HL Deb 11 February 1936 vol 99 cc487-512

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY had the following Notice on the Paper:—To call attention to the position of the Assyrians in Iraq and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are now able to give definite information as to the prospects of the settlement of the Assyrians in Syria and as to the contribution which His Majesty's Government are prepared to make towards the cost; and to move for Papers.

The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, this is not the first occasion on which I have brought before your Lordships' House the position of that ancient nation and Church called Assyrians or Nestorians, or reminded your Lordships of their long history, partly noble and partly tragic, or of their unhappy fortunes in the Kingdom of Iraq. I do not propose to make any rehearsal of past events, but rather to look forward with hope to a more satisfactory future. Yet at the outset it is well that we should remind ourselves of the measure of special responsibility which rests upon the Government of the United Kingdom for the welfare of these people. That responsibility has, I think, a twofold basis. First of all, in the years of the Great War they were our allies in a limited but not unimportant field. They were invited, not indeed by ourselves but by Russia, to join forces against the Turks. They responded to that invitation, and showed amply their hereditary qualities as a warlike tribe.

Then, in 1917, came the collapse of Russia's place in the War, and the Assyrians were left to the tender mercies of the Turks. Our authorities asked them to continue as an allied force. The Assyrians were given, not, I quite admit, official, but sufficient assurance to induce the Assyrians to trust that the British Government would make their future its Certainly, they suffered severely at the hands of the Turks. They were driven from their homes, they were without lands or resources. Thousands of their numbers had been killed, and our Government took them under their protection. They established a temporary settlement for some 25,000 of them, where they were maintained at 'the cost of this country—a considerable cost—for two years. The best of them were organised as levies in Iraq under our control. Then began efforts to secure for them a more permanent settlement. These efforts, it must be admitted, were not satisfactory in their results. There were constant difficulties between the Assyrians and the Arabs and Kurds. I quite admit that there were also difficulties created by them on the side of the Iraq Government and our own, but at least they were there because they had been our allies in the War, and from the first their levies had been a fine force at our disposal.

Secondly, they came under our protection by virtue of our Mandate in Iraq, by which we were bound to protect the interests of minorities. Later, for reasons which it is not necessary to discuss, we saw fit to recommend to the League of Nations that the Iraq Government was sufficiently strong and trustworthy to be admitted as a Member of the League, and to be itself entrusted with its Mandate. Assurances as to the trustworthiness of the Iraq Government were made in 1931 by our representative, Sir Francis Humphreys, to the Permanent Mandates Commission, and I think these assurances are worth repeating. What is certain is that these assurances directly influenced the decision of the League to transfer the Mandate to the Kingdom of Iraq. It was stated that His Majesty's Government fully realised its responsibility in recommending that Iraq should be admitted to the League, which was in its view the only legal way of terminating the Mandate. Should Iraq prove herself unworthy of that confidence which had been placed in her the moral responsibility must rest with His Majesty's Government.

Not unnaturally the Assyrians, who had specially relied upon our protection, were gravely alarmed. Alas! it was soon proved that they had good reasons for their alarm. In August, 1933, there broke out those deplorable massacres at Simel and at Mosul. I do not propose to discuss, indeed it would be a most futile proceeding, the degrees of provocation on either side. It is enough to remind ourselves that the massacres were in themselves admittedly brutal and indefensible, and they left behind them ineffaceable memories which made the continuance of the Assyrian people in Iraq quite impossible. Certainly our own action in surrendering our Mandate and in advising the League that the Iraq Government was competent to hold it leaves us some measure of very real responsibility for the present plight of these people. This twofold responsibility made it plainly most inconsistent, at least with honour, for this country to leave the Assyrians to their fate or to contend that we had no greater responsibility for them than any other Member of the League. The first course would have been indeed a betrayal, and the second would have aroused the indignation of the not inconsiderable public opinion in this country which is deeply concerned with the lot of the Assyrians.

With this special responsibility in our minds, which I measure not in legal terms but in terms of honour, let me call your Lordships' attention to the present position. After the massacres, as I have said, it was plain that the Assyrians could not stay in Iraq, nor did the Iraq Government desire them to remain. The League of Nations, feeling rightly its very great responsibility in the matter, appointed a Committee of the Council and that Committee at once set about to discover opportunities of resettlement elsewhere. They were actively assisted by the British Government, and here I should like to acknowledge most cordially the personal interest shown in the matter by Sir John Simon. Various possibilities were explored. First, you may remember, Brazil was thought of, but there local opposition was encountered. Then the Government of our own Colony of British Guiana offered to receive them, but an expert committee reported that the land proposed would be unsuitable in climate and general condition for the Assyrian people.

