village increased. On August 8th the Qaimaqam of Zakho appeared with a lorry full of soldiers. No satisfactory answer has yet been given to the question why he should have come with troops into a district that was outside his administration. He entered the village and told the Assyrians to surrender their rifles, as he feared that fighting might occur between the rebel Assyrians and the Government forces, in which case the people of Simmel would be less likely to be involved if they had no rifles. Plausibly, but with lies in his heart, he assured them that they would be safe under the protection of the Iraqi flag which flew over the police post for Simmel, being a large village, had a police post of one sergeant and four men. The Assyrians then handed in their arms, which were taken away by the troops.
Next day more troops returned, this time without the Qaimaqam, and disarmed further Assyrians who in the meantime had come in from the surrounding villages. The following day, the 10th, passed comparatively quietly. Nothing happened except that Arabs and Kurds could be seen looting neighboring villages. They even came in and stripped the communal threshing floors on the outskirts of Simmel, where the cut barley and wheat was stacked in piles, for it was full time of harvest and the villagers were engaged in threshing and winnowing. The unarmed Assyrians could do nothing and the police did not intervene; they explained that they had no orders and that in any case their numbers were insufficient.
It was becoming quite clear now to the Assyrians what was likely to happen. Not only had they seen this looting going on, but they suddenly found they were forbidden to draw water from the village spring, being permitted only to go to the main stream, which was dirty. They knew that the Army had already shot many Assyrians. They had seen their head priest, Sada, taken out of Simmel. All day they watched the looting Arabs and Kurds. Not one of them dared to move from the neighborhood of the police post, except one or two whose houses were near by, and who went to and fro on pathetic household tasks such as the making of bread, the last meal that many of them were destined to eat. They were now in a state of deadly fear, and they spend that night in and around the police post, which is built on a small hill. They now knew only too well the sentiments which the Arabs, and particularly the Arab Army, harboured towards them, and in the small hours of the 11th, when the moon had risen, the watching Assyrians began to observe their Arab neighbours of the village starting away driving their flocks before them. This opened their eyes beyond possibility of error. They realized the trap they had been led into and they knew that they were entirely helpless.
The police sergeant ordered the Assyrians from the out lying villages to return to their homes. When they refused, saying that it was unsafe, he ordered them to leave the police post and go down to the houses in the villages below. They obeyed reluctantly. Some went to the house of Gavriel and his brother Tinan, who kept reassuring them that they would be safe and that the Government would protect them. As others were going down to the houses they suddenly saw lorries of troops and armoured cars arriving. Looking round to the police post they saw a policeman pulling down the Iraqi flag, which until then had been flying, as it had flown for years, as a symbol of the law and order under which every inhabitant of Iraq could live in safety and security. Suddenly and without the least warning the troops opened fire upon the defenseless Assyrians. Many fell, including some women had children, and the rest ran into the houses to take cover. Not a soul was to be seen in the streets. The troops well knew that there was not a rifle or revolver left in the village. An officer then drove up in a car and the troops came in. This officer has since been identified as Ismail Abawi Tohalla, who comes of a well know but by no means respectably Mosul family. He shouted to the soldiers not to kill the women and children. These were ordered to come out of the houses and go up to the police post. Many did so.
A cold blooded and methodical massacre of all the men in the village then followed, a massacre which for the black treachery in which it was conceived and the callousness with which it was carried out, was as foul a crime as any in the blood stained annals of the Middle East. The Assyrians had no fight left in them, partly because of the state of mind to which the events of the past week had reduced them, largely because they were disarmed. Had they been armed it seems certain that Ismail Abawi Tohalla and his bravos would have hesitated to take them on in fair fight. Having disarmed them, they proceeded with the massacre according to plan. This took some time. Not that there was any hurry, for the troops had the whole day ahead of them. Their opponents were helpless and there was no chance of any interference from any quarter whatsoever. Machine gunners set up their guns outside the windows of the houses in which the Assyrians had taken refuge, and having trained them on the terror stricken wretches in the crowded rooms, fired among them until not a man was left standing in the shambles. In some other instance the blood lust of the troops took a slightly more active form, and men were dragged out and shot or bludgeoned to death and their bodies thrown on a pile of dead.
