Our Smallest Ally
Our Smallest Ally (PDF, 17 MB)
by Brigadier-General H. H. Austin, C.M.G. C.B., etc., G.O.C.
The Refugee Camp, Baquba, Baghdad, 1918, 1919.
I have been invited to write a brief introductory letter to Dr. Wigram's most interesting account of the part by "Our Smallest Ally" in the Great War, and this I do with pleasure, as I feel that 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.
In the first place, Dr. Wigram needs no introduction from me, for his work, for more than a decade past, as a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's mission to the Assyrians in Kurdistan and Urmi, is well known. His intimate knowledge of the country, the people, and the Syriac language places him in a unique position to deal with the subject that he has undertaken in his little pamphlet, while I can personally testify to the regard and affection in which he is held by the people whose sufferings and sacrifices he describes so graphically. It was whilst in command of the "Modern City of Refuge" at Baqubah, early in 1919, that I first had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Wigram. He then returned to Mesopotamia, after several years spent as a prisoner with the Turks in Asia Minor during the Great War, in order to place his services at the disposal of our government in connection with the repatriation of the Assyrians — as was then hoped — to their former home. Although this hope has not yet been fulfilled, Dr. Wigram's assistance was of great value to me up to the time that I handed over the command to my successor, and we returned to England last summer. It was at Baqubah that Dr. Wigram collected the information that he now places before the public, and I think that all unbiased readers will admit, after a perusal of his pages, that "Our Smallest Ally" deserves well of the Entente nations for throwing in her lot with them, and thus sacrificing her little all in the cause of freedom.
I should here like to emphasize the point that the Assyrian mountaineers keenly felt that they had been deserted by the Russians, in the early days of the war, when they were left unaided to defend their homes against the Turks and Kurds, shortly after they had consented to fight for the Russians. Nevertheless, when these mountaineers reached their brethern in the plain of Urmi, and were again approached by the Russians, with the request that they would render assistance in Persia, they at once agreed to do so.
Two battalions of these 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.