Then it became known that the French Government were willing to receive a large settlement in their mandated territories of Syria and the Levant. Already a small settlement of the Assyrians were there who had crossed the border before and after the massacres, and had remained with the consent of the French authorities. This was in the region of Upper and Middle Khabur. At first it was thought that settlement might be extended here. Drafts of Assyrians from the large camps of the refugees at Mosul to the number of 1,100 were sent across, and I believe I am right in saying that by the middle of September last year a total of 6,000 Assyrians were to be settled in the Upper Khabur. But further investigation showed that there was a far more promising region for a larger settlement further from the frontier and more capable of development. It was the area called the area of the Ghab, on the left bank of the Middle Orontes. There was land there available on high ground at the foot of mountains, suitable to the mountainous character of the Assyrian tribes. It was plain that this land could by irrigation be made good for the growth of fruit and vegetables, for cereals, for cotton, for rice and for live stock. It was clear that the French authorities would welcome the development of their land by a large settlement of hardy and industrious people, and the conditions were favourable to the Assyrians, their character and their habits. That scheme was adopted and recommended by the League of Nations.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Committee of the Council of the League, M. Lopez Olivan, last summer visited Iraq, held consultations with the chiefs of the Assyrian tribes, and found that the great majority were eager to leave as soon as possible—probably about 24,000. True, the chiefs representing some 8,000 hesitated until they knew more about the conditions of settlement, but the Levies and the large number of Assyrian employees on the railways and on other undertakings were ready to leave on any conditions. And here I would venture to ask the noble Earl, who I think will reply for the Government, if he can give any later information as to the numbers of the Assyrians who are now known to be ready and willing to be re-settled in the Ghab area.

Now we come to the question of cost, bound to be considerable to re-settle some 20,000 or 30,000 people. I believe that the cost has been estimated in pounds, provisionally and of course only approximately, at £1,140,000. I think that was on the basis of about 21,000 Assyrians. How is this large sum to be met? At once there were grave difficulties, and here I must give my cordial testimony to the keen personal interest of Sir Samuel Hoare. I do not hesitate to say that his coming upon the scene in many ways quickened and stimulated the activity both of the League Council and of His Majesty's Government. He set himself at once to try to reduce the claim of the French Government for the cost of settlement and development, and to increase the contributions of Iraq and of the United Kingdom. He had some success, not much, with the French, more with the Iraqi and United Kingdom Governments.

Last summer the Council of the League asked the United Kingdom to make some large independent contribution, apart from its share of any contribution which the League itself might decide to make. Hitherto the attitude of His Majesty's Government appears to have been that they were unwilling to accept any sort of liability beyond that which was shared by other Members of the League. Indeed, when I brought this matter before your Lordships in November, 1933, the noble and learned Viscount now upon the Woolsack, who then replied for the Government, said: I cannot give an assurance—because I do sot think it would be fulfilled—that we shall individually, apart altogether from the League of Nations … accept a separate and independent liability outside our liability as a Member of the League. I am very thankful that His Majesty's Government have seen fit to take a more generous attitude, and the United Kingdom has now promised, I understand, on certain conditions—namely, that the Iraqi Government will give a similar amount and the League will find the balance—to contribute a sum up to £250,000. I desire very cordially to acknowledge the action of the Government in making this large independent contribution. The result is that the Iraqi Government have been persuaded to double their first proposal and to contribute a like sum. Thus towards the sum of £1,140,000 the French have promised for development work, so I am informed, about £380,000, His Majesty's Government have promised £250,000, the Iraqi Government have promised £250,000, and the League has promised approximately £80,000. This may seem a comparatively small sum, but it is larger, I think, than was expected.

And so you see a balance still remains of about £180,000—£960,000 is promised out of £1,140,000. I should be very grateful if the noble Earl would confirm or correct these figures, and if he could give any information as to how this balance of £180,000 is to be obtained. Am I right in saying that, while it is hoped that of this £180,000 about £130,000 might be raised by credits and loans, partly on the basis of eventual reimbursement by the Assyrians for the purchase of their land, £50,000 is left which the League desires to obtain from private sources? Certainly in the autumn it was strongly pressed upon me that the Council of the League considered that without some such sum contributed from private sources it would be impossible to transfer all the Assyrians who were ready to be transferred, and that therefore, if any were left behind, there would be great bitterness; and I pledged myself, if possible, to make a special appeal to the people of this country. But before I can venture to do so I must be assured that the scheme of settlement in the Ghab area is now certain to go forward.

The concluding questions, therefore, which I would venture to ask of the noble Earl are these. Is the scheme now definitely in process of being carried out? Have the proposed Executive Settlement Commission and Trustee Committee for carrying out an administrative settlement in the mandated territory of Syria been appointed? If the scheme is really going forward can he say whether the actual re-settlement of the Assyrians in the Ghab region has begun, or when it will begin? Also, can he tell us what numbers are immediately to be settled? Over how many years is it contemplated that the process of re-settlement will be spread? Again, I should like to be assured that, if the scheme is now certain to be, or is actually being, carried out, the Government strongly urge that some effort should be made in this country to raise a considerable sum by voluntary subscription, and do they attach real importance to this point in the sense that such help is essential if the success of the whole scheme is to be assured?

If the answer of the Government is in the affirmative to these last questions, I am myself ready to inaugurate such an appeal, and I may add I have already secured the appointment of a strong Committee to further it. Indeed I am only awaiting the reply of His Majesty's Government this afternoon before taking immediate steps to go forward. If the Government can give the assurance that this scheme is now well on the way, and that it is in their judgment of real importance that, in addition to the £250,000 contributed by the Government, there should be, if possible, a large sum raised from voluntary sources, then I am prepared to do my best. I hope that many people in this country, possibly some of your Lordships among them, will be ready to take some personal share in delivering a people, for whom they have so long felt deep sympathy, from their present intolerable position and in providing for them a home where they may live together in peace.

