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Post "Our Smallest Ally": Assyrians in the Great War
Created by John Eipper on 04/30/21 11:48 AM

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"Our Smallest Ally": Assyrians in the Great War (Tamara Zuniga-Brown, USA, 04/30/21 11:48 am)

Here's my addition to the reading list and discussion about the Armenian/Christian (Assyrian) genocide. I came upon this obscure, but precious, account of Assyrian history during my research in service to the Chaldean Church in Erbil:

Our Smallest Ally: A Brief account of the Assyrian Nation in the Great War: Written by Rev. W.A. Wigram (William Ainger Wigram, 1872-1953), a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's mission to the Assyrians in Kurdistan and Urmi.

The introduction is by Brigadier-General H. H. Austin, C.M.G. C.B., etc., G.O.C. who wrote from the Refugee Camp, Baquba, in Baghdad, 1918, 1919 and declared, "but few in England realize to what extent the small and obscure Assyrian nation helped to shoulder our burdens in the Middle East, by resisting the Turko-German aggression along the Turko-Persian frontier."

Here is a small section from the introduction:

"Two battalions of these (Assyrian) mountaineers were organized and placed under the command of Russian officers, and became an integral part of the Russian army. Later, a third battalion was organized, under the special command of the Assyrian Patriarch. These battalions were on active service under Russian direction, and were utilized on expeditions against both Turks and Kurds, until the final dissolution of the Russian army. They then, up to July,1918, formed part of the irregular force that defended the plains of Urmi and Salmas, and held the Turks in check on that frontier. In fourteen distinct engagements, from March to July,1918, they defeated every Moslem force that was brought against them. Eventually, when their stock of ammunition was exhausted, and they attacked simultaneously by Turks, Kurds, and Persians, their position about Urmi became untenable, and the flight to Hamadan commenced. Subsequently, at Hamadan and Baquba, an Assyrian contingent was raised from these mountaineer and plain refugees, and drilled and trained by British officers and C.C.O.s. The writer has recently heard, from officers commanding this mountain battalion, of the splendid work performed by his men, who were brigaded with Indian troops during recent operations against the truculent Kurds north of Mosul, in the year 1920.

"Our Smallest Ally is now homeless, and dependent on our charity at Baqubah, for its lands and villages have been utterly destroyed, and it has the further mortification of seeing--from reasons beyond our control--that although it threw in its lot with the ultimately victorious side, Kurds, and others of the defeated enemy, are in practical possession of its ruined homesteads. Such a state of things is incomprehensible to the minds of this people, but it is due to the difficulties of the country, the entire absence of food in, and the inaccessibility of their home, for purposes of ordinary transport, coupled with the extremely disorderly political conditions of Kurdistan and North-Western Persia.

"These circumstances combine to render their safe re-instalment in their former lands, at present impracticable."

H. H. Austin
(Late G.O.C. Refugee Camp, Baqubah)

February 6, 1920

JE comments: A fascinating account.  I've always been a fan of obscure and forgotten history books, and Our Smallest Ally preserves one of the least-known chapters of the Great War.  The text is available in print-on-demand for a very reasonable ten bucks:

Our Smallest Ally by Wigram, William Ainger: New (2010) | GreatBookPrices (abebooks.com)

Tamara, if memory serves, the last time you checked in with WAIS you were back in the US.  Have you now returned to Erbil?


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