Gavriel, who has been mentioned in an earlier chapter as the individual who raised cheers for the Army at the Mosul meeting of July 11th, went out to plead for the Assyrians. He explained who he was, and said that his nephew, Ezra Effendi, had long been an officer in the Iraqi police. He showed his nationality papers, but these were torn in pieces before his face and he was shot in cold blood. A priest named Ismail who had taken refuge in the police post was driven out by the police, a rope was tied round his neck and he was kicked down the steps and dragged away by the troops, who shot him, afterwards throwing his body on the steadily growing heap of corpses. Whilst this organized slaughter was going on, the police sergeant, who had from the beginning taken a leading part in the diabolical plot, ordered the Assyrian women to clean up the blood from the neighborhood of the police post. The women complied, but only for a time. Suddenly they rebelled against this inhuman order and told the police sergeant to turn the machine guns on them as they would rather die. The soldiers then took the men that remained down to a ditch and went on killing until every man was dead. It was then discovered that a few men had taken refuge among the women and that some of them had hastily got into women’s clothes. These were rounded up and murdered.
they went off to Aloka for their midday meal and afternoon siesta. As soon as the troops had gone, the tribes, who had been interested spectators, came in and completed the looting of the houses which the soldiers had commenced. The tribes had taken no part whatever in the massacre, but as the Army were equipped with modern machine guns and had no opposition, there was of course no need for any help. Later in the evening the troops came back, for the police sergeant had reported by telephone that a number of Assyrian men had appeared at the police post and taken refuge there. These were hunted out and killed. The shooting went on until about sunset. In the meantime the other houses in the village were crowded with weeping, terror stricken women and small children. Few of them had any meal that night or for the next few days, for what grain there was in the village had been removed by the Kurds, who had also gone round the houses removing cookery utensils, bedding, and in some cases even the roof beams.
Next morning the women, already distracted beyond all reason, had a further shock when they saw the Army returning, for they did not know what this might portend. The Army, however, had merely come back to bury the dead. The bodies were collected and placed in a shallow ditch. It must be remembered that the month was August with a daily sun maximum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit! According to the military report 305 men, four women, and six children were buried. Many of the killed were little more than half grown boys. Some other twenty women and children were wounded. I myself saw later one child who had been shot in both wrists as he was being held in the arms of his father who was killed. That night and the subsequent night some of the women were raped by the police sergeant and the soldiers. Doing everything possible to minimize what had happened, the Arabs have stated that no such incidents occurred. This is a lie. All that can be said is that throughout these terrible days there were fewer outrages on women than would have been expected. It was also everywhere stated at the time that this massacre was the work of the tribes and the irregular police. This, too, is a lie. It was the work of the Iraqi Army, disciplined troops under the direct command of their officers, the troops re sponsible for practically all the killing being the motor machin gun detachments, while other troops who were passing the village throughout the day did nothing to stop what was going on.
Bekir Sidqi himself, who was to be acclaimed by the Baghdad mob as a conquering here, and what was even worse was later decorated and promoted by the Iraqi Government, was not in Simmel but spent that day in Mosul, though there is no question but that he planned the whole affair. Indeed, it was subsequently admitted that the Army, had it not been prevented, had intended to carry out a similar massacre of Alqosh, and that he reports that Assyrian rebels had entered that village had been deliberately spread about to afford an excuse.