I hope I have not unduly taken up your Lordships' time this afternoon over the affairs of a small, obscure, and distant people. This country has not been wont to measure its interest in, or its responsibility for, oppressed peoples by their mere numbers. Some of the finest episodes in our history are concerned with what we have tried to do for very small minorities. This is a question not of numbers or of intrinsic importance, but of our honour and of the cause of humanity. I am sure that His Majesty's Government will do its utmost to enable this ancient people after its long and troubled voyages to reach some haven of security at last. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, when this question has been raised in your Lordships' House in the past the obligation involved in the history that the most reverend Primate has given us has been recognised by all Parties. This is no Party question, but I should Like to say that the Party which we on these Benches represent are behind none in advocating the discharge of our national duty in this matter. It happens that many of us in the Labour Party have been associated with the relief work that has had to be done these few years past, work which might very well have been undertaken as Governmental work, but which has been falling on private shoulders and which has been very readily undertaken to the best of our ability. It might be thought that at this day the question is not an urgent one, but it can be added to what we have just heard that there is an urgency at this very day on account of the danger in which a very great number of the Assyrians find themselves. There are large numbers who, we are informed, are not at all anxious to move, and indeed are perfectly in the dark as to what kind of provision is to be made for them, but they feel it is better to move anywhere than remain where they are in a situation which may at any moment become again dangerous for them.

The facts of the case have been fully given to us, and I shall not take a moment of your Lordships' time in repetition, but I may add just one thing that some of your Lordships may have forgotten—namely, that the British officers who have been in charge of the Assyrian levies in Iraq have formed an extraordinarily high opinion of the Assyrians. They have been very much attached to them, and regard them as conspicuously deserving of help. There is no need to recount the peculiarly hard fate that has been theirs, and today there are only three points to which we need give our attention—the question whether the plan for their settlement is a good one, the extent to which this country owes them a duty, and the obligation which falls on private individuals to subscribe to the supplementary unofficial appeal which has been adumbrated. The League of Nations has fully admitted its concern in the question, and now for a considerable time has undertaken a prolonged study of it. The Report of the League of Nations Committee is a most interesting document. It shows how this particular need of a place for a large body of men is to be associated with a real economic development. Happily, in the example which is before us, we see a genuine economic improvement which would have been worth making in any case, and which is not artificially created for the particular object as if it were relief works for the unemployed.

There is another report which would interest your Lordships—the report of Captain Gracey who, on behalf of the Save the Children Fund, accompanied the League of Nations Committee. That gives in more graphic detail the very interesting aspects of the scheme, an account of the qualities of the Assyrians, and the nature of the country to which they are destined. Captain Gracey was familiar with the Assyrians during the War and, moreover, he had great experience of similar settlement schemes in the case of the Armenians. That experience is most encouraging for our purpose to-day. In a country not very far off, on the Syrian coast, there are villages of Armenians who were brought there after being driven from their homes some years ago, who have made good and who, moreover, to a great extent have repaid the small advances which had to be made to them. They have by some extraordinary means which we in England, especially at the Ministry of Agriculture, might envy, subsisted on holdings of about five acres; a larger portion is designed in the present scheme. The district that has been selected on the Orontes River, consisting of marshy land which might become very rich by drainage, and depending on a reservoir of water dammed up above it, might imaginatively be compared with Egypt once Lake Tsana, is adequately harnessed for regulating the water supply. It forms a very interesting and very hopeful economic unit.

May I say one word as to the other point—the responsibility that we ought to feel as a political responsibility? I think we must admit that by every canon of honour we are morally and directly responsible. The Assyrians became unpopular in connection with the services that they rendered to us. We have experienced the fear that this might be one of those cases where we, as a Government, have been led to encourage confidence in a body of people and have in the end exposed them to trouble from which we were not able to rescue them. That was a danger alluded to by Sir Samuel Hoare in the speech which he lately made on his resignation. We ought to be very conscious of that, and very anxious to be on our guard. It is gratifying that in this case the danger of having led these 24,000 Assyrians into trouble will, I hope, be removed. We gave an assurance when we gave up the Iraq Mandate that the Assyrians would be safe and our assurance proved to be unfounded. Indeed, one of the League representatives felt bound to say, after the massacres, that he would not have agreed to the change of status except on the ground of that assurance. Consequently, it is not too much to say that the good name of this country was at stake, and there has been the keenest anxiety on that account.

One recalls the very similar anxiety which was felt in regard to our responsibility for the Armenians whose aid in the War was on similar lines. That responsibility was recognised shortly after the War by the leaders of political Parties, but it was not discharged. Large numbers of people in this country were mortified by that fact and deeply desirous that such responsibility should not be neglected again. Indeed, the conduct of Governments does sometimes lag behind the private ideals of the men who compose those Governments. In this case, all the more, we may be very thankful that His Majesty's Government have seen their way to announce that a large contribution will be made.

I would like to say that I am deeply conscious of the debt that we all owe to the most reverend Primate for his action in this matter. I happen to know that it has meant to him, not the discharge of one of his innumerable functions, but persistent toil, for which, I think, we cannot be too grateful. And we should be very ungrateful if we did not recognise that if the country has indeed been saved from what would have been a betrayal, it is very largely due to him. Not only should the Assyrians be grateful, but so also should all who value morality in politics. There remains the question of the way we should regard the private appeal for charity. The Government do not see their way to complete the task, and part of it falls on private charity. I would only say that this is an object which ought to appeal to us all, and we ought to realise that both charity and honour enjoin generous response to the appeal.


