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The Return of Mar Benyamin’s Cigarette Case

On Saturday the 16th of March the Assyrian patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun was treacherously assassinated by Simko, the chieftain of the Kurdish people in Kohne Shahr, Iran. All of Mar Benyamin’s personal belongings were stolen by Simko’s soldiers.

After many long years, Dr. Malcolm Amirkhas Ada of Urmia, Iran, spent many days and resources trying to locate the murdered patriarch’s precious belongings.  After following leads from various Kurdish patients of his, he was able to locate one item that definitively belonged to the former patriarch. It was an engraved silver cigarette case. Dr. Amirkhas continued to search for the Patriarch’s cross and ring as well, but to no avail (it was rumored that they had been melted down and sold for their metallic value, and/or re-made into jewelry).

At the end of World War II many political changes and unexpected events took place in Urmia that threatened the lives of well-known, patriotic Assyrian personalities. They had to flee the country for their safety and Dr. Malcolm was one of them.

After settling in Iraq he had hoped against hope that one day he would meet the patriarch, Mar Eshai Shimun, and present him with his uncle’s precious silver tobacco box. Unfortunately, Dr. Malcolm passed away in January 1962 without having ever been able to meet his patriarch in person. Then, in 1970 when Mar Eshai Shimun was allowed to return to Iraq for the first time since being exiled in 1933, Dr. Malcom’s widow, Mrs. Nina Amirkhas, saw her opportunity to make her late husband’s wish come true.

Throughout his busy days in Baghdad attending one meeting after another, Mar Eshai was constantly surrounded by excited, curious Assyrians and Nina failed to get through to him. Finally, towards the end of one exhausting day as the sun was setting over Baghdad, she, with her son Raman, just about to give up and return home, were suddenly given a rare moment to meet with the patriarch. She related to him her husband’s quest and how he had longed to be the one to return the case to him in person.

Mar Shimun was overwhelmed with emotion and remarked that this was, “The most valuable gift ever bequeathed to me.” Throughout his stay in Iraq this meeting with Mrs. Amirkhas and her son continued to be a source of great joy to the Patriarch. Mar Benyamin’s silver cigarette case has remained in the proud possession of the Patriarchal Family ever since.

A historical photo of the presentation of a precious silver tobacco box belonging to the Martyr Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun to his nephew, Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun, with Mar Yosip Khnanisho, and the bishop of Iran at the time, Mar Dinkha, by Mrs. Nina Amirkhas, the wife of the late Dr. Malcolm Amirkhas, accompanied by her youngest son Raman, in Baghdad, Iraq 1970.

This case could very likely have been the gift of the Russian Vice-Consul, Sergei Olferviev who had visited Qudshanis in October of 1912. In his journal of the visit he lists, in addition to silver cigarette cases a number of other gifts which he presented to the Patriarch and his family, including: “Large silver cup and 6 smaller coffee cups (the work of Van Armenians) . . . a large jug and 2 glasses (from a crown–glass), bronze clock (for table) and large silver cup . . . 3 riding crops, the handles of which are entirely made of silver (the work of the Van Armenians), . . . a revolver (Browning), . . . silver watch.”
 
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