The burial in the shallow ditch, which was carried out most inefficiently, caused the stench under the burning sun to become almost unendurable, and every fly and pestilential insect for miles around was drawn to the village. In this unspeakable atmosphere there lived for six day one thousand terrified women and children who had seen all their male relations killed before their eyes. All they had to eat was a few dried water melon seeds and they had scanty water. Even at night they had little sleep, for they did not know what might be coming next, and their dreadful experiences let them to put little trust in the protestations of the police that they were quite safe and that nothing more would happen. A little bread was send from Dohuk, but nothing on an adequate scale was done until Hikmet Beg Suleiman himself on the 15th arrived in the village and was overcome by what he saw. As soon as he returned doctors and sanitary men were sent to Simmel, and the bodies were decently and properly re interred. when I visited Simmel myself with Major Thomason on August 17th few traces could be seen of what had occurred, but the sight of the women and children is one which I shall never forget and I spent more than tree years in the trenches in France! That day the women and children were removed to Dohouk, and thence, as there was no proper accommodation, to Mosul, where they were placed under canvas in a camp, which will be described later. Every effort was made to hush up what had occurred and a censorship for a time imposed on out going letters. It was soon seen, however, that the killing could not be kept secret, for the Christians in the north had sent the news abroad, and in the nature of things an affair of this kind was bound to get out. In fact, the details were published in the Beyrouth newspaper before they were known in Mosul. So the Baghdad Government began to admit that there had been a slaughtering of the Assyrians, but they threw the blame on the tribes and the irregular police. Later this was found to be useless, and Yasin Pasha, the Iraqi delegate to Geneva, had to admit that the excesses had been committed by the regular Army. The Pasha went on to add that the excesses merited and had received severe condemnation. This was untrue. Actually the troops were given triumphal receptions when they returned to Mosul, Kirkuk, and Baghdad. In Mosul the Crown Price, who is now King of Iraq, at a great military review, decorated with his own hands the colours of the troops who had been engaged against the Assyrians. Bekir Sidqi, Hajji Ramadhan, and the other officers concerned were promoted. Bekir Sidqi on his arrival in Baghdad motored through the crowded streets amidst enthusiastic applause, sitting on the right hand of the Prime Minister. However much Iraqis may deplore what occurred and in private many express a genuine disgust no one of them has yet stated publicly in Iraq that the Army had behaved itself otherwise than well.
But though the worst massacres of all took place at Simmel, this was not the only place where Assyrians were murdered. The killings at Dohuk have already been described, and many also were shot at and near Zakho. The first reports regarding the number of Assyrians killed were greatly exaggerated; two thousand was a figure often mentioned, and few people, even Iraqis, suggested less than one thousand. Actually, as the result of careful inquiries; I have come to the conclusion that not more than six hundred lost their lives. The great majority of these were peaceful cultivators, who had committed not the smallest offence against the Iraqi Government. Altogether upwards of five hundred and fifty Assyrians were killed by the Army, of whom not more than twenty could, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to have been killed in action. The Kurds, as a whole, behaved considerably better than might have been expected, especially in view of the undoubted encouragement they had received. Only at two places were they guilty of murder, though they did much looting. At a place named Savora the followers of Nisham Agha murdered twelve Assyrians in cold blood. At Qalla Badri, near Dohuk, some Assyrians women were killed and mutilated under atrocious circumstances. Other Assyrians in other places were killed by the Kurds in the course of their robbing and looting, but probably Kurds did not kill more than fifty altogether. On the other hand, several instances were reported of Kurds protecting Assyrian women and children. Mohammed Agha of Germawa, in particular, showed a fine spirit.
Speech by Arab Member of Iraqi Parliament
A speech delivered to the Iraqi Parliament on June 28, 1933 by Sayed Chabali Haji Thabit, a member of Parliament, set the stage for the massacre. In the speech Thabit villifies the Assyrians, denies their identity, calls them “wretched and corrupt people” and says they are a “poisonous germ in the head of the government.”
Here is the text of the speech, as well as an image of the official transcript.
Statement made by Sayed Chabali Haji Thabit, in the Iraq Parliament, on the 28th June, 1933, Vide Al Istiqlal. No. 1929, of the 29th June, 19333.
I have to throw light on the public opinion, specially on that of our press, regarding this misleading name ‘Assyrians’ which is in common use. As you are aware this term is only recently coming into being. There is nobody who reasonably deserves this name, if there is any, we are the first to grasp it, as we are the original inhabitants of this country. I take this from the physical and not political point of view. The same question arises in Egypt, it is called Pharoahs’ , but really Mosul is Arab even before the Islam, I regret to note that our press still stick to this mysterious name. The group which calls itself Assyrians, should be named Tyaris, they intermingle with the Syrianis and Chaldeans, this is confirmed by their being bi-lingual. If for example there is any of them who can decipher the tablets maintained in our museum, he can make us believe that they are descendants of the Great Assyria, Proverb, “if he passed the examination set, he deserves honour; if he fails he is liable to spit into his face and kick him out.”