My Lords, as one who in years prior to the War had manifold opportunities of appreciating the great qualities of the Assyrian peoples, I rise to supplement in a very few words the plea which the most reverend -Primate has made, and to say how very glad I am that at long last this debt of honour, which I think it is, is going in some measure to be discharged, and that the pledges given so categorically by Lord Curzon at Lausanne are going to be fulfilled. There have been in the past, as noble Lords will remember, some attempts to suggest that our responsibilities in regard to the Assyrians were not so definite or so clear as the most reverend Primate has, I think rightly, stated them to be to-day. It was urged, I remember, in one debate in this House that because it was the Russians who recruited the Assyrians in the first instance to fight in the War and not ourselves, therefore we had no responsibility. Those who made that suggestion must have forgotten, however true that may have been before the Revolution, that immediately after the Revolution, when General Baratoff was charged under the Dunsterville force with the operations in the Caucasus and to the South, it was the Assyrians who were used to harass the Turkish lines of communication, and the whole of the Baratoff and Dunsterville forces, Russians and Assyrians, were in the pay of the British Government. I do not think in such circumstances our responsibility for their military activities can be positively denied.

I should like if I may to say one word on a point which has not been touched upon—namely, the very great debt which Iraq owes, and through Iraq which we also owe, apart from the War, to the Assyrian levies. It will be in the memory of all your Lordships how grave and difficult was the situation in Iraq between the years 1924 and 1926. The Iraqi Government was surrounded by Kurdish as well as Arab difficulties, and if that troubled situation had not been cleared up before General Laidoner came up to the League of Nations Boundary Commission, I think it is almost certain that General Laidoner would have awarded the vilayet of Mosul to Turkey and not to Iraq. It was due to the soldierly qualities, the fidelity, the courage and loyalty of the Assyrian levies at that time, and only due to them, that that situation was safely cleared up. Iraq not only gained all the great oil wealth to which was largely due the considerable surplus in Iraq's Budget which it had last year, but she preserved all the granary of that great province, including the rich areas of Khoi Sanjak, Sulemanieh and indeed stretching out in all its fertility down to Kurkuk, which she might have lost. Therefore Iraq owes almost everything of her present financial situation to what the Assyrians did for her at that time.

In view of those facts it is worth noting that really the Iraqi Government are not making a very heavy contribution towards the Assyrians to-day. Although I for one should like to see His Majesty's Government settle the whole matter and so save the most reverend Primate the onerous duty of making yet another appeal to the public, I think His Majesty's Government have at present put up a great deal more money than is obvious at first sight. That is to say, the £250,000 which is given by Iraq, or alleged to be given by Iraq, for this purpose, is not in fact given by Iraq at all; it is given by His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government, as I think the noble Earl will not deny when he conies to speak, made a remission of £250,000, as I understand, to Iraq in respect of a debt of £600,000 for the Iraq railways on condition that they would give £250,000 to the Assyrians in this matter. The real fact therefore is that His Majesty's Government have given both sums. It is a matter of some regret to me that the Iraqi Government, who have profited so much by the valour and loyalty of the Assyrians, were not able to do a little more than they have done. I hope that when the most reverend Primate makes his appeal at the Mansion House they may find an opportunity of contributing a larger sum—and it may well be a larger sum—than they have been able to give at present.

If it is a matter of satisfaction to all of us that this debt of honour is being discharged, it cannot but be rather a regret to think how great a loss Iraq is suffering by our inability to have settled this matter before we parted with the Mandate. France has always been desirous of irrigating the great Orontes valley to the north of the Ghab area and we are now going to irrigate it for her. She will have the benefit not only of a very largely increased number of taxpayers, but a loyal and valiant body of Christians who cannot but be a great source of support to France in the future, as they grow in strength, in the difficulties which she has to encounter with Syrian nationalism. All that body of loyal people might have been at the disposal of Iraq if His Majesty's Government had in years past been able to settle the matter themselves. That, however, is all past history and I do not propose to say more about it. I will conclude by saying how greatly I welcome the statement which the most reverend Primate has made to-day. I have on one or two occasions had the audacity to differ from him in political matters. On this occasion I can join whole-heartedly with him and can join also in the expressions of gratitude which have been made for the action he has taken to-day.


My Lords, may I begin by saying how grateful I am to the most reverend Primate for putting this Motion upon the Paper and enabling His Majesty's Government to make a somewhat full statement of the situation in regard to this difficult question. It is some two years since we had the last debate in your Lordships' House on the Assyrian question, and I do not think I need cover the ground that was covered then. I may say in passing that I am afraid I cannot place the responsibility of this country quite so high as was done by the most reverend Primate, and certainly not so high as it was put by the noble Lord opposite. It is quite true that when we gave up the Mandate we held ourselves responsible for making a recommendation that Iraq should be allowed to join the League of Nations, but our pledge was limited to saying that Iraq was suitable to become a Member. I do not want to go into controversies in regard to other parts of the world, but I think your Lordships will all agree that we were perfectly justified in giving that pledge by what has happened since. It is quite true that there have been most unfortunate and regrettable instances of conflicts between Assyrians; and Iraqi troops, but none the less I think your Lordships will agree that the Iraqi Government has shown itself fully fitted to become a Member of the League of Nations. That was the only responsibility we undertook, and although I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Lloyd, as to the splendid services rendered by the Assyrian levies not only in the War but in other directions, His Majesty's Government cannot say that we have any further obligation than that moral one.

