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Nestorian Massacres - 1843-1847

In 1843, in the southern mountains of Armenia and Kurdistan, ten thousand Nestorian and Armenian Christians were massacred by the faithful Moslems of Mohammed's type, and as many women and children were taken captives and sold for slaves.

The singular sect of Christians, termed Nestorians, were subjects of the Ottoman Porte, and living in the heart of the mountains of Kurdistan, completely isolated, socially and geographically, from the rest of the world. The government is patriarchal, but the patriarch is responsible to the Turkish authorities. The Nestorian population scattered over Kurdistan, which may be roughly described as the mountainous district between Turkey and Persia, comprising great part of the ancient Assyria and Media, is supposed not to fall short of two hundred thousand souls.

The population (Nestorian) of the district of Hakiari amounted approximative^ to upwards of twenty-seven thousand souls in the mid-1800s. The Caza, or district of Hakiari, lies on the southern and eastern shore of the Lake Van, in the pashalik of Erzeroom, bounded on the south by the pashalik of Mosul. Erzeroom is itself one of the nineteen great Ayalets into which the Asiatic dominions of the Porte are divided, and comprises the Cazas of Hakiari, Van, Kars, Bayezid, Mush, Childer, and Erzeroom Proper.

The Nestorians of the mountains claimed to be an independent people, and that the fierce and warlike Koords by whom they are surrounded, assert their sovereignty over the mountains, and are therefore the implacable enemies of the Nestorians. In 1843 the Nestorians of the village of Tahiari and the Mahomedans of the adjacent village of Emir Kien, had a dispute regarding the limits of their respective pasture-lands. The latter seized some sheep of the Tahiari people, an aggression which the Nestorians resented by a foray, in which the village of Emir Kien was nearly destroyed. The Turkish authorities, instead of settling the matter at once, allowed the spark to kindle into flame.

In the month of June, 1843, Bader Khan Bey, the chief of Buhtan, and Noroolah Bey, the Hakary chief, united their forces for a general and sweeping invasion of the patriarch's provinces. The pasha of Mosul, at the head of a Turkish army, advanced to attack the same district from another quarter. These savage tribes came down upon the poor Nestorians like wolves upon the fold, and with fire and sword swept through the country, sparing neither young nor old, male nor female, except a few whom they would carry away into a captivity worse than death. Some of the reports of the cruelties practised by these barbarians are scarcely to be credited, yet they are said to be true, by those who had the means of judging.

Bederhan Bey put himself at the head of a large body of Kurds, defeated the Nestorians, chased them into their own territories to the fort of Albak, and, after great slaughter, took their stronghold, leaving in it a garrison of Kurds. The Nestorians in his absence regained possession of the fort, but were again expelled by the Kurds, who butchered upwards of five thousand of thorn, and laid waste their country with fire and sword.

The Nestorians were subdued, but not so completely broken down as to be quiet under the iron heel of their ferocious masters. Symptoms 'of a restless spirit soon appeared, which were followed by open resistance, and the repetition of the bloody scenes that marked the former invasion. It was stated, that four or five villages in one district had been spared, and there were other parts of the mountain regions to which the fierce hordes did not penetrate. The occasion of this new and terrible irruption was the outbreak of a rebellion among the Nestorians, who rose upon their new governor, killed some of his attendants, wounded him, and shut him up in his castle, which he had just put in a defensible state. Some thousands of the Nestorians now rallied to strike a decisive blow for liberty, which would, perhaps, have been successful, had not the redoubtable Bader Khan Bey been apprised at an early day of the preparations that were going on for a revolt. This was during their holy month of Ramadan, when the native fanaticism of the Koords was stimulated by their day-feasts and night-revels ; and they were urged on to deeds of blood and carnage, the like of which have not been exceeded, perhaps not equalled in the annals of ancient or modern warfare. These ravages were continued until the spirit of the Nestorians was thoroughly crushed, and there was no reason to suppose that they would attempt to assert their independence again.

The commissioner of the Turkish government at length interfered, and had an interview with Badir Khan Bey, to communicate to that monster the orders of the Porte, that he should liberate the Nestorian captives, and desist from further violence. But this cruel bandit had no more reverence for the orders of the Turkish Sultan, than respect for his own pledges. It even appeared that these orders roused him to new acts of violence.

In many regions the fire of Mussulman fanaticism burned as fiercely as ever, and but too often consumed not only the unhappy Nestorians who dwelled near the Kurds, but other offending defenceless Christians; and great Osmanlees employed by the reforming government, and in many instances promoted by Beshid Pasha, did not hesitate, even in the presence of Franks, to give utterance to the most atrocious sentiments-to a deadly hatred of all Christian Bayahs, simply because they were Christians.

Beshid Pasha was Grand Vizier at the end of 1846, when Nazim Effendi was sent to Mosul to examine into the circumstances connected with Bedr Khan-Bey's second Nestorian massacre. This Nazim Effendi, in passing through Djezira, the stronghold of the Kurd, had several friendly interviews with the sanguinary monster, whose crimes it was pretended he had been sent to investigate. He took large sums of money from Bedr-Khan-Bey, and when he reached Mosul he would hear no evidence against the butcher. The language he held to the French and English consuls on the subject of the second massacre of the Nestorian Christians, was as unreasonable as it was insolent - as false as it was savage. Far from seeking to deny or palliate the atrocious circumstances of the massacre, he openly justified them, and said that the Nestorians were rebellious infidels, whom it was the duty of all good Mussulmans to exterminate; and when asked what provocation had been given by those poor Christians, he repeated an absurd story which had been trumped up by Bedr-Khan-Bey in justification of the first great massacre he had perpetrated three years earlier, and in which 10,000 of the Nestorians had perished. This story was, that some emirs, or green-turbaned Turks, who had settled in the neighbourhood of the Christians, had been murdered by them.

There was not a word of truth even in the original statement. Some Mussulman villagers who had intruded on the territory of the Nestorians (as the fugitive Circassians have done on the lands of the Greeks at Lubat), were, on the complaint of the Christians, removed by the Pasha of Mosul to another part of the country; and, on their retiring, a report was maliciously got up that the emirs had been assassinated.

Upon this flimsy foundation, Nazim Effendi had the audacity to maintain that Bedr-Khan-Bey was justified in his indiscriminate massacre of 2000 more Christian subjects of Sultan Abdul Medjid. "Not a Mussulman has been killed by the Nestorians," said the consuls: "the men reported to be dead are living and in good health not far off; but, even admitting that assassinations had been committed, ought not some distinction to have been made between the innocent and the guilty? Ought not the women and children of the Nestorians, at least, to have been spared ?" The imperial commissioner, Nazim Effendi, coolly replied that they were all infidels - all the same dirt - and were doomed therefore, and deservedly, to the same fate.

On the return of those who had escaped the fury of the Kurds, they found their villages literally strewed with dead mutilated bodies. To complete the misfortunes of these wretched Christians, they had scarcely ventured to return to their ruined houses when another Mussulman monster fell upon them unawares, and put such as he could seize to excruciating tortures, to compel them to confess whether they had concealed property previously to the late incursion of BedrKhan-Bey. The surviving Nestorians now fled into Persia, and their beautifully-cultivated district is a desert.

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