The Tyaris can be divided int the following suo-sections: (1) Tyari Bila, (2) Tyari Zair, (3) Tyari Jilu, (4) Tyari Bazi and (5) Tyari Dizi, they all go under then name Tyari. These in the pre-war days inhabited in (1) Hikkari, Julamark, Bashqala, and Van in the Turkish territories with their religious headquarters in Qudshanus, (2) Persia, their headquarters in Urmia, (3) Russia and (4) part of them lived in the Barwari villages in the out-skirts of a mountain which is named after them, viz, Tyari Mountain in the vicinity of Madia, and their headquarters being in Ashita, where their religious leader resides who puts his untimely claims before the government. These villages are within the Turkish border, but some of them are happily situated in the Iraqi side, they are genuine Iraqis; they are entitled to share the benefit of our country; ours is theirs and theirs is ours.
The above mentioned Tyaris are therefore Aliens, and not former inhabitants of this country. They are nearly 20,000 who fled from Persia, Russia and Turkey, with the strong desire the colonial office. When they poured into Mosul and began living by illegal means, the inhabitants there were somewhat indisposed and cried to get rid of them but, unfortunately, their pleadings were not listened to until some unhappy event took place in Mosul. The Mosulawis cried loudly and insisted on their being removed to their former homes or at least scattered in the villages, to avoid further accidents. It was prophesied at that time that, their settling together would jeopardize the general security, and disturb peaceful citizens. The government migrated them to Kirkuk; as though Kirkuk was not Iraq! They caused there the most bloody accident Kirkuk has ever seen, and made hundreds of our myrters (sic) to lose their dear lives. This happened during the celebration of the “Id al Fatir.”
I cannot help weeping when I remember that doomed event!! Still, some mysterious hand plays havoc, and moves them to and fro. Recently one of their priests (Rev. Bedari) who resides in Mosul, published the most notorious article against the poor government. The police authorities in the spot confiscated his cursed pamphlets, but his honour the priest, was able to dispose some fifty copies and distribute them among the prominent people. May I ask his excellency as to the steps taken against such behaviours?
This wretched and corrupt people was housed and fed in Iraq, and were expected to be loyal and dutidul (sic) subjects, but on the contrary, after being surfeited and ungrateful to the hospitality shown by their hosts claim humorous rights. Experience, however, shows that these are armed to the teeth and are in a position to inflict the severest blow on the government, and disturb peaceful citizens. They imagine that they will be able to upset and wreck the Iraq Government!! We are not so coward, but we wait to see what steps will be taken against those interlopers – what is the government’s attitude towards them in this respect, and why she keeps quiet and postpones their punishment? and to make it known from what source they obtained their arms. We therefore request and recommend their being stripped of their arms forthwith, or at least, arm their neighbors for defencive measures.
We cannot clearly understand tha (sic) programme of their settling together in the Zibar area. The government further sanctioned 13,000 Dinars for their settlement, and the settlement office intends to settle some of them in the Barza area; as though we dislodged the Barzanis to make room for those, and to breed the poisonous germ in the head of the government.
These will, at any time, be an obstacle in the way of the government, we therefore, should scatter them in all the liwas to be able to rule them peacefully. We understand that they imagine special status, out these cannot be attained to, and cannot at our will, create a difficult situation similar to that created in Palestine (Zionists).
Further, what is the British Consulate at Diaaaa? and what are the intelligence officers scattered in the country? and what is this mythical hand that which turns this unseen machine? We were under the impression that this game would come to an end with the mandate, but they wish to restart it in an Independent State! “[w]e can wait no longer, everything is ripe, we request the government to take punitive measures against them.
Gentlemen, the most important problem to solve is to remedy this bleeding wound, to do this; we shall cry and cry loudly. The soil of this country is formed of the bones and blood of our ancestors, how can we close our eyes and be indifferent I defending our sacred father land? (Applause). Our ally wants many things, in this country of their adoption, we must guard it against any intruders.
Government Order to Disarm Assyrians
The Iraqi government ordered the Assyrians to surrender their weapons or face severe punishment. Here is the text of the order (translated by Dr. Samir Jonah), followed by the image of the order, in Arabic.
To the Assyrian Rebels
By this notice, the government declares:
1. You have sixty hours starting at 12:00, i.e, midday Saturday, of this August 12, to show your good intentions subject to your surrender of all your weaponry to the closest government offices, military camps or police stations.
2. All disciplinary actions by government armed forces will be put on hold during the grace period mentioned above.
3. If you do not give in and surrender your weapons to the above mentioned authorities during this grace period, the government armed forces will resume its operations against you with the worst possible outcomes.
4. Take advantage of this valuable opportunity and accept the advice to avert your blood shed.