I will now pass to more recent developments. The whole Assyrian question entered upon a new phase in October, 1933, when by a decision of the Council of the League of Nations it was decided that no practical purpose would be served by inquiring into the confusion of past events. As the most reverend Primate has stated, a Committee was set up to go into the question of the future of these unfortunate people and to see what could be done. That Committee consisted of six members representing Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Denmark and Mexico, the last named country subsequently being replaced by Ecuador. It was obvious, if only from the series of events to which the most reverend Primate referred—the unfortunate outbreak of attacks between Assyrians and Iraqi troops in August, 1933—that it was essential to try to get the Assyrian people out of Iraq at the earliest possible moment. It was not an easy question to solve for climatic and economic reasons and, perhaps still more, because of racial difficulties.

As your Lordships know, the first concrete scheme put up was for settlement in Brazil on land in the Parana district which was owned by a British company. The prospects were good, the land seemed suitable and the report to the League showed that settlement there might prove a practical proposition. Unfortunately, however, local opposition began to arise in Brazil, and eventually legislation was introduced in that country restricting immigration into Brazil in such a way as to make the scheme impracticable. In September, 1934, His Majesty's Government suggested to the Council Committee the possibility of settling the Assyrians in the Rupununi district of British Guiana. A report was drawn up by representatives who were sent out by the Council of the League but that report revealed, as the most reverend Primate intimated, serious difficulties of many kinds, and it was quite obvious that settlement in that area presented far too many difficulties to justify such an experiment.

The Council viewed with great apprehension the possible consequences of failure to solve the question and in a final attempt to reach a solution turned once more to the idea of settlement in Syria, which had been deprecated at an earlier stage by the French Government. My noble friend Lord Lloyd is not quite correct in saying that France would have welcomed at an earlier stage a proposal to settle the Assyrians in that country. It took a great deal of persuasion to get the French eventually to agree. After the fighting with Iraqi troops in August, 1933, over 600 Assyrians escaped into Syria and were interned there. As a result there were long negotiations, and the French Mandatory Authority agreed in September, 1934, to receive the families and dependents of the men already there to the number of 1,500. As a result there was a provisional settlement of 2,200 Assyrians on the Upper Khabur River in north-east Syria. Finally the League Committee on March 22, 1935, appealed to the French Government to accept as permanent settlers in the territories in the Levant under French Mandate not only the Assyrians already settled provisionally in that country but also such of those remaining in Iraq as might desire to migrate to that country.

On the 14th April last year the French Government responded to this scheme indicating what they thought were three possible schemes—namely, extension of the small existing settlement on the Upper and Middle Khabur River; secondly, a larger settlement on the Lower Khabur River; and thirdly, one within the State of Latakia in that part of the valley of the Orontes known as the Ghab plain and on the slopes of the Jebel-Ansariyeh to the west of that area. They stipulated that the Council of the League should give an assurance that this settlement would not involve any burden on the French Budget or the local Budgets of the mandated territories. Finally, the League Council accepted the French offer and the provisos that were attached to it, but owing to the high cost of the capital works involved, which the French Government indicated would be necessary before settlement could begin, the only one of the three schemes which seemed possible was the extension of the area already provisionally settled on the Upper and Middle Khabur River.

In May and June of last year Señor Lopez Olivan, the Spanish President of the Council Committee, visited Syria and Iraq, and his visit had most important results. He first of all made every effort to obtain from the Iraqi Government an adequate sum of money with which to start an Assyrian settlement fund, and he was able to secure a conditional offer to pay £25,000 as well as the cost of trans-petting Assyrian emigrants to the frontier of Iraq. He was also able to relieve the situation in Iraq by arranging for the immediate transfer of a further 1,400 desti tute Assyrians from Iraq to the existing settlement on the Upper Khabur River, an operation which was rendered possible by the Iraqi Government advancing £60,000 of the sum they had offered. Further convoys of Assyrians were discharged to Syria in September, bringing the numbers in the Khabur settlement to over 6,000 in all. That, I think, is the number at present occupying that area.

However, the most important result of Señor Olivan's visit was his recommendation, after discussion with the French Mandatory Authority in Beirut, that the Committee should direct its efforts to a permanent settlement in the Ghab area rather than on the Upper Khabur River. The Council eventually adopted this recommendation after a considerable amount of consideration. The reasons for it were, broadly, these. There were serious political objections to placing the Assyrians on the Khabur River at all. That area is very close to Iraq, and a settlement there might be a cause of friction between Syria and Iraq. Also the Turks themselves objected, owing to the proximity of their own frontier. On the other hand, the Ghab area is preferable from every point of view. It is on the left bank of the Orontes River and therefore comes within the State of Latakia, the great majority of whose population is composed of other minorities, chiefly the Alawites, which would obviously facilitate the introduction of a new minority. Moreover, as the administration of the State of Latakia is directly under the French Governor, the settlement comes much more directly under French control.

