The Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimaon:
A Martyr of the Assyrian Nation & The Church of the East

The Martyr Mar Binyamin Shamaon

 

Ashor Giwargis - Beirut                                                                
Translated by Mary C.- Canada
Courtesy Of Annahar Newspaper, Lebanon March 12,2004


 
Since the falling of the Assyrian Empire's capital Nineveh in 612 B.C, The Assyrian nation Is considered today one of the mostly deeply rooted nations who are still suffering of deprivation and marginalization after being through bloody massacres.

 Taking a look at the history of the Assyrians we notice the variety of powers, which came to dominate their homeland over the centuries. However, since the collapse of the Assyrian Empire the Assyrians always longed for freedom, for the Assyrians of Babylon revolted over and over again against the Persian kings; the Babylonian leader "Nendintu-Bel" revolted against the king Darius in 522 B.C but his revolt was suppressed, then Assyrians declared their independence and appointed a king by the name of "Bel-Shimanni" followed by king "Shammash-Iriba" during the reign of Cyrus, this revolt was also crushed in 482 B.C, and the Greek historian Herodotus (490-420? B.C) Mentioned how the Assyrians used to mock the Persian occupiers and humiliate the Persian king himself whenever his procession passed by through the Assyrian cities... 

With the Coming of Christ The Lord, the Assyrians were the first to embrace Christianity, in Babylon and the kingdom of "Ur-Hay" (today's Urfa - Odessa) which was founded by the Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. and the state of "Ashur" (was known as Ashuristan) in today's northern Iraq, which enjoyed self-rule within the Sassanite Persian rule, and one of its kings was Sinacherib, the father of the saints Behnam and Sarah. These kingdoms lasted for centuries in the A.D. era. However, since Christianity is a noble faith which calls for evangelization, thus the efforts of the Assyrians turned towards missionary activities which spread at different periods as far as East Asia (China, Japan, Tibet…), and Armenia to the north, the Arabian Peninsula to the south. The Church at the time was known as (The Church of The East), thus it became like an "Empire Church", and its head carried the title "Catholicos of the East".

 The Church of The East was founded by the apostles Saint Thomas, Addai (Thaddaeus) and Mari, therefore, its name is " The Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of The East" (“Catholic” means here “Universal”), also known in history as the "Church of Seleucid", "Church of Babylon", "Church of Persia", "Ancient Eastern Syrian Church". Erroneously today it's known amongst the Assyrian public and sometimes in the ecclesiastical literature of the very Church, as the "Assyrian Church", this error goes back to the nature of external relations for this institution over the centuries. The Shimaonite Patriarchs were invested with the authorities of a "Governor" in some matters to an extent that foreign scholars considered The Church of The East as "The Nation Church" of the Assyrian people, just like was the situation of the independent Maronites in the mountains of Lebanon in the Qadisha valley under the authority of their Patriarch and tribal chiefs.

 This theory erroneously led the missionaries, researchers and later the British mandate to limit the Assyrian national name to the followers of The Church of The East stemming from the fact that Mar Binyamin Shimaon and Mar Ishai Shimaon were the most prominent leaders of the Assyrian National Movement at its beginning - noting that the other two sects of the Assyrian people (Syrians, Chaldeans) didn't join the war because their followers didn't inhabit areas which were considered as strategic by the allies that's why they were not supported to join the allies in the war. However, they still participated in martyrdom and paid a dire price for being Christians and Assyrians just like their brethren of The Church of The East. The Iraqi authorities followed the steps of the British in regards to the name whereby the Eastern denomination in Iraq is referred to as the "Athuri Church” and that for pure political purposes in order to marginalize and assimilate the Assyrian name within the other communities which are more recent in Assyria. This denominational mistake is considered one of the main reasons in the misunderstanding of the true national name for the Assyrians (Chaldean Church, Church of The East, and Syrian Orthodox and Catholic) as well as for many other Assyrian politicians, and some non-Assyrian researchers.

 WHO ARE THE SHIMAONITE PATRIARCHS?

As a result of the interference on the affairs of The Church of The East on the part of rulers who dominated Assyria over the years, and the difficulty in organizing synods to elect patriarchs because of the dangerous areas that Bishops should cross at that time, which compelled the church’s curators in the early fourteenth century, to limit the authority of the Patriarchal degree within one family (from an uncle to his first nephew), thus the Patriarchal See became inherited from 1328-1975, that is for about 650 years, whereby 23 Patriarchs took over The Apostolic See holding the title "Mar Shimaon" and they became to their followers at the level of saints in regards to the extent of suffering that they endured for the sake of their Church and people. The last in the succession of the Shimaonite Patriarchs was the late Mar Ishai Shimaon (1920-1975). He was the nephew of Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimaon, the subject of this article.

