By Augin Kurt
Copyright © 2010 Seyfo Center
Did you know that the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Elias III Shaker secretly got paid by Turkey to deny Seyfo and to stay loyal to the republic? New documents previously classified show that our church leaders played a bigger role than we have known, when the Assyrians were deprived of their minority rights in Turkey. Journalist Augin Kurt has taken a closer look at what has been revealed in the new documents.
In 1892, nearly 300 000 Syrian Orthodox Christians in Afghanistan converted to Islam. Reason: The rivalry between the Patriarchates in Mardin and Turabdin.
The Christians in Afghanistan belonged to the secessionist church of Turabdin, which was no longer able to supply them with priests. What is remarkable is that the then Patriarch of Antioch, who had his residence at the Zafaran monastery, is said to have cooperated with the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II to ensure that the congregation of Afghanistan converted to Islam.
30 years later, another Patriarch allowed himself to be purchased by the parliament of the new Turkish Republic for 5,000 schillings (kurush) a month. His quid pro quo: To deny the genocide Seyfo and show unconditioned loyalty to the Republic. He would also let his subjects in Mardin and Turabdin remain under Turkish sovereignty as the map of the Middle East was redrawn by the great powers France and Great Britain. The Patriarch was Elias III Shaker, who also played a crucial role in making the Lausanne Treaty a Turkish victory.
The story is told by history scientist Jan Beth-Şawoce in a TV program on www. acsatv.com
Jan Beth-Şawoce has access to recently released minutes from the Turkish parliament''s early years, which have been classified until recently. As enough time had passed for the classification to be lifted, the documents were published in four volumes. This is what it says in a decision from 1921:
The French intend to use the Assyrians to expanded their borders all the way to Cizre. The Syria-memorandum shows that they want to get hold of this zone as well as Mardin. But thank God Mardin and its surroundings are in our hands today. The religious centers of the Assyrians are located there. Therefore the government must deal with the Assyrians. Or else, the French will use them against us. Currently, all of them living in that area are within our control. As known, the Assyrians are divided into three parts; Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. The leaders of the Orthodox Assyrians are there (in Mardin, translator’s remark). But the Catholic part is supported by the French. And the Americans are buying the Protestants to their side. If we today by paying money are able to control and keep a small part of them, the Assyrian issue will cease to exist. The land issue will also be resolved and then the matter will soon be forgotten.
It therefore appears clearly from the protocol that the intention was to pay off the Patriarch in order to undermine the demographic and national rights of the Assyrians. He was therefore put on the payroll of the state and received 5,000 schillings per month, which was a lot of money back then. This is evidenced by the picture above. In the first few lines, it reads: "Süryani Kadim patriği Ilyas Efendi tarafından Dahiliye bütçesinden mu''ti şehri beş bin ğurus maaşın ...." This document is dated 1920, suggesting that the patriarch probably began receiving his wages from Turkey already at the time of the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919. At this time the chronology is not fully mapped yet, since all documents in the classified files have not been investigated yet.
But ten years later, when the regime under Mustafa Kemal no longer needed Patriarch Elias III''s services, he was expelled from the country in 1931. Degraded and humiliated, he took refuge in India where he died in February 1932. The year after, also the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate moved from Mardin in Turkey to the French mandate in Syria.
The church''s official explanation of the Patriarch’s long journey to India has always been that he wanted to resolve a conflict that existed among the congregation. But this is a pure lie, says Jan Beth-Şawoce. He was expelled and his life was threatened if he ever set foot on Turkish soil again.
Also the story of the Syrian Orthodox Christians in Afghanistan is unknown to most of us. In his memoirs, Sultan Abdul Hamid II writes in 1892 that he is proud to announce good news to the Muslim world. Between 250 000 and 300 000 Christians had recently converted to Islam. It was a triumph for the Sultan, whose empire was on about to disslove.
Exactly which role the Patriarch at the Zafaran monastery played in the conversion is difficult to say, since many records from that time have not yet been translated, says Jan Beth-Şawoce. But he says that it is well known that the rivalry between different factions of the Church meant that they wanted to gain the Sultan''s favor, by undermining the other faction. The same approach is practiced even today in our churches, but also among our secular organizations.
Admittedly, the secessionist Patriarch in Turabdin had reunited with the Patriarchate already 50 years earlier, but apparently there was still some rivalry after nearly 500 years of separation. Peace agreements were made five times and were then broken again, writes Bishop Yuhanon Dolabani.
Turabdin seceded in 1364 when the then patriarch Ishmael banished an elderly bishop in Turabdin after an obscure testimony from a monk. Even today, nobody knows what lies the young monk Gewargis had told about the old bishop Baselios of the diocese of Saleh. The result was a trivial issue becoming the cause of a split within the Syrian Orthodox Church, which lasted for 475 years until 1839, when maferyono Ablahad Beth-Kande from Enhil signed a peace agreement with the Patriarch Elias II in the presence of the governor of Omid. Maferyono Ablahad thereby gave up his future patriarchy in Turabdin in favor of the unity of the church. He was assassinated by a Kurd in March 1844. (Maferyono is the second highest office after the patriarch).
In some minorities, the religious leaders have a powerful authority over their people. With power comes of course also a great responsibility for the people''s future. When a leader fails to take his responsibility, it can have devastating effects. History bears witness to several such cases, not only among our patriarchs, but also among other nations. So did for example the Jewish Rabbi Chaim Rumkowski in the city of Lodz in Poland during World War II. He let himself be bought by the Nazi Germans and betrayed his people, whose young boys he sent to their deaths. When the Germans no longer needed the services of the Rabbi, they "kicked" him in the butt. Then he got to experience "the ultimate humiliation at the Łódź ghetto - the forced self-annihilation" as it is expressed in a review of the book The poor of L odz by the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. The author of the book, Steve Sem-Sandberg, received the prestigious August Prize last fall for his excellent work.
The reviewer Mikael van Reis writes in the newspaper:
Rumkowski himself is the dark prism of this discription - he is both savior and traitor, patriarch and puppet, but eventually a humiliated jester king of hell. He taps into his subjects that this is not a ghetto, but a worker’s town. Work will set them free.
Himmler''s intention was of course the opposite. Extermination through work. The Jews would contribute to their own destruction and Rumkowski became the Nazis’ conductor. This forced self-destruction is the ultimate humiliation - it is precisely what Sem-Sandberg points to in his novel.
Despite the Nazis'' extermination attempt, many Jews survived and could eventually settle in their own country. For the Assyrians, it was worse. Our nation was smahed into pieces by the genocide Seyfo and has since not been able to recover.
The role of collaborators, which some of our church leaders have played in history, is not just history. It remains very much today. The difference is that most of us today are aware of what is happening. Therefore, the tug-of-war between those who want to protect this vulnerable, peaceful remnant of a people and those who put their own personal gain in the first place has intensified.
Much of the daily conflicts that we are experiencing in the group today can be traced to this tug-of-war. The more people are enlightened, the more difficult it becomes to successfully divide our people into destruction. Here, our media has a vital role to play in the enlightenment and in the service of truth. But the media, who deliberately chooses to represent the interests of the enemy will undermine their own credibility and lose the confidence of their people. Then it will be difficult to build up trust again. People are not as stupid as some of our media seem to believe.
 Devlet Arşivleri Genel Müdürlüğü Cumhuriyet Arşivi, BCA 272/11-16-62-8
 TBMM Gizli Celse Zabitleri, Vol. II, p 305-307
 Bishop Yuhanon Dolabani, History of St. Ya´qub of Saleh, p 44-73, St. Afrem’s printing house, Lebanon 1973.