The area, as was briefly stated by the noble Lord opposite, is rather an interesting one. It is a valley thirty-eight miles long and five to seven miles wide, about five hundred feet above sea level and about twenty miles inland east of the Mediterranean. I was only about fifty miles from that area this time last year, and if the country in the Ghab valley is at all like what I saw in the Lower Lebanon, I can only say that it is an extraordinarily attractive part of the world. The Ghab valley, as the noble Lord opposite stated, is in some parts marsh and in some parts even covered with open water. The reason for that is partly that the Orontes River is not really wide enough to carry off the water from the valley, but the marsh is due still more to there being a natural dam, composed of basalt, at the northern or bottom end of the valley. The first thing that will be necessary to make this valley suitable for settlement will be to drive a tunnel through that basalt in order to drain off the water. At the top end—that is to say, the southern end—of the valley it is proposed to make a reservoir, so that in the dry seasons of the year irrigation will be possible. Three things, therefore, will become necessary: a tunnel through the basalt dam at the bottom end of the valley; a reservoir at the top end; and the widening and deepening of a section of twelve miles of the Orontes River in order that it may be able to take off the water. In addition a number of small drainage channels will be necessary: first of all in order to irrigate the land, and secondly in order to drain off the surplus water once more into the Orontes from the foot of the valley. That is why the cost of the settlement is considerable.

The detailed plan for the Ghab area was worked out at Beirut by the French Mandatory Authorities in consultation with two representatives of the League of Nations, of whom one, M. Cuénod, a Swiss expert on the transfer of populations, has since been appointed President of the Board of Trustees. The total cost; of the scheme on a basis of 21,000 Assyrian settlers was estimated at £1,220,000 originally, of which £820,000 represented the cost of' reclamation and £400,000 the cost of settlement, including the cost of the provisional settlement of those Assyrians already placed in the tipper Khabur valley.

In July, 1935, the Committee of the League of Nations renewed the appeal for funds which had been made by the Council of the League some eighteen months before. That appeal was addressed to the Governments of all States who were Members of the League. Further, a special appeal was made both to Iraq and to His Majesty's Government. Now although, as I have said, His Majesty's Government felt that we had no actual liability for the placing of these Assyrians, we did decide, in order to give a lead to other nations in the League and in the hope that our action might be followed widely elsewhere, to make an offer to the League. As your Lordships are aware, that offer amounted to £250,000, but it was made on fairly wide conditions. These were, that the settlement scheme should provide satisfactorily for the Assyrians and be financially well regulated; secondly, that there should be a reasonable probability that funds from other sources, combined with the contribution of His Majesty's Government, would be sufficient to ensure success; thirdly, the willingness of the Iraqi Government to increase their contribution from £125,000, as I have previously stated, to an amount at least equal to the offer of His Majesty's Government; and lastly, the assumption by the League of the residuary liability after taking account of all independent contributions.

The result of our offer, and of our discussion and hard work at Geneva, lasting over many weeks, has been this. Although the French mandated territories were unable to go as far as we had hoped in regard to meeting the capital cost of the works, they have agreed to increase their offer of 22,000,000 French francs by a further 6,500,000 French francs, subject to eventual repayment by the Assyrians, and to accept liability for any excess expenditure on the reclamation account which shall exceed the estimated cost of 62,000,000 francs. If there are any savings on that estimate, then they will share those savings with the Council Committee. So, as regards the reclamation part of the scheme, the Council Committee have a fixed sum only to find. The Iraqi Government agreed at once to increase their contribution to £250,000 in line with our own. My noble friend states that we actually are finding that money. In point of fact, although it is quite true that there is some liability for the taking over of the Iraqi Railways, we thought that this was a very suitable way of getting a payment which might have been somewhat doubtful.


We shall have to pay it, any way!


The third contribution is that of the League. The Assembly, after discussion by numerous committees, eventually decided that it could not accept unlimited liability for the remaining cost, and eventually agreed to pay a fixed contribution of £86,000. Although the League's decision not to accept the whole of the remaining cost did not fulfil one of the provisos put forward by His Majesty's Government, we decided that in view of the satisfactory scheme now proposed, and the importance of the subject, we would make our offer a firm one to contribute £250,000. The result of all that is this. Just in order to confirm the figures given to your Lordships by the most reverend Primate, the total cost of the settlement scheme as estimated is £1,146,000. Of this sum £820,000 is for reclamation, and £326,000 for settlement, always of course supposing that the number of Assyrians requiring to be transported and settled amounted to 21,000, including the 6,000 already in the provisional settlement on the Khabur. Towards that total of £1,146,000 the receipts promised are £250,000 from the United Kingdom, £250,000 from Iraq, £86,000 from the League of Nations, and £380,000 from the French mandated territories. That amounts to £966,000, and, as you will see, it leaves a gap to be filled of £180,000.

I think it is only right to tell your Lordships at this stage that our estimate is that the number of 21,000 Assyrian settlers is likely to be exceeded. It is at present impossible, I am afraid, to give the most reverend Primate the exact figures for which he asks. An inquiry to find out how many wish to leave Iraq began somewhere in the middle of December, but unfortunately it had to be held up at the end of the year because M. Cuénod, the Swiss expert, to whom I have referred, had to return to Beirut to take part in the first meeting of the Trustee Board of which he is President. He returned in the middle of last month to Iraq, and the inquiry is still proceeding. I think it is likely to take some months, and until the snows melt it will be impossible to get at some of the Assyrians living in the mountains and ascertain their wishes. I am afraid the general opinion seems to be that the number is likely to be over, rather than under, the 21,000 for whom these estimates have been furnished. If that is the case it is estimated that additional settlers will cost a sum of £13 7s. per head to settle, and in addition the area of land available for settlers in the Ghab valley may have to be increased. There are, I believe, a further 12,000 acres on the left bank of the Orontes, that is in the State of Latakia, capable of irrigation and drainage, and additional land will add to the cost.