 The Church of The East reached its highest magnificence during the Abbasid period; afterwards the Mongolian danger appeared to threaten the entire east when the army of Holako, Gingiz Khan's grandson reached to Assyria in 1258. Holako killed Al-Muaatasim, the Muslim caliph in Baghdad, and because of the oppression which was endured by the followers of this Church, the Patriarchate was moved from Baghdad to Arbil in the days of Patriarch Mar Makikha Shimaon, then to the town of Alqush in Assyria (today's Northern Iraq) following the entrance of Kurds to Arbil with the support of the Mongols after emptying the city of its original inhabitants, that was in the time of Patriarch Mar Timathawos (Timothy) Shimaon (1318-1328).  

Six Patriarchs followed on the Apostolic See in Alqush in about 300 years, and they were all buried in the monastery of "Rabban Hurmizd" near Alqush. Later the Patriarchate was moved to several other places because of troubles from the Kurds, Turks and Catholic missionaries. In the time of Patriarch Mar Dinkha Shimaon Bar Mama (1552-1558) a schism began within the Church when the monk Sulaqa Bet Ballo from Aqra (head of the monastery of Rabban Hurmizd) joined Roman Catholicism seeking the protection which could be provided by the "missionaries" and that by bribing the Kurds and Turks with sums of money in order to stop harassing their followers (only their followers). Today the Uniat part of The Church of The East is known as "The Chaldean Church". Those who didn't follow the Uniat church continued to suffer from persecution at the hands of Muslims and missionaries in the plains of Assyria (Northern Iraq) which forced Patriarch Mar Ishouayab Shimaon (1653-1690) to move the Patriarchal See from Alqush to the Assyrian city of Uremia in the north-west of Iran near the Turkish border (The Assyrians were forced to flee this city several times and today there are only few elderly living there).

 The Patriarch remained in Uremia for four years after which He moved to Khusrawa (Khusar-Abad) in the plain of Salamas on the Turkish border. There He was followed with persecution on the part of Muslims, after one year He moved to the Assyrian highlands known as the Hakkari mountains (the peaks reach to 13000 feet = 4400 meters) where the Patriarchal See remained for 40 years under the protection of the Assyrian "Diz" tribe, then in the time of Patriarch Mar Yahba Alaha Shimaon (Mar Youalah)-(1558-1580) and because of the rugged terrain in the region of Diz, the Patriarchal See was moved to the region of "Qudshanis" (The Holy Land) and in that region a Church carrying the name of Mar Shallita was built in 1689 thus the Patriarchal See remained there under the protection of the Assyrian tribes until the end of 1915, in WWI. 

“Mar Shallita” Church in Qudshanis – The Assyrian mountains

 PATRIARCH MAR BINYAMIN SHIMAON

The Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimaon was born to the honorable Ishai Shimaon, the brother of Mar Rouel Shimaon. He was ordained on Palm Sunday 30th of March 1903 at the hands of Mar Isaac Khnanishoua Metropolitan of "Shimmisdin" region and Mar Estephanos Bishop of "Gawar" region, during his Patriarchal time, He over saw the affairs of The Church of The East appointing the tribal chiefs and collecting taxes which the Turkish authorities were un able to collect of the independent Assyrian tribes, those who did never recognize the Ottoman Sultan (Tiari, Tkhouma, Jeelu, Diz, and Baz tribes). He also assumed the role of a judge just like His predecessors who used to solve problems amongst the Assyrian tribes and even Kurdish tribes who settled lately in those Assyrian mountains. 

The Assyrian Nation entered a critical period in the era of Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimaon (1903-1918), with the beginning of World War I, the renewed calls to annihilate the Christians began in Turkey in 1914, when the Kurds and Turks began to loot, and burn the Assyrian villages in the plains under the motto “Jihad". They kidnapped girls (Harem's Houses) as their "halal" (legal gain in Islam) for their jihad; during this over 600 Assyrian villages and cities were burnt down and more than 600.000 Assyrians of The Church of The East, Syriac and Chaldean Churches were massacred in the area extending from Urfa (Urhay) and Uremia. All the Churches were destroyed at the hands of the Kurds and Turks under the motto “Jihad".

Thus, and because of the persecutions which the Assyrians endured over hundreds of years before WWI, the Russians found it a suitable opportunity to get the Assyrians to their side [for they were courageous mountain battles fighters] and with the declaration of "Jihad" on the part of the Ottoman Sultanate, the Patriarch had no choice but to join the closest of the allied countries that is Russia. The Patriarch took His decision on the 10th of June 1915, and the Turks arrested His brother, the honorable Hirmiz who was continuing his education in Mussel, in order to oblige the Patriarch to give up the arms of the Assyrian fighters, but Mar Binyamin refused and said His famous phrase: “My brother is but one person, however the children of my nation are many, so how would I forsake the many for one???” Immediately after that, Honorable Hirmiz Mar Shimaon was killed at the hands of "Haidar Beg" the governor of Mussel.

