Old photo of Kurdish leader and missionaries

KurdsThis is a cool photo I found in a stack of old negatives. I’m estimating this was taken late 1910s or early 1920s. The three gentlemen top center are my great grandfather Dr. Wilder Ellis, the Kurdish chief Simco, and another missionary named Dr. Shedd. My great grandfater and Dr. Shedd were physicians practicing medicine as missionary members of the Presbyterian Church in Or≈myeh in what is present day northern Iran during the early portion of the 1900s.

Update: I hear through my grandfather (who was born in Or≈myeh and lived there until about 15) that Simco was killed shortly after this photo was taken, during the Assyrian Genocide of 1914-1922.

Another update: Simco meanwhile is famed for betraying and murdering Mar Shimun, the Assyrian patriarch of the time. The story gets more and more fascinating. There were all sorts of parties involved in this story – armies from Britain and Russia, Kurdish warlords, Assyrians, Persians, Turks, and these two American Presbyterian missionaries sitting there attempting to practice medicine in the middle of it all during World War I.

Yet another update from my grandfather: Apparently the Kurds held my great grandparents captive from 1918 until the Turkish army came a few years later.

4 thoughts on “Old photo of Kurdish leader and missionaries”

  1. More about the internment of your grandparents by the Kurds. According to diaries that Aunt Jean Ann has (with photos), written by grandmother Jessie, they were held prisoner until mother Jessie went to the chief and begged for the release of her and her two boys, Edwin and Paul. Wilder was not in the camp with them but I believe trapped in Tabriz. Check out that info. Anyway, she plead for their freedom because Edwin was so sick with dysentery and starvation, that they thought he was going to die. amazingly they were shown mercy and let allowed to leave.

    There are other incredible stories of hidden cans of milk and camel milk being smuggled in through tunnels or sewer pipes to my grandmother from sympathetic villagers. There is also a tale of one of the missionary women being captured by the Kurds and the 18 month ordeal she went through until her release or liberation. It includes a son born on the trail and his death.

  2. After spending a few days at the Presbyterian Historical Society looking at missionary correspondence but finding few photographs, I am thrilled to see this photo. But i don’t think that is Dr. William Ambrose Shedd (d.1918). He would have been much older and more distinguished. By 1908 he had published 4 bks (one recently reprinted). Measure of a Man is a book his wife wrote about him.

    The Kurd in the photo may be Simco but i have not seen enough photos of him to know. Simco died on Persian gallows in 1929? He had terrorized much of what is West Azarbaijan today – that is, the area stretching from Lake Urmiyah westward to the Turkish border. If you family were rescued, I would wonder if it was the Turkish army. I will check the correspondence at some point to see if any of the Elders were on the list of families held in Urmiyah and rescued by the American consul from Tabriz and Mr. Mueller in 1919. I know the Cochran family were there and 600 starving survivors of the Assyrian children and old women that the missionaries had saved through sheer will and prayer. 2/3 of Assyrians died in this period – killed, starved and made victims of disease by the Kurds.

    We just had an exhibit at the Boston Public Library in Sept. about recent Assyrian history. The documents and photographs were very moving – but nothing to smile about in a story of genocide.

    If you are sure that is your grandfather (you must know) then it would be good to identify the other man correctly.

    Is this a downloadable picture? How shall I credit this if I want to use it?

  3. I’m doing a paper on the kurds and I need information.
    I need know the early missionaries or mission agencies that witnessed to the kurds. I need the century (1800’s etc).

    I need to know in what era were the kurds witnessed to during the prostestant 3 era”s? I would persume during the last early that a real impact happened.

    And I need to know what type of strategies would we need to reach this type of people group?

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