I may mention that the contributions so far settled are all fixed and final. It may be possible to meet part of the gap by means of credit operations, but the only security at present is the contributions which may become available from Assyrians who purchase their land. It is proposed that once they are settled in the area they should either purchase their lands outright or take them over on an annuity basis. It remains to be seen how much money comes in from that source. It is obvious that that is not sufficient security to raise so large a sum as £180,000, and moreover, payments will not begin until four or five years hence, because it would take that time before the drainage and irrigation works are complete. During the interval, of course, it is proposed that they shall be accommodated in villages at the top end of the Ghab valley, where land is available, and where grain crops can be grown to assist in feeding them. There is also pasture land for their herds. The only hope, therefore, of meeting this gap, and seeing the situation fully cleared up is a substantial response to the appeal which I hope the most reverend Primate will make to private charity. Before I proceed further with that part, may I say a very few words about the machinery of the plan and the method of financial control?


May I ask the noble Earl a question, because I want the matter to be quite clear? Are the British Government actually paying £500,000—£250,000 on their own account, and £250,000 remitted from the Iraqi debt? Are the Iraqi Government paying anything or nothing?


The Iraqi Government are raising £250,000 themselves, and some time ago they paid £60,000 of it. That made it possible to settle provisionally people in the Upper Khabur River district. The whole £250,000 is being found and paid by Traci. I think your Lordships will agree that it is worth making clear the financial control with regard to the whole operation, because if we are going to ask people to contribute they will be anxious to know that the money is going to be properly spent and safeguarded. The ultimate financial control both for the reclamation scheme and settlement rests with the League of Nations. They undertake examination and approval of budgets, custody of funds until remitted to Syria, and auditing of accounts. In Syria, so far as reclamation work is concerned, the French High Commissioner assumes entire control, both financial and administrative, but the French High Commissioner has refused to accept responsibility for the financial control of the settlement part of the scheme, although he is quite prepared to assist in every way in regard to executive work.

The Council of the League therefore set up an autonomous body, with legal personality, called the Assyrian Settlement Trustee Board, which has been constituted at Beirut. It held its first meeting, I think, on January 3 last. It works under Statutes and financial regulations approved by the Council, and it has to submit periodical reports to that body on the progress of the settlement scheme, and the condition of the Assyrian settlers. The Council has power at any time to inquire how the Board is discharging its functions, and League supervision is thus adequately secured throughout the whole operation. The Board consists of three persons—M. Cuénod, the Swiss settlement expert, as President, M. Duprez, the representative of the French High Commissioner, and Señor de las Barcenas, a Spanish diplomat who is serving temporarily as a trustee, and I think had previously assisted the League in the financial rehabilitation of Austria. I am afraid that he is shortly ceasing to be a trustee, but his place is being taken by a very well-known American, Mr. Bayard Dodge, who is President of the American University in Beirut. There is no Executive Board apart from the Trustee Board, but they have their own executive officer, M. Burnier, who is a Swiss with long experience of refugee settlement.

The most reverend Primate asked me if there was need for contributions from voluntary sources, and I hope I have made it quite clear that His Majesty's Government see no other way by which this gap of £180,000 can be partially bridged except by a lead being given in this country from voluntary sources. We therefore shall commend the appeal when the most reverend Primate makes it and, as he knows, it has not only had the full support of Sir Samuel Hoare but also of my right honourable friend Mr. Eden, who is very strongly in sympathy with the whole proposal and most anxious that it shall be a great success. If, as we hope and believe, this scheme of settlement for the Assyrians proves a success, these unfortunate people, who have suffered so much and so long, will at last be provided with a permanent home, instead of being scattered among other peoples and other religions and open to every kind of danger and difficulty. But we shall have done much more than that; we shall have removed a source of friction and of danger from the Near East, and we shall have done much to establish peace on a surer foundation in at any rate one part of the world. It would be tragic if, for want of funds, it were not found possible to remove from Iraq all those Assyrians who, for one cause or another, desire to leave that country, and I trust that at any rate one result of this debate may be that funds will be forthcoming in ample measure to complete so valuable and so good a scheme in its entirety. I hope I have answered most of the queries which the most reverend Primate put to me, and I can only thank him once more on behalf of the Government for having enabled me to make so full a statement.


My Lords, as I understand the financial position, it is this: that £180,000 has to be raised; that part of that, an unknown amount, may be raised by loans; and that the remainder, which is estimated to be about £50,000, is to be raised, according to the Government plan, by private subscription. I understood from my noble friend Lord Stanhope, that that£50,000 was not an absolutely fixed sum, because if there were more Assyrians who required to be settled there would be more money to be found, and I suppose that that also would have to come from private subscriptions. I know it is very late to do so, but I cannot help making an appeal to the Government to reconsider this part of their scheme. I recognise that they have done a great deal, and have done far more than at, one time seemed probable. I recognise the enormous advantage of getting this question settled and the part which the British Government and, still more, the most reverend Primate, have played in securing this result. But I do think it is terribly sordid, if the Government will allow me to say so, to say that they will insist on private funds being found to meet this sum of £50,000 or more that may still be required for this scheme.