 With the beginning of the Assyrian uprising against jihad, Russia took advantage of the Patriarch's nobility and His trust in Russia to allure His people to the outskirts of the city of Uremia turning them into an invincible shield before the Kurds and Turks on the western front of the Caucasia. This is exactly what happened and the Assyrians successfully impeded fourteen Turkish-Kurdish attacks whereby they defeated the 6th and 4th Turkish battalions, both the 5th and 12th infantry corps, in addition to defeating the Baradust and Shikak Kurdish tribes with their large numbers and also the Iranian forces led by Majid Al-Sultany... Military experts of the allies were so much impressed by the courage of this small Nation. The Russian army retreated later on because of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Patriarch completely understood the situation and remained in close contact with the Russians, while His people were facing the Iranians, Turks and Kurds with whatever arms they had left ... Here, came the English's turn to take advantage of the Assyrian circumstances and their fighting spirit so they intervened before the Patriarch in order to move the Russians out of the scene. A meeting was held in Uremia between the Assyrians and the allies, in February 1918, whereby the meeting was limited to the Russian Consul Nikitin, the American Consul Shed, the French officer Cujol and the English captain Gracy who promised the Assyrian Patriarch in the name of the British Government of an independent State (stretching from the west of Tur-Abdin till the East of Lake Uremia), but in return he asked the Assyrians to abandon the Russians who had already left the war because of the Bolshevik Revolution. Gracy asked the Assyrians to join Britain, which will guarantee them their independent State at the end of the war. The Assyrian leadership had no choice other than joining the English whether they lied or were truthful, but the English were well aware of the fact that the Patriarch sympathized with the Russians His old neighbors so they convinced the Patriarch to meet with the Kurdish leader Agha Ismael (known as Simko), the head of Shikak Kurdish tribes. The English were well aware of the Kurdish-Iranian agreement to assassinate the Patriarch during that meeting. For the Iranian prince Mehdi Shams wanted to get rid of the Patriarch so that he would enter Uremia and take revenge of the Assyrians for their successful revolt against the Muslims in the city a while before that. During this meeting the English objected to Agha Petros' suggestion that Simko should come and meet with the Patriarch as a sign of respect and for his safety, for Simko was known for his cowardness and lack of dignity. The English however, suggested that the Patriarch Himself goes to meet with Simko as a peace initiative. The English would benefit by weakening the position of the Assyrians after assassinating their high commander, thus they would find themselves surrounded by their Muslim enemy while the English would become the only side capable of helping them (only when they – The English - see it possible…).Then the Assyrians of Hakkari and Urmia would be allured to the Plains of Ashur (Iraq) after promising them with freedom, then the English would instigate turmoil between them and the Iraqi government with the purpose of creating problems which would be solved by the English themselves as a preparation to economic and oil projects with the Iraqi government which will be a puppet in the hands of the English.

 The Patriarch agreed to meet with Simko and headed on a Saturday, March 3rd 1918 to the stronghold of the Kurdish chief, the city of Koynashahr in Iran. Simko welcomed the Patriarch and embraced His hands, then asked the Patriarch that his companions put their arms aside because they caused frightfulness in the city. Simko's request was answered and the meeting was a friendly one whereby an agreement was made to bring peace between the Assyrians and Kurds and that both sides would ally together to get their rights. 

However, as the meeting was adjourned Simko went out to bid the Patriarch farewell, and as he leaned over, Simko took one of his men's rifles and shot the first bullet which was the signal to hundreds of Kurdish fighters who were hiding on roof tops, and bullets down poured on the Patriarch and His companions from all directions, more than 40 were killed and those who survived fiercely fought in the city to remove the martyred Patriarch's body. They were able to sneak in and reach to the bullet shattered corps, the Kurds had mutilated the corps and they put it on a chair as a sign of mockery, while their children took His Patriarchal head cover and began to kick it in the street, then they severed a finger and removed His Patriarchal golden ring. The Assyrian fighters carried the Patriarch on their shoulders to the region of Khusrawa, led by Daniel the son of Malik Ismael (Daniel is the son of the Tiari tribe’s chief and the personal companion to the martyred Patriarch).

 While the exhausted Assyrian people awaited the joyful news of a peace between Assyrians and Kurds, on the contrary the disastrous news of the Patriarch assassination, the second person after Christ the Lord (as revered by the Assyrians)… An overwhelming anger took over and a force of thousands of tribal men were assembled under the leadership of malik Ismael (upper Tiari tribe), malik Khoshaba (lower Tiari tribe), malik Oshana (Tkhouma tribe) this force broke into the city of "Koynashahr" on March 18th 1918 and they took control of the city following some bloody and violent battles, whereby 24 Assyrian fighters became martyrs.

