The region in the southeast corner of Turkey dominated by the mountains Cilo Dag (4170 m.) and Sat Dag (3810 m.), and the highlands around them, cut by the gorges of the Great Zab River and its tributaries. The spelling Hakkiari is also found in English sources. In modern Turkey Hakkâri is the name of a province and of its capital town, the former Julamerk (Cölemerik). There is no Christian population now (only more or less ruined churches), but until 1915 Hakkari was the homeland of the majority of Christians belonging to the Ch. of E.
Within what is now Hakkari the dioceses of Beth Dasen and Beth Begash are known from the 5th cent., and the evidence of local saints, such as Mar Zayʿa whose cult was in Jilu, may take the church history of the region back to the 4th cent. But there is a long period of silence until ca. 1400 when, according to tradition, Hakkari was populated by Christians from ‘Assyria’, that is, the Mosul plain, fleeing the ravages of Timur. The earliest report of a patr. of the Ch. of E. in Hakkari (in the village of Khananis near Kochanes) dates from 1617–19, although the official tradition of the church credits the removal of the patriarchal see to Hakkari to a Patr. Denḥa (numbered as Mar Shemʿon XIII or XV) who held office 1662–1700.
The majority population of Hakkari was always Kurdish, and until the mid-19th century, Assyrian Christians were subject to the local Kurdish chiefs with their fortresses at Julamerk and Bashkale. Well-documented massacres of Christians in 1843–46 were partly the consequence of intra-Kurdish wars, another consequence of which was the gradual imposition of Turkish rule on the region. Officially, Hakkari was a sanjak within the vilayet of Van (except 1880–88 when it was itself a vilayet) with the seat of the local governor (mutessarif) at Bashkale. Even so, only the so-called rayat areas on the periphery of Hakkari were subject to direct Turkish rule. In central Hakkari were the ‘ashiret’ areas in which the central government operated only through the Patr. Mar Shemʿon, from whom taxes were collected and to whom a salary was paid (both irregularly). A reasonable estimate in 1886 put the population of Hakkari at 70,000 Kurds and 50,000 Assyrian Christians (although higher numbers of Christians were often quoted).
The principal Assyrian rayat areas were: Gawar, Shamsdin (including the village of Marbishu), Berwar, and Bashkale. The ashiret districts were: Upper Tiari, Lower Tiari (including the village of Ashitha), Tkhuma, Baz, and Jilu. Each of the ashiret populations, usually called tribes, was autonomous under its malek (chief). The patr. ’s village of Kochanes and a few other groups of villages (Walto, Tal, Diz) were also part of the ashiret area, although not always considered ‘tribal’. The maleks owed a feudal allegiance to the patr. but were often disaffected. Differences among the dress, dialect, and even physiognomy of the tribes were generally commented on by Western writers. Even today and even in the diaspora tribal identities are strong among Assyrians. The membership of the Ancient Church of the East, for example, has a large proportion of Lower Tiari families.
The want of good government in Hakkari is a theme in 19th-cent. reports on the area. Christians and Kurds managed a tense coexistence, but it was characterized by continual feuds, disputes over sheep-stealing, and robbery of each other and of travellers. Christian grievances were directed more often at the Turkish government than the Kurds. The government was, however, by nature hostile to Christians as a disloyal non-Muslim element in the population, and the fact that their grievances were often channeled through western missionaries and consular officials increased this hostility.
Ethnic cleansing began in Oct. 1914 with an order for the deportation of Christians from Hakkari. With the outbreak of war, this became during 1914–15 an organized destruction of rayat villages by Turkish troops with the assistance of Kurdish irregulars, in which many Assyrian civilians were killed. Apparently after a decision by the Assyrians in May 1915 to join the war on the Russian and British side, a full-scale campaign against them was launched by Haydar Bey, the vali of Mosul. Heavy fighting drove the Assyrian remnant to retreat into the high mountains, and then to escape as best they could into Persia. At the end of Sept. 1915 it was reported that 25,000 had reached Salmas (north of Urmia), including Mar Shimun. The men of Jilu had withdrawn to Persia earlier in the year, and in all an estimated 40,000 Assyrians from Hakkari eventually found their way to Urmia.
There were attempts to resettle the area by the Assyrian mountaineers in 1920 and 1922–24. The latter ended with the Turkish army driving the settlers back over the Iraqi border. When in July 1925 this border was drawn by the League of Nations and Hakkari finally awarded to Turkey, there was an end to ideas of return to the old homeland.
- A. Riley, ‘Christians and Kurds in Eastern Turkey’, Contemporary Review 56 (1889), 452–68.
- A. J. Maclean and W. H. Browne, The Catholicos of the East and his people (1892), 11–46.
- J.-M. Fiey, ‘Proto-histoire chrétienne du Hakkari turc’, OS 9 (1964), 443–72.
- C. Dauphin, ‘The rediscovery of the Nestorian churches of the Hakkari (South Eastern Turkey)’, ECR 8 (1976), 56–67.
- N. Chevalier, Les montagnards chrétiens du Hakkâri et du Kurdistan septentrional (Publications du Département de Géographie de l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 13; 1985).
- D. Gaunt, Massacres, resistance, protectors: Muslim-Christian relations in Eastern Anatolia during World War I (2006), 121–46.