I cannot accept my noble friend's view as to the responsibility of this country in this matter. At one time it became my official duty to know something about these matters, and I certainly formed a very strong view that during the time of the War we undertook, not a legal responsibility upon which an action would have lain, if it was a matter for action, but a very clear moral responsibility to the Assyrian nation. I do not think the thing really admits of a doubt, if you look at it impartially. And not only that. When the Mandate was ended it was very much discussed, and the details of it were most earnestly considered both in this country and at Geneva—I happened to be concerned with them—and unquestionably the future treatment of the minorities under the new Iraqi Government was one of the questions most urgently considered. The point was continually put: Is there no protection for these people? Are you quite clear that they will be safe? It was put over and over again. And it was due to the assurance given on behalf of the British Government that there was no danger, that, in part at any rate, the decision to put an end to the Mandate and to allow the admission of Iraq into the League was arrived at.

I really think my noble friend has not been sufficiently informed of all that took place on that occasion, or I am sure he would recognise that the moral obligation is very clear and definite. And it is clear in another respect. When the Assyrians settled in this country, they settled in the district that was allotted to them by Iraq, which was then under Mandate, and was directed in effect by the British Government. I think it was probably the only place that could be allotted to the Assyrians, but it was a most unsatisfactory place, there is no doubt about it. It was a plain that was unsatisfactory, and the Assyrians could not all be put together; they were scattered about, and are to this day scattered about, and it was due to that that the danger of the massacres arose.


My noble friend will remember that we wished to put them in an entirely different area, but the League settlement of the boundary between Iraq and Turkey upset the whole business.


That is true. We would much rather have put them in their old homes if that part of the country could have been allotted to them. But they had been settled before the question of the boundary was determined, and it was our hope to get the boundary extended, when we intended to put them in a different place. However, all those circumstances really make it absurd to contend that we have no special responsibility in this matter. We certainly have, and I am quite sure that history will have no doubt at all on that subject. If that is so—and really the grant of £250,000 shows that the Government recognise a special responsibility in some form or another—surely it is a wretched thing for the Government to say: "We will grant the £250,000, but we will not grant the added £50,000 or £60,000 necessary to clear up the thing and make a good job of it."

Something has been said about the burden that will be placed on the most reverend Primate, but that—though a very serious matter—is not the only thing. Where will this £50,000 come from? It will come from the pockets of the charitable people, and if it does not go to this cause it will go to some other cause. It means that you are diverting from other causes, which are at least as worthy and at least as much in urgent need of assistance, this £50,000 which, in my judgment, fairly and honestly is a responsibility of the Government. I do beg the Government to consider the matter again. It seems to me a wretched way to settle a great question to leave this odd £50,000 to be found by private subscription. Of course, if it must be done then I hope most earnestly that the most reverend Primate will succeed, and that he will receive all the support of your Lordships in his unfortunate effort. But I do beg the Government to consider this matter once again. They have very nearly done a very good thing. Do not let them allow £50,000 to stand between them and a really satisfactory settlement of this question.


My Lords, I cannot but hope that the Government will pay heed to the eloquent plea addressed to it by my noble friend who has just sat down, but I must express my own gratitude to the noble Earl for the great fullness with which he has replied to my Question, the more so because I must apologise to him for having given him such short notice of it on account of the overcrowded nature of my life. I am grateful that there should be in the records of our debates this very full and clear statement of the position to which all those who are interested in this problem will at any time be able to refer. May I say also how grateful I am to the present Foreign Secretary for the great personal interest which he has taken in this matter? It was because I knew how much interest he was taking in the matter that, personally, I felt I could not press him, as the noble Viscount who has just sat down has pressed the Government, because I knew he had done all that he had felt, with full knowledge of all the circumstances, it was possible to do. But I am bound to add I think a considerable portion of the public will not unnaturally take the position which has just been stated by the noble Viscount, and it may be very difficult to persuade the charitable public that it is for them to do what they will think is really due from the Government.

I can only say that if in the course of a few days I were to hear from the noble Earl that the Government had laid to heart the appeal addressed to them by the noble Viscount, I should be most grateful and relieved because, as has been indicated, it is no slight burden that is thrust upon me in this matter. I have already made myself responsible for starting the appeal for Red Cross work in Abyssinia, and I understand I am shortly to be responsible for an appeal on behalf of German refugees in all parts of the world, and it is not easy to undertake this responsibility also for the Assyrians. I can only use the formula that while I have no liability, certainly no liability, I do feel I have some sense of responsibility, and I hope the Government in this matter will once and for all give up speaking about their liability and be content to rest upon their responsibility. If an appeal is inaugurated, while there certainly will be the criticisms which have been expressed this afternoon by the noble Viscount—and I most earnestly hope that even at the last minute the Government may be able to meet that criticism—I cannot but hope that there will be sufficient interest on the part of the public of this country to say: "Well, whether we agree with what the Government have done or not, whether we think it is sufficient or not, at least we shall do our best to see that no Assyrian who wishes to leave shall, through no fault of his own, be kept in Iraq." In view of what the noble Earl has said I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.