 However, Simko was able to escape to "Tchara" fortress in the Salamas valley, so the Assyrians followed him and occupied the fortress then he was able to escape in disguise to the city of "Khoi" in the North where he killed more than 3800 un armed Assyrian men, women and children with the help of other Kurdish tribes. The American missioner Carter Packard who instigated the massacre of "Khoi" facilitated Simko’s escape. The Shimaon family suspected that this "missioner" was also involved in the planning of the Patriarch's assassination.

Two years later Simko and the Iranians had a dispute so he fled to Iraq under the protection of his brother in law Sheikh Sayyed Taha the deputy of Rawanduz (in Today’s North Iraq), there he was followed discreetly by the Assyrian leader Yakou malik Ismael (brother of Daniel who was fore mentioned) and his men to the area of Dyana in order to revenge the Patriarch's killing and to know who planned for the assassination. But the English army alerted Simko of Yakou malik Ismael's plan so he fled yet again... At the end Simko was invited by the Iranian Emir to hold a peace treaty following an un known dispute, and his end was the same as that of the martyred Patriarch; Simko was killed at the hands of his host.

 On May 29th 1918, Polous (Paul) Mar Shimaon was ordained as Patriarch, He was the brother of Mar Binyamin the Martyr. In His time the British executed their plan to allure the Assyrians of the mountains to the plains of Assyria (today’s Northern Iraq) in order to remove the Turkish army with the help of the Assyrians because they were the only ones able to fight the Turks in the mountains if they were armed properly. This came at a time when the Assyrians were increasingly besieged in Uremia and its surroundings and their ammunition was exhausted. So rather than providing them with arms, the English asked them to move to "Sainqala" in order to meet up with the English who would provide them with ammunition, but when the Assyrian fighters arrived to the city under the command of General Potros Eliya (known as Agha Potros) they didn't find any one so they were obliged to head back to Urmia while the "Salamas" division under the command of General Dawid (David) Mar Shimaon (the martyred Patriarch's brother) was diverting the 6th battalion of the Turkish army and the Kurdish tribes on the "Seera" mountain front in order to prevent them from entering the plains of "Salamas" and the city of Uremia. As the division of Agha Potros arrived panic took over the Assyrians in Uremia because they knew that they were betrayed by the British but even with that they had no other choice but to head towards the Iranian city of Hamadan where the closest British base was, (800 km walking by foot from Urmi). More than 200.000 Assyrians were obliged to walk on foot for more than a month whereby they lost 54.000 defenseless people on the roads during successive attacks by the Kurds, Turks and Iranians and another 11.000 martyrs lost their lives in a caravan that headed north to Georgia, in addition to killer diseases because of the hot weather and drinking polluted water from the swamps where more than 5000 Assyrian children lost their lives in the refugee camps in Hamadan and Karmanshah in Iran, then in Baaquba in Iraq and amongst them the Patriarch Mar Polous Shimaon two years after His ordination. In 1920 the Patriarch Mar Ishai Shimaon the son of General Dawid Mar Shimaon was ordained and He was the last of the Shimaon Patriarchs. 

However, presently the Patriarch of "The Assyrian Church of the East" is ordained through elections. Today His Beatitude Mar Dinkha IV holds the Patriarchal See in the United States of America (He is expected to return to His original Patriarchal See of The Church of The East, in Assyria since the Iraqi regime has fallen). His Beatitude firmly implemented the principle of separating between politics and Church affairs in the presence of Assyrian parties and organizations which are supposed to be working towards attaining the rights of the Assyrian people in their historical homeland, with the continuous persecution of the Assyrian people by other peoples who are domineering the Assyria.

The late Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimaon is considered as the Martyr of The Church of The East and The Assyrian Nation. The Church commemorates His martyrdom on the Sunday preceding The Lent (Easter). As to the secular institutions, they celebrate His memory as the Nation's martyr on the Sunday which precedes the Great Lent before Easter (This year it was on the 15th of February) .On the other hand the Assyrian secular organizations (social, cultural, political) commemorate the martyrdom of Mar Binyamin the Patriarch on the 3rd of March every year, and the Assyrian people are still looking forward to the goal which The Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimaon, the rest of the Assyrian leaders and hundreds of thousands of women, children and men were martyred for and that is peace and freedom for the Assyrian Nation similar to other nations.

But unfortunately it's very clear from the latest political changes and what is being concluded from the results of the Iraqi politicians' positions, especially through the way the current Iraqi administrative law is being organized, that the Assyrian people will be more marginalized and will face more suffers in the future (that is if there will be any one left in the homeland) unless if they concentrate their efforts to face the plans of the "De-Facto Powers" and that by adopting a new policy of co-operation first within the Assyrian family and then in the Iraqi family.

 

 
     
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