During World War I crusade meant a religious war and jihad meant effort or struggle. A call to jihad was made in Constantinople and another in Madina by Arabs. The leaders told the regular people that death or sacrifice for the cause would send them to paradise. In 1914 there were 270 million Muslims. 30 million governed by fellow Muslims. 100 million were British subjects. There were others in Chechnya. Those who opposed holy war were promised the fire of hell. This was to scare the ordinary religious individual. Call to jihad was translated into Persian, Urdu, Arabic, and Tartar. Jihad was also proclaimed in Afghanistan and India. In Persia there was a call for jihad by Shiites. Uganda, Congo, Sudan were also involved. This was the most prominent instant of state sponsored jihad, for the Ottomans knew that their empire was going to be destroyed unless they made their move. Jihad was seen as a German plan to weaken Britain and her allies at the time.
Enver Pasha the Ottoman Minister of War himself wondered, “Is holy war useful?” In other words how could the Ottomans use the notion of holy war! Jihad was an attempt by the Ottomans to supposedly unite the empire. One must note that history seems to be repeating itself here again because today the Prime Minister of Turkey Tayyip Ordogan and his Turkish Foreign Minister Daoud Oglo are the main players in the fighting of a dirty war in Syria and Iraq in order to selfishly retrieve gas and oil by manipulating many Islamic jihadi groups in the region.
In regards to World War I in the Middle East and the Ottomans using the notion of holy war to unite the empire, one has to consider that there were many non-Turkish nations living under Ottoman tyranny who were also Christians such as the Assyrians, Armenians, and Greeks. If Jihad was going to strengthen the Ottoman Empire what was to become of its Christian inhabitants?
The British Empire had more Muslims living in it than the Ottoman Empire, but there was a religious crusade declared in Europe. The regular soldiers were told that the British army wanted to reclaim the Holy Land for Christendom and perhaps make Jerusalem the capital of the world. Throughout the 19th century the idea of crusade was associated with an act of public good, like crusading for a cause.
The idea of crusade was not just restricted to the Middle East. Anglicans demonized Germany as anti-Christian and perhaps even pagan. This was their propaganda. Though Germany was a European country the British wanted to defeat the Germans because these peoples were of a different culture. The British tried to distance themselves from fighting a Muslim Empire but they did want to reclaim Constantinople supposedly for Christianity.
In March 1917 the British took Baghdad but the British proclaimed themselves as liberators rather than colonizers. Also, when Allenby entered Jerusalem he did so on foot rather than as a conqueror on a horse. For soldiers of the Middle East who relied on the Bible crusading was about Ottoman government not Islam. They wanted to free people from Ottoman rule not Islamic rule. Soldiers many times saw themselves as tourists. They were fascinated by Islamic culture and found this to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. A chance to see Egypt, tour the Christian Holy sights and Islamic architecture. Most of the British soldiers were Protestants though and they did not feel a complete connection with the Christianity in the Holy Land. It is not what they expected. Perhaps here again history is repeating itself as the same sentiment can be seen in the reasoning for many if not most European, Canadian, American, and the larger English speaking community of the world today who do not feel a closeness and a need to stand up for the crimes against humanity which are being committed against the Assyrian Christians. We ask you on behalf of all the Assyrians suffering in the world. Open your eyes and hearts and help this ancient community, which is on the brink of extinction.
Religion is supposed to be about spirituality. Religion is about faith and it is for the individual not for nations to ruin the world through their understanding of religion. Faith is between you and God no one else. It was the leaders of the Ottoman and the British Empires who used the terms jihad and crusade to ignite in the ordinary individual the desire to go to war against another nation and other human beings of differing religions and cultures.
Lets give an example. Had World War I really been a Christian crusade as was thought by some of the British soldiers, the British planers and thinkers would have aided the Assyrians Christians in the Hakkari region, of what is now south east Turkey, and other regions, and not allowed them to be slaughtered and crucified by the Ottomans just for being Assyrians of a different and more ancient culture, language, and because they were ancient Christians.
Although the Assyrians were called Britain’s smallest ally the British only used them and made false promises for a homeland for the Assyrians. They abandoned them and were not faithful to their promises. Today history is repeating itself because the Assyrian Christians are asking from the world community the establishment of their own federal region in their ancestral homeland, but the world powers are giving their lands to the Kurdish occupiers who are originally not from this land, rather from nomadic areas such as Afghanistan and Mahabad Iran. The Kurds have lived in the area less than 200 years and they are definitely not indigenous to this land.
Jihad and crusade during WWI had little to do with true religion, which is spirituality. Gandhi who was a product of British colonization said something interesting. He said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These words give witness to British mannerism and their colonial wars. It was not about religion or spirituality and faith, rather it was about the interests of the few at the expense of the ordinary poor individuals, human beings, and nations. Wars and conflicts are always between various sides that know each other well, and know what they want from their campaign or operation. The regular people who die, they don’t know why they are truly there and why they are dying.
Now a hundred years after World War I the Assyrian Christians are still suffering and being driven out of their ancestral homeland. ISIS is a powerful gang who have taken advantage and created a strategy to gain control of an unstable Middle East. The Assyrian activists worldwide should realize that we have to be strong and diligent in speaking out about the events occurring in the homeland. History repeats itself. No one will give us our rights unless we ask for it and stand up for it. It is very sad that basic human rights are not being afforded to the Assyrians Christians of the region. We need to have leaders that will work in the right direction and who wont be afraid to speak the truth and be faithful to the Sacred Assyrian Cause.
By Abbey Mikha