The French Press and the Assyro-Chaldeans
By Abdulmesih BarAbraham, MSc.
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(AINA) -- A new book titled La France et les Assyro-Chaldéens - qu'en dit la presse? (France and the Assyro-Chaldeans -- What does the press say?) has been published by Claire Weibel Yacoub, a French historian and author of three books on Assyrians.1

The book's introduction starts with the bold title "Return of the Assyro-Chaldeans on the stage." The French "stage" at least, in form of an extended historical press review, is traced meticulously and in a scholarly manner for almost two centuries by the author.

Given the existential threat Assyrians have faced since World War One, Mrs. Waibel Yacoub's asks what do French people know about the Assyro-Chaldeans based on the French press? Are they the forgotten ones? Compared to the Armenians, with whom the French public opinion is familiar with, the Assyro-Chaldeans seem less visible. The book is structured into seven chapters, each representing an important historical phase in modern Assyrian history in the Middle East and its coverage in the French press.

Chapter one deals with the growing interest of France in Eastern churches and the protector role it took for the Catholics during the Ottoman Empire. A short chapter two reflects on the archaeological discoveries of ancient Mesopotamian cultures and their impact on the identity of the Assyro-Chaldeans as indigenous population of the region. Chapter three analyzes the press coverage on the Assyro-Chaldeans prior World War One, including reports on the Adana Massacre in 1909 and various French interventions with the Ottoman Sublime Porte. Chapter four is devoted to French press coverage of the tragedy of the Assyro-Chaldeans during World War One and the genocide in Persia and Turkey between 1915 and 1918. Chapter five elaborates on the coverage related to the post-war Peace Conference. A subsection deals with the various Assyrian national delegations from Turkey, United States, Persia and Caucasus sent to the conference, among them notable personalities and prelates such as the Orthodox Bishop Ephrem Barsaum, who later became Patriarch. The chapter continues with the coverage on the Treaty of Sevres in which the Assyro-Chaldeans achieved first international recognition as a nation. Chapter six covers the time after the Lausanne Treaty and outlines how the Assyrians became refugees, the Mosul question, and the Simmele Massacre in Iraq in August 1933. A subsection deals with the press coverage of the resettlement of the Hakkari refugees in the Khabour region in Syria and on the formation of an Assyro-Chaldean Battalion. A brief Chapter seven finally deals with the time of the French mandate in Syria. Closing remarks and a bibliography conclude the 198-page book.

Related: The Assyrian Genocide

The French press, in fact, spoke of the Assyrian Christians for hundreds of years using various designations, more often during the 19th century and later. Even though sometimes the religious designations of "Chaldean" Catholics, "Syriac" Catholics, "Jacobites" and "Nestorians" were used, over time the term Assyro-Chaldeans was also adopted.

Related: The 1933 Massacre of Assyrians in Simmele, Iraq

Very early on papers like the Journal Political and Literary Debates portrayed the situation of the Assyrians by publishing the stories of travelers and archaeologists who have traveled through Mesopotamia and the mountainous territories close to the Turkish-Persian border. These were the first journalistic traces. At the beginning of the 19th century, Claudius James Rich (1787-1821), a great British explorer, went to meet them in the northern villages of present-day Iraq and "raised the awareness of the Nestorians, Armenians and Chaldeans, carved out in a rock in the highest mountains previously unknown in Europe." He undertook also a study of the site of Babylon, considered the starting point of explorations of the ancient Mesopotamia.

This same newspaper echoes other often tragic events involving Kurdish leaders, who were constantly harassing the Assyro-Chaldeans to eliminate them physically from their villages in the foothills. This was the case 1843 and 1847, when the infamous Kurdish leader Badr Khan, the governor of Jezire, repressed them fiercely; the respective article states that "many villages of the Chaldeans and Jacobites groan under his oppression."

Through its archaeologists, France participated in the excavations conducted between the Tigris and the Euphrates. A buried universe of Nineveh and Babylon resurfaced. The press contributed to the revival as the Louvre Museum in Paris exhibited these in 1847, along with the Opera of Paris, which put them in scene in 1860 by rebuilding the "world of stone, miraculously found in the plains of Nimrud and Khorsabad ." A considerable linguistic, archaeological and anthropological work followed that had its impact on the Assyro-Chaldeans, heirs of this ancient civilization. A cultural renaissance movement then engages the religious denominations of Nestorians, Chaldeans or Jacobites, now with added strong feeling belonging to the same people.

Long before the war, France maintained privileged links with the Eastern Catholic Churches. During the 19th century, the attention paid to these Christians was accentuated. For the Assyro-Chaldeans, this particular relationship is reflected through initiatives diplomats from France presented to the Ottoman Empire, or by the attribution of honorary recognition of the French State and its institutions to oriental personalities.

During World War One the French press reported that Armenians were not the only victims of the genocide, but also the Assyro-Chaldeans. By sending reporters and disseminating information through the press, it amplified the debate around it. In 1916, for instance, Le Journal sent its correspondent, Henry Barby, to Erzurum. In an article published on June 21, he drew up a detailed picture of the massacres that had just been committed within the Ottoman Empire, reporting on the massacres of Armenians and also giving precise account about the Assyro-Chaldeans persecuted in the regions of Djézireh, Séert and Tur Abdin.

As various Assyrian national delegations went to Paris when the Peace Conference started in 1919, the term Assyro-Chaldean, backed up by France, gained momentum and was included in the international treaty of Sèvres signed on August 10, 1920. The French press reflects, albeit to varying degrees, on the break-down of the dream of the Assyro-Chaldean self-determination in context of the Lausanne Treaty. Likewise, many newspapers report on another tragic event, that of August 1933, where Assyrians were massacred in Iraq.

Claire Weibel Yacoub emphasizes that the visibility given to the Assyro-Chaldeans from 1820 on is strongly linked to the advent of the freedom of press. She elaborates on the evolution of the press and emergence of various press agencies and papers she uses as main references.

With this heavily researched book, the author proves not only knowledge in the timeline of history of the Assyro-Chaldeans, but demonstrates profound expertise in historiography. The book contains nearly 400 references, mostly uncovered so far, are an overwhelming source for focused and future scholarly research on the various historical episodes treated.

The book is an excellent resource for scholars as well as non-scholars interested in Assyrian history.

La France et les Assyro-Chaldéens - qu'en dit la presse?
By Claire Weibel Yacoub
Paris, L'Harmattan, 2019
Series: Understanding the Middle East
ISBN : 978-2-343-17606-2

1 Other books by Claire Weibel Yacoub:

  • Surma l'Assyro-Chaldéenne (1883-1975). Dans la tourmente de Mésopotamie, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2007.
  • Le Rêve brisé des Assyro-Chaldéens. L'introuvable Autonomie, Paris, Les Editions du Cerf, 2011.
  • With Joseph Yacoub, Oubliés de tous, Les Assyro- Chaldéens du Caucase, Paris, Les Editions du Cerf, 2015.

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