391.1163 Lutheran Orient Mission/109

The Chargé in Iran ( Merriam ) to the Secretary of State

No. 781

Sir: I have the honor to report that according to Reverend Henry Mueller of the Lutheran Orient Mission at Mehabad (formerly Saujbulak), Azerbaijan, which is now in the process of liquidation at the desire of the Iranian Government, it was decided at the World Missionary Conference held at Edinburgh in 1910, that evangelistic missionary work among the Kurds should be undertaken by the Lutheran Church. Accordingly, the Lutheran Orient Mission is “accredited” to the Kurds as a people, and its field of effort is therefore in the areas in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, which are inhabited by Kurds. The location of the Mission in one of these countries rather than in either of the other two is, therefore, governed by reasons of expediency and not of principle, and as the Mission is now being sent away from Kurdish territory in Iran, there is good reason to believe that an attempt may be made to relocate it in Kurdish Iraq. Of course, the attitude of Turkey toward Christian missionaries during the past quarter-century places Kurdish Turkey fairly out of the picture.

Mr. Mueller has himself mentioned such a possibility to me, adding that of course the ultimate decision will be up to the home Board. It is his understanding that missionary work in Iraq is regulated by treaty and he appears to think that as the policy of the Iraqi [Page 388] Government towards the Kurds is both lenient and enlightened, at least by contrast with the severe Kurdish policies of the Iranian and Turkish Governments, the presence of the Lutheran Mission would be welcomed by the Government of Iraq. I have suggested to Mr. Mueller that he call at the American Legation at Baghdad on his way home in order that he may be able to inform himself not only of the cold text of a treaty, but also of the political atmosphere in which missionaries carry on their work in Iraq and of any special factors which might affect working in the Kurdish areas of that country.

It may as well be said here that the Iranian authorities are aware of the possibility that the Lutherans may become established across the frontier and are disturbed at the prospect. Their information was probably obtained by reading correspondence of the Lutheran Mission. Iran is acutely conscious of the fact that Kurdish nationalism, while perhaps not a matter of great immediate concern, may raise its head in any one of the three countries in which the Kurds dwell, and it has done and is doing everything possible to prevent this from happening in Iranian territory. The task is rendered difficult by the indeterminate nature of the frontier for although the boundary was laid down in the Treaty of Erzerum of 1847,26 and is understood to have been demarcated in 1914 by Perso-Turkish Commissioners, assisted by British and Russian Commissioners having arbitral powers, Mr. Mueller, who has traveled through the country, says that it is not possible to say where the authority of one country ends and that of another commences.

I do not think that the Iranian Government suspects the Lutheran Mission of political involvement in a Kurdish nationalistic movement. I do think that it is entirely unsympathetic to the evangelistic and other work of the Mission, on the ground that whereas the Iranian Government seeks to disestablish contact between the Kurds of Iran and those of Iraq and Turkey, to make them forget that they are Kurds and to realize that they are primarily Iranians—in a word, to wear down and finally to obliterate the differences between the Kurds and the Iranians—on the other hand, the work of the Mission serves to emphasize and deepen the differences which already exist. If the Mission does not actually foment Kurdish nationalism, at least it tends to prepare the soil for its growth. Mr. Mueller fully appreciates this point of view and, indeed, does not blame the Iranian Government in the least for desiring to see the Mission depart. He appears to realize that there is a fundamental conflict between the purposes of the Mission and those of the Government, and that the latter has the secular power to eliminate those who oppose its aims, which it is quite within its rights to utilize.

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Mr. Mueller, it may be added, has the greatest admiration for the Kurds, whom he describes as a proud, simple, vigorous, clean-living mountain people. According to him, the policy adopted by the Iranian and Turkish Governments towards the Kurds within their borders have been severely oppressive. They have been continuously harried and thousands, even some women, have been shot. On the contrary, the Iraqi Government, while maintaining a firm hand, has encouraged the Kurds as a people, and desires to see them advance and develop as such. For this reason, many Iranian Kurds have emigrated to the Iraqi side.

Respectfully yours,

Gordon P. Merriam
  1. Signed May 19/31, 1847, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. xlv, p. 874.